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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Focus > September 2010 > FHWA Bridge Conference Spotlights Opportunities and Successes in Accelerated Bridge Construction
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-017
Date: September 2010

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A Context Sensitive Approach to Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares

Now coming to a town near you: A more livable, walkable community. Context sensitive solutions (CSS) for today's urban communities are the focus of a new report sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach. The report was developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers in partnership with EPA, Congress for the New Urbanism, and FHWA.

Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares looks at how to use CSS to improve both mobility and livability by enhancing the walkable thoroughfares in communities, making walking both a desirable and efficient mode of transportation. Characteristics of walkable communities include mixed land uses in close proximity; building entrances that front the street; pedestrian-scale building, landscape, and thoroughfare design; compact developments; a highly connected circulation network; and public spaces that contribute to "placemaking."

Across the country, communities are embracing the principles of CSS and transforming the transportation project development process to better meet the needs of users. As the new report highlights, the principles of CSS promote a collaborative, multidisciplinary process that involves all stakeholders in planning and designing transportation facilities. These facilities:

  • Meet the needs of users and stakeholders.
  • Are compatible with their setting and preserve scenic, aesthetic, historic, and environmental resources.
  • Respect design objectives for safety, efficiency, multimodal mobility, capacity, and maintenance.
  • Integrate community objectives and values relating to compatibility, livability, sense of place, urban design, cost, and environmental impacts.

In applying these CSS principles, objectives, issues, and trade-offs based on stakeholder and community input are identified at the beginning of the regional transportation planning process, continuing through each level of planning and project development.

Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares describes the principles of CSS in detail and identifies how these principles can be applied when planning and developing roadway improvement projects on urban thoroughfares. Examining everything from initial planning decisions to the final design, the report guides readers through the many steps involved in achieving a walkable community. Planning topics covered include CSS in network planning, effective network planning for walkable areas, and urban corridor thoroughfare planning for walkable urban areas. Guidance is also offered on how to select appropriate thoroughfare types and corresponding design parameters to best meet walkability needs in a particular context. Topics discussed include streetside, intersection, and multiway boulevard design, with criteria provided for the specific elements of each thoroughfare type. Design examples and recommended practices are included, as well as suggested sources for additional information.

As the report notes, "one size does not fit all" when designing walkable thoroughfares, which means that the function of a thoroughfare and its design should complement the context that it serves. This context can include the surrounding land use, such as residential versus commercial use, and the site design of such elements as buildings, parking, and landscaping. Also discussed is the process of balancing the needs of all users, adjoining land uses, environmental considerations, and community interests when making project decisions.

Across the country, communities are embracing the principles of CSS and transforming the transportation project development process to better meet the needs of users.

The report supplements and expands on policies, guides, and standards commonly used by State and local transportation agencies. These include the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, Highway Safety Design and Operations Guide, Roadside Design Guide, and A Guide for Achieving Flexibility in Highway Design, as well as FHWA's Flexibility in Highway Design and Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

For more information about CSS, visit, or contact Jon Obenberger at FHWA, 202-366-2221 (email:; Neel Vanikar at FHWA, 202-366-2068 (email:; or Harold Peaks at FHWA, 202-366-1598 (email: To download a copy of Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach (Pub. No. RP-036A), visit


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Updated: 02/20/2015

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