Virtual Reality (VR) in urban planning – a helpful use of technology to increase the acceptance of a reduction in car traffic

Climate change and the associated attempt to take appropriate measures in order to reduce global warming are omnipresent. One current issue in this context is car traffic, especially in large cities, which produces a lot of emissions and, thus, contributes to climate change. European cities want to reduce the dominance of motorized individual transport in order to combat the environmental problems associated with it, such as noise, air pollution and land consumption (SPIEGEL, 2022). The aim is to redesign public space to improve the quality of life, so that everyone ultimately benefits.

In this context, the acceptance of citizens is particularly important for the implementation of transport policy measures, as resistance may arise before or during projects (Bosch & Peyke, 2011; Huber et al., 2020; Pleger, 2019). Studies show that citizens are more open to transport policy measures if they create quality of life and quality of place (Andor et al., 2020; Wicki et al., 2021; Wicki & Kaufmann, 2022). It is problematic that in the early planning phases, the opportunities for influence are greatest, but the interest of citizens is lowest (Wolf et al., 2020). One reason for the low level of interest is the provision of comprehensible information, which is often characterized by complex plan drawings, image montages, graphics or texts in technical language that are difficult or impossible for non-experts to understand (Spieker, 2021; Wolf et al., 2020).

This is where new technologies come into play, such as virtual reality glasses, which can visualize measures and changes in the cityscape and make them tangible. Several studies have demonstrated the potential of simple immersion in various new reality scenarios without prior knowledge or experience (Lovett et al., 2015; Schauppenlehner et al., 2018; Schwarze et al., 2022; Sinning et al., 2023). Through these so-called immersive visualization technologies, every citizen can also be made privy to a project and their opinion can be sought, thus increasing the acceptance of the measures and changes.

Research Goal

The aim of a study conducted by Jasmina Rückle, a Master student in our Business Psychology Programme, was to analyze the impact of the use of immersive visualization technologies on the acceptance of a reduction in moving and stationary car traffic among residents and people in a suburban area. Empirically, there is a gap on the question of whether immersive visualization technologies (e.g. VR glasses) have a stronger positive influence on the acceptance of car traffic reduction than less immersive visualization technologies (e.g. a video on a smartphone). There is also a lack of information on the factors that influence immersion, which were investigated in more detail in this study.

Study Overview

The experimental study was conducted in an urban environment in Stuttgart with a representative group of 60 participants, consisting of local residents and people with a personal connection to the surrounding area. During the experiment, the participants were presented with different scenarios related to traffic reduction. Firstly, what the urban environment currently looks like, and secondly, what it could look like in the future with less car traffic. The experiment was conducted under three different conditions: a) interactive virtual reality, b) visualization of a VR video and c) presentation of a video on a smartphone. Acceptance of the traffic reduction and other relevant variables were measured before and after the exposure of the virtual presentation.

The survey data was recorded on a 5-point Likert scale from not at all (1) to completely (5). The 60 respondents, with an average age of 34 years, were 48% male and 52% female. The two largest groups of people were professionals (55%) and students (32%), all of whom had regular contact with the selected urban environment.

Main Findings

Acceptance of car traffic reduction:
The residents and people with a direct connection to the selected urban environment had a high acceptance of the reduction of moving and stationary car traffic. They particularly disliked the noise caused by the traffic.

Immersive visualization technologies:
After the manipulation with the VR interaction, the acceptance of reducing car traffic differed significantly between the scenarios of how the neighbourhood looks now and how it could look in the future. For example, acceptance increased with the help of immersive technology in the interactive VR scenario. This was not the case for the other two conditions (VR video and smartphone video).

In our study, the level of immersion (how much the respondent can immerse themselves in the scenario) had a strong positive influence on acceptance. Immersion can be further enhanced by increasing the user’s attention and cognitive involvement, which can be promoted by, for example, a high-resolution animated scenario and a situation in which the person does not feel observed. People with a strong spatial imagination also experience better immersion. On the other hand, technology affinity had no effect on perceived immersion.


From the study it can be concluded that it may be a useful method in future urban planning to use technologies such as high immersion VR glasses to allow citizens to immerse themselves in the scenario and thus increase the acceptance for changes. This can be used for future scenarios that are otherwise not directly tangible to citizens, which can be animated in a way that is close to reality. As we have demonstrated, interaction in virtual reality can increase the acceptance of reducing car traffic in cities, which would facilitate the implementation of climate-friendly measures. A VR or smartphone video does not increase this acceptance. A high degree of immersion is important. This can be further increased by high attention, cognitive involvement and strong spatial imagination of the person using the immersive technology.


Andor, M. A., Frondel, M., Horvath, M., Larysch, T., & Ruhrort, L. (2020). Präferenzen und Einstellungen zu vieldiskutierten verkehrspolitischen Maßnahmen: Ergebnisse einer Erhebung aus dem Jahr 2018. List Forum für Wirtschafts- und Finanzpolitik, 45(3), 255–280.

Bosch, S., & Peyke, G. (2011). Gegenwind für die Erneuerbaren – Räumliche Neuorientierung der Wind-, Solar- und Bioenergie vor dem Hintergrund einer verringerten Akzeptanz sowie zunehmender Flächennutzungskonflikte im ländlichen Raum. Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning, 69(2), 105–118.

Huber, R. A., Wicki, M. L., & Bernauer, T. (2020). Public support for environmental policy depends on beliefs concerning effectiveness, intrusiveness, and fairness. Environmental Politics, 29(4), 649–673.

Lovett, A., Appleton, K., Warren-Kretzschmar, B., & Von Haaren, C. (2015). Using 3D visualization methods in landscape planning: An evaluation of options and practical issues. Landscape and Urban Planning, 142, 85–94. 

Pleger, L. E. (2019). Democratic Acceptance of Spatial Planning Policy Measures. Springer International Publishing. 319-90878-6

Schauppenlehner, T., Kugler, K., & Muhar, A. (2018). Anwendungserfahrungen von Virtual Reality als Kommunikationswerkzeug in partizipativen Planungsprozessen. Wichmann Verlag.

Schwarze, J., Vöckler, K., Hinde, S., David, E., Le-Hoa Võ, M., & Eckart, P. (2022). Virtual Reality im Mobilitätsdesign: Experimentelle Forschung zum Einsatz von VR-Simulationen. In P. Eckart, M. Knöll, M. Lanzendorf, & K. Vöckler (Hrsg.), Mobility Design (S. 198–215). De Gruyter. 

Sinning, H., Brandenburger, Y., Kruse, R., & Rogoll, S. (2023). Partizipative Stadtentwicklung mit XR-Technologie. Urbane Transformation als gesamtgesellschaftliche Aufgabe.

SPIEGEL. (2022). Barcelona, London oder Paris: Wie Europas Metropolen das Auto loswerden wollen. SPIEGEL Mobilität.

Spieker, A. (2021). Chance statt Show – Bürgerbeteiligung mit Virtual Reality & Co.: Akzeptanz und Wirkung der Visualisierung von Bauvorhaben. Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden. 33082-8

Wicki, M., Hofer, K., & Kaufmann, D. (2021). Acceptance of densification in six metropolises: Evidence from combined survey experiments [Application/pdf]. 28 p. 

Wicki, M., & Kaufmann, D. (2022). Accepting and resisting densification: The importance of project-related factors and the contextualizing role of neighbourhoods. Landscape and Urban Planning, 220, 104350.

Wolf, M., Söbke, H., & Wehking, F. (2020). Mixed Reality Media-Enabled Public Participation in Urban Planning. In T. Jung, M. C. Tom Dieck, & P. A. Rauschnabel (Hrsg.), Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality: Changing Realities in a Dynamic World (S. 125–138). Springer International Publishing.

VR in applied research [part 2]: When our imagination doesn’t reach far enough – Virtual reality as a participatory method to increase the acceptance of sustainable mobility

It is expected of cities to provide an attractive, but also competitive place to work and live, while managing the needs of all transportation users and meeting the increasing demands of climate, environmental and health protection all at the same time. Not meeting these demands often simultaneously relates to a reduction in the inhabitants’ quality of life. An important component for a high standard of living in cities is mobility, which is one aspect of our institution’s research project, iCity, aimed at developing the intelligent city of the future (read more here about this project).

Continue reading “VR in applied research [part 2]: When our imagination doesn’t reach far enough – Virtual reality as a participatory method to increase the acceptance of sustainable mobility”

VR in applied research [part 1]: An empirical investigation of using virtual reality for researching the acceptance of smart stores

Imagine you are at the grocery store, but instead of waiting at the cashier to pay, an artificial intelligence (AI) registered the products you took and automatically bills them to your account right after you leave the store. For many years, the shopping process in a supermarket was very similar: customers would take products from shelves, then go to checkout, put the goods on a belt which were scanned by a cashier, and pay. Usually, this process is often associated with waiting times, depending on how busy the store is. With the introduction of self-checkouts, this process has already been optimized through technology. In 2016, Amazon opened the first smart store in Seattle. A smart store completely eliminates the payment process at a cash register (Amazon, 2022). Cameras, sensors and an AI automatically detect which products the customer took from the shelf. The products are paid for using the stored payment data when the customer leaves the store. This smart store concept rather describes the “Grab & Go” technology which includes a walk-in option for customers. While there are a multitude of different concepts used in smart stores, this research focused on said concept as well as an ”Automated Box” concept which refers to a smart store with a fully automated high-bay warehouse. Customers do not select the products inside this particular smart store, but choose their desired products via an app either before or upon their arrival.

Continue reading “VR in applied research [part 1]: An empirical investigation of using virtual reality for researching the acceptance of smart stores”

VR in the customer journey [part 2]: How does virtual reality effect the fashion shopping experience?

Virtual reality (VR), which is considered a megatrend (Rutkowski, 2022), aids in blurring the line between actual reality and the virtual world. Specifically, a study from 2020 concluded that 46% of Germans are interested in using VR technologies when shopping online (Bahr, 2020). Hence, utilizing VR in the fashion industry could provide additional opportunities for customers and retailers. It is of particularly great importance for fashion retailers to find a suitable way of linking digitalization and in-person shopping. Indeed, sales forecasts for in-person store shopping are decreasing (KPMG, 2021). The point-of-purchase (e.g., physical store or online store) plays a significant role in the customer journey (Redler, 2018) as is greatly impacts the purchase decision.

Research goal

Using the example of a fashion store, Lydia Gaus aimed at investigating the influence of VR technologies on the participants‘ general interest in the store, interest in visiting the store, and intended purchase behavior compared to two-dimensional stimuli. Additionally, the study tried to find explanatory aspects for the advantages or disadvantages as well as possible requirements for including VR into the shopping journey of cross-channel shoppers.

Research overview

Gaus used a mixed methods approach for her research, including two groups, one receiving images on their personal devices, e.g., smartphones, and one looking at 360° images on VR glasses. The images displayed three rooms of a clothing store without customers, whereby the 360° view was utilized in the form of seperate shots for the 2-D group so that the images looked like usual photographs. Participants were then presented a questionnaire and a subsample was chosen to participate in subsequent interviews. In total, 68 participants (with half for each group), who were mainly students (52%), representing 50% female and male respectively as well as an age range of 18 to 61 years (mean=31.5, SD=13.9), took part in the first part of the study. 10 of these respondents subsequently participated in an interview.

Main findings

  • Participants who received the VR input had a significantly higher general interest in the store, interest in visiting the store and purchase intention than the group receiving 2-D stimuli.
  • The VR group remembered significantly more objects from the store than the picture group.
  • The factor stimuli significantly predicts the experienceability (sense of presence) which predicts the purchase intention as well as interest in and intention to visit the store. For the VR group, experienceability was higher, which in turn was positively related to the purchase intention.
  • Throughout the interviews, multiple advantages of VR shopping were repeatedly mentioned, namely the realistic presentation of the store, a comfortable atmosphere as well as resulting positive emotions such as fun, curiosity, and entertainment/ surprising.
  • Optimization potentials related to missing music in the store, missing shopping experience (i.e. interaction with staff or other customers), little comfort in wearing the glasses as well as technical limitations related to the virtual scenario, and no option to “move” or navigate through the store.


Using VR technology in the customer journey can offer additional opportunities for retailers, as it increases the purchase intention and general interest in the store as well as visiting intention for the customers, compared to 2-D stimuli. Additionally, the consumers’ ability to remember the store was better with VR than with pictures. Hence, offering VR images can be a useful marketing measure for clothing retailers, as it offers the linkage between online and in-store shopping. This could also spark interest in cross-channel shoppers to visit physical stores. However, VR glasses are still not popular in private homes. Furthermore, the perceived usefulness of VR shopping is limited due to the missing interaction with other people and the physical clothes. Hence, providers should further develop the technical options, such as navigating through the store, updating the VR-data with current product availability, and virtual trying on of the clothes as well as the interaction with other customers (as in the metaverse).

After covering VR as a potential addition to the customer journey, we will dive into VR as a new tool for user research in the next two posts, beginning with a study which explored the acceptance of smart stores via VR. Here, VR was used in order to more vividly display the new store concept.


Bahr, I. (2020). Studie: Virtual Reality im Online-Shopping – 17 % kaufen online mit VR ein, GetApp. Retrieved from:

KPMG. (2021). Front Row: Sehen, was morgen Mode ist. Studie Fashion 2030. Köln. Retrieved from:

Redler, J. (2018). Die Store Brand. Einkaufsstätten als Marken verstehen, aufbauen und steuern. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.

Rutkowski, M. (2022). Metaverse – wie Unternehmen den Megatrend nutzen können. Handelsblatt. Retrieved from:

VR in the customer journey [part 1]: Increasing accommodation sales by limiting risk and providing an escape into virtual reality tourism

We will kick off a new blog series about virtual reality (VR) with two posts about VR as a potential tool along the customer journey. Additionally, we will publish two posts regarding studies, which examined VR as a tool in user research, which we have already started to report on in this post.

The concept of “try before you buy” is widely popular to reduce uncertainties for consumers before the purchase of a product and to provide support in the purchase decision. When buying goods in real-life stores, customers are able to actually touch and test the products which aids them in evaluating the product quality before buying. This sales concept can be implemented in many online stores as well, as customers are given a specified test period without having to pay for the product immediately (Allen, 2016; Avampato, 2018). However, applying this sales approach to the tourism industry is practically impossible due to the immateriality of the product. In fact, customers have to make a decision based on the available information, provided on the internet, for instance. Yet, they only find out upon arrival at the destination whether the booked service actually meets their expectations (Bruhn & Hadwich, 2004; Hartmann, 2018). Hence, from the consumer’s perspective, this results in a perceived purchase risk, as booking a vacation trip is usually associated with a certain degree of uncertainty (Bär, 2006; Syrek et al., 2017). Virtual reality (VR) can aid consumers during the decision process and minimizes this purchase risk as it presents the destination in a virtual world and gives the customer an active role to discover it.

Continue reading “VR in the customer journey [part 1]: Increasing accommodation sales by limiting risk and providing an escape into virtual reality tourism”

Does virtual reality aid in realistically testing the acceptance of new innovations? – A case study on the acceptance of air taxis

Innovations in the area of mobility often take years, sometimes decades, to become reality. Developing technologies over such long time spans is a risk, since it is unclear whether the public will accept the new technology, once available. This raises the question whether it is possible to evaluate the acceptance of a technology, which cannot yet be tested under real live conditions. Industry and researchers have come up with different solutions to this challenge, using descriptions, sometimes pictures and increasingly also videos and virtual reality demonstrations of the new technology.

Continue reading “Does virtual reality aid in realistically testing the acceptance of new innovations? – A case study on the acceptance of air taxis”