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Visual preference surveys (VPS) are utilized in the planning profession as tools to gauge public interest and desire for certain urban design aesthetics in the built environment.  These elements include, but are not limited to:

  • streets and traffic
  • commercial development
  • residential development
  • pedestrian realm
  • public spaces
  • parking
  • transit and mobility
  • signage

In a typical VPS, the public participants VPS Public Meetingare presented with photos of various urban design elements and asked to rate their preference (in general) or appropriateness (project specific area).  Many visual preference surveys also incorporate demographic surveys and mapping exercises, which further solicit public preferences.

In their development and execution of a VPS, sometimes planners and/or consultants can fall victim to polarizing the public through an “all-or-nothing” exercise.  For example, the two photos below were used in a VPS, to represent commercial development options.  Imagine if citizens were only given these two photos.  Although this particular project utilized a range of photos for participants to rate, it becomes clear that the “good” photo will almost always prevail.

Bad Commercial

Good Commercial





The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) staff are currently developing a rudimentary VPS designed to elicit a basic, instinctual, and “gut-level” response when asking about transportation accommodations.  RVTPO staff are careful to take an incremental approach to the VPS – by providing a subtle spectrum of photographic choices – which will more accurately depict public opinion.

This VPS is experimental in nature and it is expected to evolve as time progresses.  The purpose of ongoing iterations of the VPS is to gauge public preference regarding transportation accommodations (such as sidewalks, bike lanes, roundabouts, etc.) and to serve as recommendations for future regional transportation plans like the Constrained Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan, expected to be completed in 2015.

To the right, is a fill-able PDF of the visual preference survey.  Visual Preference Survey--121714Please feel free to complete it, save it and e-mail to  You may also take the survey online by clicking here.  RVTPO staff would also like to hear public feedback on survey instrument itself–any modifications or improvements that could be made to improve its effectiveness and delivery.





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