What is Context Sensitive Solutions?

Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in developing a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historical and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.

CSS suggests taking the trouble to understand all aspects of the context before defining a solution. This includes the transportation and community contexts, as well as the environmental, political, and financial contexts. Sometimes, the context might warrant a solution involving wider shoulders or lanes to advantage bicyclists, but sometimes the context calls for solutions which reduce pedestrian crossing distances, calm traffic, and eliminate impervious surface. Sometimes the context calls for a high-speed freeway like the one that connects Albany to New Jersey and New York (the NY Thruway). Incorrect solutions happen when designers or communities try to force-fit a freeway into a local context; narrow the road cross-sections countywide, thereby allowing no safe place for bicyclists to coexist; or widen lanes/shoulders for bicyclists in areas where resulting increased motor vehicle speeds will damage neighborhood cohesion.

Learn more at the on-line CSS Resource Center, http://www.contextsensitivesolutions.org/, which contains examples of CSS projects that have been built, case studies, and cutting-edge research, information, and policy documents. It was created by Project for Public Spaces in collaboration with Scenic America to assist the Federal Highway Administration in accomplishing one of its Vital Few Strategies — the integration of context sensitive solutions into project planning, development, and implementation in all 50 states by September 2007.

Practitioners and elected officials can consult the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Proposed Recommended Practice, Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities, available as a free download at http://www.ite.org/css/. The document was developed through a partnership with ITE and the Congress for the New Urbanism. Look for a final recommended practice report in 2009.

Also on the horizon is Research NCHRP Project 16-04, "Design Guidelines for Safe and Aesthetic Roadside Treatments in Urban Areas," which will be posted to the CSS Resource Center when completed. Its objectives are to develop design guidelines and a toolbox of effective roadside treatments that balance pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist safety and mobility, and accommodate community values. The guidelines will be based on an evaluation of the effects of treatments such as trees, landscaping, and other roadside features on vehicle speed and overall safety. The guidelines will generally focus on arterial and collector-type facilities in urban areas with speed limits from 25 to 50 mph. Learn more at http://www.contextsensitivesolutions.org/content/reading/safe-aesthetic-roadside-treatments/.