March 2010

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is pleased to present the March 2010 Context Sensitive Solutions Newsletter. In this issue, we cover:

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CSS National Dialog Workshop Update

By: Ann Hartell, Research Associate with the Center for Transportation and the Environment

Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) National Dialog

Since late last year, the CSS National Dialog has convened over 250 participants at regional workshops across the country to discuss how CSS is a key strategy to deliver outstanding projects, generate high quality plans, and develop agency-wide programs to improve transportation outcomes. Participants have represented state DOTs (approximately 25%); state, federal and local governments (30%); and the private sector (30%) as well as university affiliates and NGOs.  And with live webcasting, hundreds more have joined the conversation.

The purpose of the National Dialog is not only to provide a series of workshops, but also to build on-going interest in CSS by promoting a community of practice, centered at the CSS Clearinghouse. More information on the Dialog is available at the project web site:


Central Texas Greenprint—presented at the Austin, Texas workshop, October 2009. The Greenprint is an example of applying CSS principles to a regional planning initiative. Sean Moran, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, described how interactive GIS mapping was used to bring diverse communities and interests to consensus on regional conservation and greenspace priorities that will shape land use, development and transportation infrastructure . Learn more about the Greenprint:

Skyway Corridor Study—presented at the Portland, Oregon, workshop, December 2009. The Skyway Corridor Study is an adopted corridor plan developed for a segment of a state highway that runs through the downtown district of the small city of Paradise, California. The plan includes bicycle and pedestrian facilities, traffic calming elements, targeted intersection improvements to maintain traffic flow, and improve the streetscape, all in support of revitalizing the downtown. Steve Weinberger, of Whitlock and Weinberger Transportation, Inc., described how the project team responded to a wildfire during the study to revise the median treatments to improve emergency evacuation. Learn more about the Skyway Corridor Study:

Charlotte Urban Street Design Guidelines (USDG)—presented at the Charlotte, North Carolina, workshop, February 2010. The USDG sets forth a city-wide policy for ‘complete’ streets. Yet, the USDG is more than a technical design manual; it also provides guidance on the trade-offs involved in selecting a particular design treatment for a particular context, and establishes a Six-Step Process for planning and designing street, intersection and sidewalk projects. Norm Steinman from the Charlotte DOT described how the USDG is effectively embedding the principles of CSS into project planning and outcomes in his city. Learn more about the USDG:

The Clearinghouse is archiving all the submitted case studies in their on-line database. Workshop presentation slides, case study fact sheets and webcast video files are currently archived on the Dialog website at

Registration is now open for the fifth and final regional workshop, to be held in St Paul, Minnesota, April 22, 2010, hosted by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. To view the preliminary agenda and register for on-site or webcast participation, go to:

Once again, the case studies slated for presentation represent a range of approaches to transportation questions, and will illustrate how applying the principles of CSS can greatly improve the process and outcomes of transportation decision making. The case studies will launch a wide-ranging discussion among participants, panelists and presenters as they talk about the need to plan, design, build and maintain our transportation infrastructure in a way that enhances our quality of life. We look forward to having you join the conversation!

ITE/CNU Urban Thoroughfares Manual and Elgin, IL Case Study

On March 30, 2010, will be hosting a webinar on the newly released ITE manual: Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach. The webinar will also include a presentation on the Elgin, IL CSS Case Study. In preparation for this webinar, we have recently uploaded the new ITE manual on to the CSS website. The March 30th webinar is fully registered, but we will be archiving the webinar on for future viewing. Webinar presenters will include Brian Bochner, Senior Research Engineer, Texas Transportation Institute; John Norquist, President, CNU and Gary Toth, Director of Transportation Initiatives at Project for Public Spaces.  Bochner was the technical project manager for development of Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach.  Norquist was a member of the Steering Committee for that report and is also heading up the Elgin case study.

The manual - sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and prepared by a team from ITE and Congress For The New Urbanism (CNU) - was developed in response to numerous requests, primarily from local agencies and designers, for a design guide to provide specifics on how to achieve context sensitive thoroughfares in a variety of contexts and local goals.  Another objective was to facilitate approvals of innovative designs without need for design exceptions.

The guide helps users classify contexts, then select appropriate design characteristics.  It capitalizes on the flexibility available in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) design policies.  Most users have no idea that such flexibility exists or how to use it.  This reports shows how.

The webinar presentation on the manual will, among other things, describe changes between the original (2006) version, which ITE published as a proposed recommended practice, and the new report.  There are new sections that designers and agencies will want to know about, such as main streets, multi-way boulevards, and transit design.  There are other new and revised sections such as storm water management, speed management, and emergency vehicle operations that were requested by users of the 2006 report.  Changes were made after extensive user review and input (which amounted to about 800 comments and suggestions).

The Elgin, IL case study that will be covered in the webinar was a result of a two day session that CNU held with Elgin’s mayor and his engineering and planning staff. The team included Phil Caruso, executive director of ITE, John Norquist, president of CNU and traffic engineers Lucy Gibson and Norman Garrick. Gibson and Garrick are members of both ITE and CNU. Ideas from the ITE/CNU thoroughfares guide were applied to Elgin’s street and transportation plan.

Elgin was a great choice for a pilot. It includes 19th century gridded streets, post WWII low density auto dependent development and new underdeveloped areas. Elgin officials are very interested in restoring portions of the old grid, retrofitting the post war sprawl and planning yet to be developed areas to include greater connectivity. The team reviewed thoroughfare types from the street guide such as multi way boulevards and avenues as alternatives to larger scale arterials and expressways. Elgin’s existing plan for new areas included large block sizes and limited connectivity. Agreement was reached to increase intersection density and decrease block sizes. Elgin’s officials expressed strong desire to focus on adding value to Elgin rather than just focusing on increasing capacity on individual road segments.
Two conditions were studied in detail - one in downtown Elgin; the other on Ill. Highway 20 in a low-density retail district. Both sites afforded a great opportunity to apply the principles in the guide.

To view the full ITE manual, and related CSS information, please go to

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