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Reconnaissance mission to assist Stanford planners

STANFORD -- Stanford University officials in March sent up a "spy" plane to take extremely high-resolution photographs of the campus that will be used at first by parking and transportation officials, and later to assist in other long-term planning.

The first in what is projected to be a regular series of reconnaissance missions took place on Monday, March 6, said Patrick Crevelt of Maps and Records. Negatives processed later in the month indicated that the effort was a success, he said.

Jeffrey Tumlin, project manager with the office of Transportation Programs, said the shots would help to determine which parking areas on campus are being effectively utilized and, over the years, to help spot parking and transportation trends.

The photogrammetry firm of Hammon, Jensen and Wallen, based at the Oakland International Airport, was contracted to take the shots, using a high optical box camera mounted to the belly of an airplane. The camera uses a 9-by-9-inch film plane, and the photographs are taken from an altitude of 13,000 feet.

The resulting photograph is enlarged to the size of 40 inches by 40 inches, achieving a scale of 1 inch to 200 feet.

At that size and resolution, "we can look at traffic patterns and identify the types of vehicles that are parked on campus, and can count pedestrians," Crevelt said.

Crevelt said smaller sections can be enlarged individually for more detailed analysis.

Plans call for taking such pictures twice each year for at least the next five years, at what are considered peak traffic/parking periods; approximately 11:50 a.m. on a workday during the week prior to Dead Week. Monday was a good day because it was one of the few clear days in a stormy period.

The week before Dead Week each quarter tends to be among the most active on the Stanford campus, which is why it was chosen for the aerial survey, Tumlin said. Also, the time of day, 10 minutes before noon, was found to be the most representative of the workday parking situation.

Before Stanford began to use photogrammetry to monitor parking, the university paid staff members to go around campus counting cars, Tumlin said. With a price tag of about $2,000 a mission, the aerial surveillance is expected to produce more reliable information for a fraction of the cost of using staff.

Since the staff counters could only be in one place at one time, Tumlin said, there was not an accurate way to assess the parking situation in the entire central campus at any given time.

"The flyover gives us a snapshot of all sorts of things going on around campus at once," Tumlin said. "We get to see where cars are parked, where there are still empty spaces, where bikes are parked, which intersections are congested, and how many bikes, pedestrians, buses and cars are going through various intersections."

(On-the-ground counts are still used to determine the differences in parking supply and demand on rainy days.)

The project is expected to continue for at least the next five years, Crevelt said. Because the twice-yearly photographs would show the same area of campus at about the same time each spring and fall, campus planners would have a reliable way to detect trends in parking and in vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian travel.

Also, they will be able to see the effects on parking and transportation of major construction projects, such as the Science and Engineering Quadrangle.

"Information from each individual year will be tremendously valuable for parking and transportation planning," Tumlin said. "More important, as the years go by, we'll be able to track trends."

Transportation planners, he said, hope the photographs will help them gauge the effects of changes in parking programs, changes in parking permit price and space allocations, changes in the bicycle programs, and changes in campus roads and intersections.

Other Stanford departments have used aerial photography for a number of reasons, Crevelt said; they include the Planning Office, Facilities Project Management, the Stanford Medical Center and the Stanford Management Company. The office of Maps and Records has coordinated those flyovers.



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