The concept of context sensitive solutions (CSS) has been evolving in the transportation industry since the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 required transportation agencies to consider the possible adverse effects of transportation projects on the environment. The CSS concept gained significant momentum in 1998 when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) jointly sponsored the “Thinking Beyond the Pavement” national conference, which generated the first working definition of context sensitive design (CSD) along with a set of 15 principles, including qualities of excellence in transportation design and characteristics of the process contributing to excellence, that were intended to guide the application of CSD in state transportation programs.
CSS deals with "context" both as a constraint and an opportunity. Better understanding of a context can help a project be in harmony with the community and preserve resources that otherwise might be lost or harmed. Better understanding the issues facing any context -- whether a small town main street or a scenic rural road -- will also help frame the role that a transportation project can play in enhancing that place. Transportation investments, if properly conceived, can be catalysts to create lasting value in a community or countryside.
Scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources do not exist just as isolated elements. They exist in part, because a community values these features (i.e. a historic landmark in the center of Main Street or trees that line a rural road), or because they are linked to intangible qualities (i.e. pride in a town's cultural history and reputation.). The process of understanding people's value is an important part of CSS.
By definition and practice, therefore, CSS requires sensitivity to the total context within which a transportation project will exist. Federal executive orders, statutes, and regulations also mandate the protection of many contextual resource elements that a transportation project may impact.
CSS is about "open, honest, early and continuous" communication and sharing of information and knowledge - not just professional knowledge, but the knowledge that communities and stakeholders bring to a project from their personal experience. CSS involves structuring a planning, design, and implementation process that is collaborative and creates consensus among stakeholders and the transportation agency.
Design is both a process and a product. This section focuses on the product of CSS - visible results on streets and roads. That is what people and communities see and experience, whether it is a Main Street or a scenic rural road. CSS is creating new approaches to the flexible application of design controls and standards and more attention to pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit. Explore this section to also view case studies and examples of "flexible" design elements in practice around the U.S. and internationally.