Adopt a context-sensitive approach for all state transportation projects
The State should establish context-sensitive solutions as the standard approach to all transportation projects funded by it or within its jurisdiction. Context-sensitive solutions emphasize the role of streets as a part of the community rather than just as conduits for moving cars. This approach is also a way of doing business that begins with long-range planning and is carried through project implementation. It encourages transportation engineers to use creativity and flexibility in project design. Innovative examples from around the country demonstrate how such an approach to designing transportation projects can improve traffic flow while preserving community character and supporting walkable places that are more easily served by transit. Additionally, experience in states that employ context-sensitive solutions illustrates how such an approach can produce projects that are embraced rather than fought by communities. By avoiding the costs associated with long delays, aborted projects, and bitter public battles, a context-sensitive approach can help states more effectively use limited transportation funds.
Context-sensitive solutions represent a fundamental shift in the way most state departments of transportation do business. Producing results therefore requires sustained leadership from senior-level officials. New guidance might be required to change current practices and existing design standards may need to be revised, although in most instances the desired results can be obtained within existing standards.
To effectively change the direction of a state transportation department, career professionals within the department may need training to help them develop more creative and flexible ways to apply their engineering expertise. Additional staff with expertise in urban design, land use planning, public involvement, and related fields may also need to be hired and integrated into project teams.
A successful context-sensitive process:
- balances safety, mobility, community, and environmental goals in all projects;
- involves the public and affected agencies early and continuously;
- uses an interdisciplinary team tailored to project needs;
- addresses all modes of travel;
- applies flexibility inherent in design standards; and
- incorporates aesthetics as an integral part of good design.
- Caltrans' Context-Sensitive Solutions
Context-sensitive solutions are ingrained in how the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) does business. The agency was able to do this through a collection of policies, directives, guidance documents, funding mechanisms, and training programs committed to context-sensitive solutions. California's CSS initiative fosters early and continuous collaboration with stakeholders, balances transportation needs and community values, and promotes interconnected, multi-modal transportation systems.
- Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation
In 2003, the Executive Office of Transportation and Massachusetts Highway Department launched a three-year initiative to make sweeping changes to its project development and design process and incorporate context-sensitive solutions into its day-to-day decision-making process. With the help of outside community groups, the agency completely overhauled its Highway Design Manual to ensure that projects will be more compatible with the state's rich historic, environmental, community, and cultural resources. The guidebook has significantly more flexible design standards, is strongly multi-modal, explicitly incorporates community setting as a design factor, dramatically reshapes the project development process, and supports early planning and coordination with all stakeholders to create safe, attractive roads.
— Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation
- Maryland's Thinking Beyond the Pavement Program
The Maryland Department of Transportation's Thinking Beyond the Pavement program (TBTP) is used to direct the implementation of context-sensitive design principles in Maryland. Past successes of the TBTP program include training citizens and other stakeholders in context-sensitive design at a two-day implementation workshop, and compiling work plans for TBTP task teams and sub teams. State transportation officials believe the program improved internal and external communication during project planning, design, and construction. They also found that the flexibility of context-sensitive design has improved the consistency of project quality.
— Maryland State Highway Administration