The CSS process is a collaborative, interdisciplinary, holistic approach to the development of transportation projects. It is both process and product, characterized by a number of attributes. It involves all stakeholders, including community members, elected officials, interest groups, and affected local, state, and federal agencies. It puts project needs and both agency and community values on a level playing field and considers all trade-–offs in decision making.
The process differs from traditional processes in that it considers a range of goals that extends beyond the transportation problem. It includes goals related to community livability and sustainability, and seeks to identify and evaluate diverse objectives earlier in the process and with greater participation by those affected. The result is greater consensus and a streamlined project during later stages of project development and delivery.
While CSS processes are often associated with design, the approach is most effective when used during each step of planning and project development--from long-range transportation plans to individual corridor strategies.
While every project has unique circumstances, all CSS processes should build consensus around these issues before solutions are identified:
Once stakeholders agree on these, the team can begin to identify and evaluate alternatives and make decisions. The steps for building agreement are flexible and can be adapted to suit individual projects. At the heart of the approach is the methodical integration of diverse values at each step of the process.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines context sensitive solutions (CSS) as: “a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in providing a transportation facility that fits its setting. It is an approach that leads to preserving and enhancing scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and environmental resources, while improving or maintaining safety, mobility, and infrastructure conditions.”
Context is a broad description of a project's physical, economic, and social setting. The context may include the community, ecological, aesthetic, and transportation conditions as well as the political and policy environment.
Interdisciplinary teams are groups involving people with different backgrounds who work collaboratively to solve a common problem.
Stakeholders are affected people and organizations, including agency staff and elected officials, organized groups, area residents, and business owners.
As shown by the graphs below, a CSS process becomes less contentious as the design becomes more complex. Public and stakeholder involvement might be a primary activity early in the project, but by the time engineers are producing detailed plans, stakeholders only wish to be kept informed about progress and involved when changes arise. This front-loaded community participation and decision-making process allows stakeholders to influence outcomes by raising issues early when they can still be addressed.
“´The community' is anyone who has an interest or stake in a particular place. It is made up of the people who live near a particular place (whether they use it or not), own businesses, or work in the area, or attend institutions such as schools and churches there. It also includes elected officials who represent an area and groups that organize activities there, such as a . . . merchants association.”
— Project for Public Spaces (PPS) from How to Turn a Place Around: A Handbook for Creating Successful Public Spaces — from Getting it Right in the Right of Way: Citizen Participation in Context-Sensitive Highway Design
These before and after photos from the Aurora Avenue Project (Shoreline, Washington) illustrate how successful CSS projects improve safety and mobility for a variety of users. The photo illustrates a new grade-separated pedestrian crossing, improved sidewalks, managed access, enhanced greenscape.
Sustainability and Livable Communities
CSS projects consider new and emerging technologies, funding sources, and public policy issues aimed at addressing major drivers such as energy supply, climate change, and sustainability initiatives.
CSS projects address livability issues such as bicycle and pedestrian facilities, transit, and multimodal connections.
CSS projects embrace sustainability principles such as stormwater mangement, water quality, and the use of recycled materials throughout their lifecycles.
“To be more responsive to the public, we need to move from
— American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) — from Getting it Right in the Right of Way: Citizen Participation in the Context-Sensitive Highway Design
The first step of the CSS process is to define the context for a project. This is essentially the framework within which this approach will be applied, so it is important to understand what that includes. So what is ““context?”
“Context refers to the natural or built environment created by the land, topography, natural features, buildings and associated features, land use types, and activities on property adjacent to streets and on sidewalks, and a broader area created by the surrounding neighborhood, district, or community. Context also refers to the diversity of users of the environment.”
— Federal Highway Administration
While the context for every project will be different, every project has a context.
Some aspects of context might be viewed positively by one stakeholder group and negatively by another. For example, substantial regional traffic might be a positive for the owner of an auto-oriented business and a negative for the area's residents. Descriptions of the context should use objective, value-–neutral language to reflect the perspectives of all stakeholders without judging which aspects are good or bad.
Creating an inventory or profile of community resources and attributes has long been a part of the “Community Impact Assessment (CIA) process. For more information on this methodology, see the Community Impact Assessment (CIA) Web site.