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A Different Approach
The Context Sensitive Way
CSS and Consensus
Characteristics of the CSS
CSS Products or Design
Let's Define Context
Better Value
Tailored Solutions
Customer Satisfaction
On-Time Delivery
  Challenges of Implementing
CSS at the Federal Level
CSS at the State Level
CSS at the Regional Level
CSS at the Local Level
Unique Issues of Urban Arterials


Applying CSS

Context sensitive processes can be applied to almost any function for which an agency is responsible. These are some of the ways in which this approach can be useful:

Citizens sitting at a table in a community planning meeting and a snapshot of a Director's Policy report
  • Long-Range Transportation Plans — Attention to diverse stakeholder values can play an integral role in visioning, screening, and prioritizing projects. Long-range plans can also include policies that encourage CSS approaches during plan implementation and project development.
  • Area-wide Transportation Planning — This approach can be applied over a variety of project areas, including statewide, metropolitan planning organizations (MPO), and regional and area-wide planning through such techniques as integrating transportation, economic, environmental, and land use factors at the area level before projects are selected.
  • Agency Standards and Criteria — The application of CSS during the development of agency policies and standards may not only lead to additional criteria, but also to greater flexibility, so that a project's context can be adequately considered.
  • Develop Project Concepts — Using the CSS approach leads to a more comprehensive and diverse set of alternatives that may offer different ways of balancing stakeholder interests and objectives.
  • Project Development — CSS approaches offer a framework that fully supports National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, approvals, and permitting and other related environmental regulations considered within the NEPA decision-making framework.
  • Consultation and Public Involvement — Engaging resource agencies and the public in decision making ensures greater chances for project success.
  • Preliminary Engineering and Final Design — Applying CSS principles during the design process results in a more thorough understanding of choices, opportunities, and constraints and further clarifies purpose and need.
  • Construction — Coordination and participation in developing traffic management plans, scheduling traffic delays, maintaining business impacts, and other mitigation of construction impacts.
  • Maintenance and Operations — The use of CSS approaches leads to scheduling activities to avoid conflicts with major events, providing information to those affected by the activity, and use of equipment and pesticides that avoid or minimize impacts on the natural environment.


Strategies for Agency and Department Managers

  • Encourage Interdisciplinary Teams — Create collaborative teams that include all relevant planning and design disciplines. Endorse policies that lead to regular cooperation as projects develop.
  • Mentor Staff — Identify staff with experience using the approach and encourage knowledge/skill sharing.
  • Provide Training — Send staff to seminars and conferences to learn new applications and share experiences.
  • Use New Technologies — Invest in new technologies that will improve designs and public understanding and involvement.
  • Adopt Performance Measures — The NCHRP report, “Performance Measures for Context Sensitive Solutions,” illustrates measures that track the use of CSS approaches, both at the project level and organization–wide.
  • Document the Business Case — When CSS projects are successfully completed, summarize and distribute the information so other agencies can learn the benefits gleaned from the project, especially in relation to budget and schedule benefits.
  • Incorporate Lessons into Practice — Incorporate lessons learned into an agency´s way of doing business by changing internal policies and communicating among agency personnel.
  • Review Design Standards — Audit current design standards. Do they hinder implementation of CSS approaches by mandating standards without considering context? The report on “Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares” offers suggestions on improving design standards.


Strategies for Elected Officials

  • Adopt Supportive Policies — Examples include public involvement policies, local planning and design, and other policy statements
  • Promote Success — Talk to constituencies about the benefits of the CSS process through annual report publications, speeches, and interviews


Challenges of Implementing CSS

While CSS can ultimately be a rewarding approach to project development, there are also challenges. It is important to meet these challenges head on and address them up front:

  • Internal Resistance to Change — Managers can help team members understand how their skills relate to job skills required for CSS approaches, provide a rationale for change that is meaningful to each team member's work, and tie performance goals to implementation of CSS approaches.
  • Inflexible Design Standards – Design standards may sometimes be applied rigidly to avoid liability or simply because it is the “way designs are typically done.” Owner/agency liability can be managed when context sensitive solutions are well reasoned and comprehensively documented. To implement CSS approaches, opportunities can be provided for design staff to learn from other design practitioners. This helps designers explore strategies for overcoming barriers to flexible application of design standards and help identify design exception policies that can be applied flexibly.
  • Added Budget for Process — The stakeholder involvement process and other CSS elements can be scaled to the size and complexity of the project.
  • Added Time for Process — The CSS process requires a larger investment of time early in the project. The reward comes later when the design can be advanced relatively quickly with little rework because the team thoroughly understands the context and can design within it.
  • Lack of Stakeholder Trust — The CSS process can require new relationships between DOTs and regulatory agencies and other stakeholders. If there is resistance to shifting to collaborative relationships from traditional regulatory relationships, the DOT can provide training in CSS skills or begin with pilot projects or programs to develop a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities.


CSS at the Federal Level

Aerial view of bridge crossing river going into tunnel under mountain

The Federal Highway Administration promotes CSS approaches by establishing policy, setting funding priorities, conducting training and technical assistance, and providing financial and other support for guidance documents and demonstration projects.

  • Establishing Policy — FHWA has depended on CSS approaches to improve environmental sensitivity in transportation decision making by incorporating CSS at the project level across the country.
  • Providing Training and Technical Assistance — FHWA has provided a 2-day CSS overview course, Webinars, and peer exchanges to federal, state, and local partners. Agency specialists also consult and advise on technical issues for planning and project development processes.
  • Administering Legislation — The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act — A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) legislation, the current 6-year funding bill, includes a provision authorizing the Secretary of Transportation to consider CSS approaches in establishing National Highway System (NHS) standards.
  • Funding to Enhance Livability — SAFETEA–LU contains specific programs, such as Transportation Enhancements and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality, that create eligible categories and funding criteria to advance CSS projects to completion.
  • Funding Pilot Studies — Following the “Thinking Beyond the Pavement“ conference, FHWA selected five pilot states to implement the CSS approach: Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and Utah.

In addition, FHWA partners with federal or national organizations such as American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and Transportation Research Board (TRB) increasingly promote integration of CSS approaches into project development, construction, and maintenance.

  • Organizing Conferences — Federal agencies and organizations have sponsored many conferences on CSS approaches since 1998.
  • Developing Guidance Documents — AASHTO, FHWA, EPA, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, and Congress for the New Urbanism are completing guidance on the design of urban thoroughfares.
  • Developing Web Sites — Project for Public Spaces, FHWA, AASHTO, the Federal Transit Administration, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, and the National Park Service have developed a Web site and clearinghouse for context sensitive solutions www.contextsensitivesolutions.org.


CSS at the State Level

Arterial with sidewalks, transit lanes, street trees and a planted median

State DOTs are playing a central role in implementing this approach. Some examples of initiatives at the state level include:

  • Policy — CSS policies have been adopted by 26 states through executive orders, agency policy changes, or legislative actions. The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), a CSS pilot state, adopted an agency policy in 2000 and has since trained more than 400 employees in CSS approaches. UDOT´s Web site describes CSS as €a philosophy that guides the Utah Department of Transportation wherein safe transportation solutions are planned, designed, constructed, and maintained in harmony with the community and the environment.” www.udot.utah.gov
  • Training — North Carolina DOT developed a 3–day CSS training course that was offered at least once a month from 2003 to 2006. www.ncdot.gov
  • Funding Priorities — Maryland has a transportation enhancement program that focuses on smaller transportation projects that fit the “context of the community.” www.marylandroads.com
  • Demonstration Projects — State–level success stories are numerous. www.contextsensitivesolutions.org
  • Design Manuals — Delaware DOT developed a Traffic Calming Design Manual that includes roadway design standards intended to slow traffic, discourage traffic from cutting through neighborhoods, increase safety for vehicles and pedestrians, and enhance pedestrian environments. www.deldot.gov
  • Long-Range Plans — The Oregon Transportation Plan uses CSS principles to involve stakeholders from different parts of the state as advisors in the plan's development, and obtains substantial public feedback on the draft plan via online survey, online comments, and more than 20 public meetings around the state. www.oregon.gov/ODOT
  • Agency Coordination — Florida DOT´s Environmental Screening Tool is an online resource where resource agencies perform a review of transportation projects after inclusion in a long–range plan and before initiation of design. http://etdmpub.fla-etat.org/est/


CSS at the Regional Level

Implementation of CSS approaches at the regional level is usually done by metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). Examples include:

  • Regional Plans — Metro Vision 2030 is the long-range transportation plan for the Denver Regional Council of Governments and is the area´s comprehensive guide for regional planning. The evaluation criteria reflect a desire to be consistent with the stakeholder vision and goals. For example, projects are given points if they are within or adjacent to an urban center, if they serve a major intermodal facility, or if they support a transit corridor. www.drcog.org
  • Design Guidelines — The MPO for Portland, Oregon, (Metro) developed guidelines for designing “Green Streets,€ streets that are designed to incorporate stormwater treatment within the right of way. These guidelines provide a variety of design cross sections that accommodate bio–filtering swales, conveyance swales, detention basins, and/or detention ponds. www.oregonmetro.gov
  • Corridor Plans — The Portland (Maine) Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee (PACTS) developed an arterial land use policy that requires a land use plan to preserve arterial capacity, protect mobility and public investments, and minimize sprawl for arterial corridor roadway projects that will reduce commuter travel times between an urbanized and a non-urbanized area. www.pactsplan.org

Collage of brochures, signs and charts


CSS at the Local Level

Local jurisdictions construct a majority of transportation improvement projects, frequently using local design standards. CSS efforts at a local scale are focused on developing these standards as well as on project development, construction, and maintenance. Some examples of how CSS principles have been applied at the local level include:

  • Design Guidelines — Sacramento, California, updated roadway design standards in response to concerns from residents and business owners regarding inflexible standards. New standards provide minimum and recommended street widths, allow for trade–offs, and include clearer direction on administering standards.
  • Corridor Plans — Lake Worth, Florida, improved safety and livability downtown by reducing the number of lanes on two downtown streets from three to two. Width from the third lane was used to install parallel parking, paver–block sidewalks and crosswalks, and intersection bumpouts. During construction, the city regularly apprised business owners of progress and assisted with procurement of economic development grant funds. The improvements stimulated economic development in the downtown and greatly reduced vehicle speed and number of accidents.

Unique Issues of Urban Arterials

Traffic on city street

Complementing Urban Land Uses — In urban areas, key aspects of context are often social and economic in nature. How will the improvement impact the way people live and work in the vicinity?



Urban design sketch showing roadway network

Urban Network — Streets in urban areas are part of a network; changes to one street have impacts on adjacent streets. Will planned improvements integrate the surrounding network as part of the solution?



Family walking on sidewalk near an outside cafe

Accommodating Multiple Modes — Solutions need to consider all users. This is especially true in urban areas, where non-auto modes are more prevalent. How will the improvement affect cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders?


The Institute of Transportation Engineers is completing work on an important document, “Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach,” which will contain extensive and specific guidance on how to address the types of questions posed above.