Best planning and implementation toolbox

Context Sensitive Solutions:

Purpose of Tool:

Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation
Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) provide a different approach to the planning and design of transportation projects. CSS encompass a collaborative and cooperative approach to ensure that a transportation facility fits within the character of the physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic, and environmental resources, while maintaining the safety and mobility of the facility. CSS consider the total “context” or environment/character within which a transportation improvement project is located. CSS principles include the employment of early, continuous, and meaningful involvement of the public and all stakeholders throughout the project development process.

Benefits of Using Tool:
The utilization of CSS can positively affect transportation projects. The following describe the important benefits of CSS:
  • They require stronger working relationships among public agencies, communities, and citizens;
  • The designs better accommodate community objectives while meeting agency objectives;
  • They provide improved acceptance of final project design;
  • They often lower project costs by shortening the development process; and
  • They often lead to expedited project approvals.

    These benefits provide a good business practice by obtaining early acceptance of the project and moving the project through the development process efficiently.

    Steps Involved to Use Tool:

    This image represents a roadside in a commercial area that is context-sensitive.

    Source: Institute of Transportation Engineers Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities
    The following principles are typically taken in implementing CSS into the project development process:
  • Engage stakeholders and partners early and throughout the project process;
  • Develop a clear purpose and need/problem definition through project visioning;
  • As designs are developed, use environmental sensitivity;
  • Conduct the design process using interdisciplinary teams, potentially including engineers, landscape architects, environmental specialists, and community planners;
  • Maintain flexibility as project designs are evaluated;
  • Once projects are constructed, follow-up with regular maintenance and operations evaluations; and
  • Evaluate the project using CSS performance measures.

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    The utilization of CSS is a new approach to transportation planning and implementation. CSS implementation ensures that transportation, community, and environmental goals are all on an equal footing, rather than solely relying on transportation goals and traditional engineering as the primary driver for all project design decisions. This multi-faceted approach is a challenge for integrating CSS into transportation agencies and overall transportation decision-making, in order to satisfy the goals for the varying disciplines (transportation, environmental, community development, etc.). Some agencies are integrating this process on a project-by-project basis, while others are implementing it throughout their entire organizations. Regardless of the approach, the utilization of CSS is a paradigm shift in the focus of transportation projects.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:

    This image represents a roadside in a commercial area that is NOT context-sensitive.

    Source: Institute of Transportation Engineers Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities
    A key to integrating CSS into transportation planning is the understanding of the human/built and natural environment. To implement CSS, new and different types of data for the project, such as adjacent land uses, are needed, as well as different systems for managing, analyzing, and displaying data. These data are used to improve the understanding of the interactions between transportation facilities and the communities they serve. In addition, a successful CSS process includes extensive public involvement from the onset of the project.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    The following agencies have successfully implemented CSS:

  • Massachusetts Highway Department: The Department incorporates context sensitive solutions into its day-to-day decision making process. MassHighway released Project Development and Design Guide in January 2006 which serves as a guidebook for the state.  Contact:

    Massachusetts Highway Department
    10 Park Plaza, Suite 3170
    Boston, MA 02116

  • Leavenworth, Washington: Washington State DOT completed a CSS project to improve multiple modes of transportation on US 2 through the community of Leavenworth. Specifically, the project relieved congestion, increased capacity, and improved safety for both pedestrians and vehicular traffic.  Contact:

    Washington State Department of Transportation
    310 Maple Park Avenue
    PO Box 47300
    Olympia, WA 98504

  • Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission: The agency developed a Context Sensitive Design Manual that describes the relationship between transportation and land use and provides guidance on street design elements. The manual provides varying levels of requirements based on the specific context of the area and the functional classification of the street.  Contact:

    Mark Wilkes - Director of Transportation
    Chatham Urban Transportation

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    The Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission has implemented their CSS guidelines in order to preserve the historic and coastal character of the community.

    The Utah DOT was awarded notable practices by AASHTO for the institutionalization of CSS into its business practices. Utah’s approach to integrating CSS across the agency demonstrated a commitment to make communities better. UDOT incorporated performance measures to measure the success of the CSS process, including using stakeholder surveys to measure success of the CSS process, and using community committees to measure effectiveness of contractors during construction.

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
  • “Context Sensitive Street Design”. 2001. Atlanta Regional Commission
  • “Context Sensitive Design Manual” 2007. Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission
  • “Agency Challenges to Integrating Context Sensitive Solutions”. 2006. White paper for ITE Technical Conference.
  • “Best Practices in Context Sensitive Solutions”. 2006. AASHTO.
  • “Performance Measures for Context Sensitive Solutions: A Guidebook for State DOTs”. 2004.
  • Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Context Sensitive Solutions Network,