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December 2009

We are pleased to present our December 2009 newsletter on Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS). In this special edition newsletter, we bring you an in-depth peice on the Portland CSS National Dialog workshop, along with an update on content that has been recently added to the clearinghouse:

The success of the CSS website would not be possible without your continued contributions. Please continue contributing content, and improving our nation's transportation system by highlighting CSS and the best-practices in your city, state, or region.

If you have any questions about contributing content, or anything else, please e-mail us at info@contextsensitivesolutions.org or call (212) 620-5660.

Happy new year!
The ContextSensitiveSolutions.org team

FHWA/CTE Sponsors Regional CSS National Dialog Workshop in Portland

By Sandy Otto, FHWA Arkansas Division Administrator

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) sponsored the second of five planned CSS "National Dialog" Workshops in Portland, Oregon on December 7. These workshops are funded from the FHWA Office of Planning, Environment and Realty's Surface Transportation Environment and Planning Cooperative Research Program, or STEP. Staffed by CTE and FHWA's Resource Center, the workshops are also webcast to expand participation nationwide. The first workshop was held in Austin, TX on October 20, 2009. Information about that workshop can be found here.

The National Dialog is meant to be a catalyst for an ongoing exchange of ideas to build momentum for wider implementation of context sensitive approaches and solutions. Case studies of exemplary projects, plans and programs that apply context sensitive approaches are compiled, presented and discussed by workshop participants.

Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) National Dialog

December's workshop brought participants from the Oregon and Washington DOTs, county and city governments, FHWA and FTA, consulting firms and federal resource agencies. Four case studies were presented representing rural corridor redesign, urban planning, urban redevelopment and endangered species permitting. A lively discussion of the benefits and challenges of these case studies took place, with an engaged and sometimes critical audience.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), City of Portland and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife partnered to create streamlined procedures (to get to a) programmatic biological opinion and incidental take statement for transportation actions that are permitted through the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) 404 permitting process. Although the biological opinion is between the COE and NMFS, ODOT was invited to provide extensive feedback to NMFS on ways to reduce or remove adverse effects, while facilitating transportation project development, design and construction.

Both the Town of Paradise, CA Skyway Corridor Plan and the High Point, WA Neighborhood Transportation Case Study showed how existing facilities can be redesigned to improve safety and mobility for all roadway users. The Skyway Corridor Plan reduces a four lane roadway to three lanes in the downtown area, adding bicycle lanes, enhancing pedestrian crossing facilities and widening sidewalks while maintaining traffic flow through targeted intersection improvements and coordination of traffic signals. The High Point study redesigned five blocks of a major arterial that had divided a residential neighborhood and acted as a barrier for families and senior citizens accessing the school, neighborhood center and regional athletic fields. Traffic calming was achieved by designing streets following the traditional dimensions of older Seattle neighborhoods. Shallow, grassy swales were built alongside sidewalks as both drainage and buffer between pedestrians and traffic. The Morgan/Sylvan corridor, with its low impact development treatments, center planted median, sidewalks, art, transit stops and bicycle arrows is a great example of green, complete streets.

Last, the Interstate 405 Context Sensitive Solutions Master Plan was created to improve a 40-mile corridor over several decades, at a total estimated cost of $11 billion. A CSS Team led by landscape architects was formed and input solicited from various committees made up of business owners, concerned citizens and local officials. The Master Plan addresses congestion on this very busy commuter route by increasing the number of lanes to no more than four, including a dedicated HOV lane, and by enhancing area Bus Rapid Transit. It does so, however, while celebrating the remarkable natural environment of the Puget Sound and respecting the history, culture and progress of the region. A "plant palette" mitigates roadsides and interchange areas and highlights important gateways and zones throughout the corridor. Stepped and planted retaining walls reduce large flat expanses of wall and highlight important pedestrian experiences. Structural elements are inspired by natural forms and textures, and a color palette conducive to the natural theme was developed. When presented with the final product, stakeholders were "overjoyed" with the result. The State's vision for a fully integrated method of context sensitive project development had paid off.

After lunch, a panel of transportation professionals representing federal, state, county and city governments gave their thoughts on the case studies and answered thought provoking questions put forward by Moderator Jim Daisa of Kimley Horn and by workshop participants.

Lynn Peterson, Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, praised the breadth of use of context sensitive principles in these projects and programs, pointing out the difficulty of identifying context for major highway projects--"What does it mean to do something less than a freeway?" Gail Achterman, Oregon State Transportation Commissioner, added that while CSS principles are applied differently from regional planning through project design, they should be embedded in our STIP criteria and considered in preservation, maintenance, safety and bridge programming.

Tom Kloster, Metro Transportation Planning Manager, remembered Conde McCullough, an Oregon bridge engineer in the early 1900's and known for designing many of Oregon's coastal bridges. McCullough felt that the job of the engineer was to integrate transportation infrastructure into the environment. Kloster noted that these bridges were "built with a vision of perpetuity". Speaking of the process, he added that "Done right, context sensitive planning changes you."

When asked "How do you develop champions", the panelists had many ideas ranging from "SWAT teams" for problem projects, "peer-to-peer contact" at the project site, empowering employees, identifying shared goals and focusing on outcomes. Ms. Achterman noted that in our transportation organizations we still need specialists, but "we need them to know how to work in teams, to create something better. That is the essence of CSS."

K. Lynn Berry closed by encouraging workshop participants to stay engaged, use the web-based clearinghouse and help build a stronger community of practice. When asked how these workshops will enhance the use of CSS principles, she said "The CSS National Dialog was conceived as a way to create a broader and deeper understanding of context sensitivity in transportation. We wanted to reach out to a wide range of partners in the effort, and to build new constituencies for CSS principles. The regional workshops help us connect with stakeholders across the country; the sharing of best practices provides tools for everyone interested in the delivery of quality plans and projects; and the conversations started here help define the many ways in which Context Sensitive Solutions can support sustainable transportation and livable communities. We're glad the Dialog will continue at three more regional workshops, as well as through the growing Community of Practice at the CSS Clearinghouse, www.contextsensitivesolutions.org."

Materials from the Portland CSS National Dialog Workshop, including a video of the workshop, and presentation PDFs, are currently available at www.cssnationaldialog.org.

These, along with information and case studies from all of the National Dialog workshops will ultimately reside at the CSS Clearinghouse, where the Dialog continues online. The next workshops will be in Charlotte, North Carolina - Thursday, February 4, 2010, where registration will be open until January 28, 2010. And St. Paul, Minnesota - Thursday, April 22, 2010, where registration will be open until January 28, 2010. For more information about registration, click here.

Case Studies from NCHRP Report 642 Added to the Clearinghouse

In recent weeks, we have added 33 case studies to the CSS website. The case studies are from NCHRP Report 642: Quantifying the Benefits of Context Sensitive Solutions.

The report "presents guidelines for quantifying the benefits of applying the principles of Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) to transportation projects," and is of "immediate interest to the staff of state and municipal agencies with responsibility for planning, programming, developing, and operating transportation projects of all types and sizes."

The case-studies include a wide range of CSS examples, which cover a diversity of locations, road classifications, and transportation systems. Each case study details the project team, CSS stakeholders, CSS principles that were applied, and the quantitative benefits, as calculated by the report's researchers.

The case-studies can be found by clicking here. One of the primary authors of the report, Nikiforos Stamatiadis of the University of Kentucky, will be hosting a CSS webinar on the findings of the report and case studies in early 2009.

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