Aesthetic Characteristics of Roads—Between Road Planning Professionals’ Ideals and Laypersons’ Perceptions
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Roads are one of the most frequently used public spaces and their aesthetic quality can be of relevance for people’s well-being and behavior. Although road design has been practiced for a long time, theoretical discussions about road aesthetics and corresponding empirical research have been limited. In order to contribute to an improved and more user-sensitive design of roads and streets, this thesis identifies the characteristics of roads that are deemed to have a good aesthetic quality from both laypersons’ and experts’ perspectives. The thesis comprises three different studies, which are presented in separate papers. The first paper presents the results of a literature review intended to provide an overview of current discussions in the planning practice and related empirical research on road aesthetics. The aim was to identify characteristics of importance for the aesthetic quality of roads. The review resulted in the identification of twelve characteristics, all of which focus on visual aspects. Furthermore, the review revealed that knowledge of laypersons’ perceptions and preferences relating to roads is quite limited in the planning literature and that there is a corresponding deficit in the empirical foundations of the identified characteristics. To investigate which aesthetic characteristics of roads are important from road planning practitioners’ perspectives, the second study is based on interviews with staff working for the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and at municipality planning offices. This resulted in the identification of six aesthetic characteristics, most of them in line with the results of the literature review. In addition to visual aspects a good functionality of the road was mentioned. The interviews also revealed challenges and success factors of promoting the aesthetic characteristics in planning practice. In order to investigate the public’s perspectives on road aesthetics, a web-based participant-generated image (PGI) method was employed in the third study. Since a PGI method in combination with a web-based solution has only been applied a few times in landscape perception research to date, the thesis includes a discussion about the methodological advantages and challenges of the method, which is presented in a fourth paper. In total, 17 different aesthetic characteristics of roads were identified from the three studies. They were related to the design of a road (e.g., naturalness, coherent design, visibility), to the harmony between a road and its surroundings, and to travelers’ movements along a road (e.g., variety, legibility). While the characteristics identified through the literature were exclusively visual, the two empirical studies showed that also other aspects, such as functionality, or individual related aspects (e.g., personal memories),were of importance for both laypersons and professionals when judging the aesthetic quality of roads. The results of this thesis show that both laypersons and experts apply quite similar characteristics when assessing the aesthetics quality of roads. However, there were some differences in the importance attributed to the characteristics. For example, historical and temporary aspects played an important role for the participants in the PGI study, yet these were just marginally discussed by professionals in the interviews and planning literature. Another difference between the three studies is that the participants in the PGI study did not merely judge the road alone but the whole visible roadscape. Since all of the identified aesthetics characteristics of roads were quite in accordance with the findings of earlier research on landscape preferences, existing theories of landscape preference and aesthetic experiences seem to be applicable also to the context of roads. Thus, the conclusion drawn in the thesis is that the identified characteristics might be useful when reviewing the designs of road projects and could be used as a source of inspiration for road planners.
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