Livermore Looks at Street-Level Imagery

The City of Livermore won the Grand Prize in the Internal Administration category of the 2006 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information, visit

Prior to launching a major renovation project, the City of Livermore needed to document and preserve a visual record of its downtown streetscape. The revitalization of the downtown area was an exciting, high-profile project that would provide a dramatic face-lift to the existing area, and city staff wanted to be able to contrast “before” and “after” images of the project area.

Shooting for a Virtual Neighborhood

In mid-2004, staff discovered a software product that links multiple photo images with digital map files from the city’s geographic information system (GIS). This browser-based application allows the user to virtually “drive” the city streets from any computer on the city’s network.

A pilot project was developed for the downtown area, and approximately 13 linear miles of streets were photo graphed by the vendor. Using global positioning system (GPS) technology, the vendor drove a vehicle mounted with six cameras, each pointing in a different direction, through the subject area. Six simultaneous images were captured at intervals of 10 meters. After all of the imagery was collected, the vendor correlated each individual photo to its spatial location on the map using the GPS coordinates. As a result, end-users can open up an Internet browser, click on a link to the city’s intranet, and view a split screen showing the photo images on one half and the street map on the other half.

Using standard control buttons, users are able to travel the length of any street and look in any direction. A “panorama” feature provides a 360-degree view of any point within the street network. A search function allows users to input an assessor’s parcel number or address and automatically be taken to that parcel and corresponding imagery. Users can then insert an image into a document, print it or send it via e-mail.

Multiple Applications

The Community Development Department was the first group of users to be shown the application and its downtown pilot area. Planning Division staff started using the application in lieu of actual field visits for confirming existing on-street parking, striping and street furniture (items such as park benches, trash receptacles, planters and other miscellaneous items).

As staff began using the application, it became apparent that having imagery of all the city’s streets would be very valuable. They requested a new image capture of all streets within the city limits, which was subsequently delivered by the vendor in October 2004.

The next step was promoting the use of the street-level imagery to all departments. The employee newsletter published a descriptive article, followed by user group training sessions to familiarize staff with the application’s functionality.

As staff became accustomed to using the application, they found more uses for the imagery. Police and firefighters utilized it for tactical training and response in targeted areas. The pavement management engineers audited street pavement conditions with it. The engineering staff also used it as an inventory tool to calculate medians, landscaped areas and sound wall conditions for analysis related to a proposed citywide landscaping and lighting assessment district. Neighborhood preservation officers verified long-standing code enforcement issues such as illegal storage of vehicles or blight conditions. Public works maintenance staff could verify locations of street trees, pavement markings, fire hydrants, traffic signage and other facilities within their sphere of responsibility. At city hall, the imagery was made accessible from the front counter workstations at the Permit Center, where it’s used to help answer questions about specific areas or properties.

Imagery Saves Time and Fuel

The street-level imagery project has saved considerable staff time previously spent on field visits. Field conditions can be viewed within a few seconds from any computer workstation on the city’s network. This saves time and wear and tear on city vehicles. It also reduces fuel consumption and emissions.

As with any new technology, it was important for staff to promote the new imagery application within the organization. They demonstrated the application at numerous meetings, and provided user training. It was essential for users to understand that the new tool was simple to use as well as a time-saver.

Keeping It Fresh

The imagery must be updated to keep it current. For example, the newly revitalized downtown area is no longer accurately represented by the imagery from October 2004. Consequently, all of the images were updated in mid-2006.

A project is under way to link the street-level imagery directly to the city’s GIS application. This allows the user to view additional parcel information such as street address, owner name, assessor’s parcel number, zoning and parcel size, as well as general sewer, storm drain and water system information. There is also 2005 aerial orthophotography available for linking to the street-level imagery, allowing the user to switch easily from a bird’s eye view of an area to a ground-level vantage point.

Ultimately, components of the GIS application combined with the street-level imagery will be used to create an economic development tool available via the Internet for businesses interested in locating in Livermore. Users will be able to search by business type and view a display of existing businesses located on the map, with the option to tour that area using the street-level imagery.

What began as a method to create a photo archive of the Livermore downtown area has evolved into a valuable and adaptable tool benefiting city staff across many departments. In an economic climate where efficiency is encouraged, the street-level imagery system is a welcome addition to the city’s resources.

Contact: Melinda Sunnarborg, GIS specialist, Community Development Department/ Engineering Division, City of Livermore; phone: (925) 960-4535; e-mail:

This article appears in the June 2007 issue of Western City
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