Enhancing Access To Natural Assets


Alachua County, FL roads are lined with trees that capture the region's natural beauty. The scenic road gives motorists good reason to slow down and take in the view.
photo credit: Renaissance Planning Group

The boardwalk in Cape May, NJ provides not only spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean but also a place a where pedestrians and cyclists can relax, shop, and exercise. 
, danvanmoll via Flickr(CC).

The boardwalk in Cape May, NJ provides not only spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean but also a place where pedestrians and cyclists can relax, shop, and exercise.
photo credit: danvanmoll via flicker(CC)

Nearly one of every four rural American communities depends primarily upon commerce from visitors to a remarkable natural, historic, and/or cultural asset. (source – NCHRP 582, Table A, page 32). Hikers, cyclists, and car tourists spend millions of dollars annually at B&Bs, antique shops, restaurants, and artistic venues in villages near regional or national parks, bike paths, walking trails, and historic highways. Seasonal vacationers build second homes or retire permanently to small towns near mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, and oceans. History buffs seek out one-of-a-kind museums in old manufacturing and mining towns. Music lovers and “foodies” from around the world flock to rural festivals and buy local products via local storefronts and Web-based commerce.

Rural communities can use CSS techniques to promote tourism, optimize resources, and preserve assets by expanding multimodal accessibility, improving safety for all types of travelers, and enhancing scenic quality.

SR 179, Village of Oak Creek to Sedona
The goal of the SR 179 project was to plan, design and build improvements that could achieve a consensus in the community while providing enhanced safety and more reliable travel times for everyone.
Design for Reconstruction of US 93: Evaro to Polson, Montana
Evaro , MT
US 93 runs from Arizona to Canada. It is a two-lane road through much of Montana, entering big-sky country from Idaho at Lost Trail pass and passing through Missoula, Kalispell, the Flathead Indian Reservation, and along the western shore of Flathead Lake before entering Canada. The road is heavily used, filled with recreational travelers as well as commercial and local traffic. It is also Montana’s most dangerous two-lane highway — not only for people, but animals. To address escalating safety concerns, the MDT initiated a plan to expand US 93 to a four-lane highway in 1989. (Based on data gathered over 20 years, MDT knew that most fatalities occurred during passing, and during weekly and seasonal peaks.) However, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes (CSKT) opposed the plans, expressing concerns about their natural, cultural, recreational and scenic resources on the 55-mile stretch of highway that traversed the Flathead Indian Reservation. Expanding the highway wouldn’t just add lanes, tribal members pointed out, it would also encourage higher speeds, which would increase the number of animals killed by speeding traffic — a safety issue for wildlife and motorists alike. Despite several efforts to come together, the project stalled--for more than a decade.
Article Icon Smart Transportation Guidebook

The Pennsylvania and New Jersey Departments of Transportation have partnered in the development of the recently released Smart Transportation Guidebook. The goal of the landmark Guidebook is to integrate the planning and design of streets highways in a manner that fosters development of sustainable and livable communities. The Guidebook has equal applicability to rural, suburban and urban areas.

Both DOTs feel that transportation needs will always outweigh available resources. Smart Transportation proposes to manage capacity by better integrating land use and transportation planning. The Guidebook states that the "desire to go 'through' a place must be balanced with the desire to go 'to' a place." Transportation investments must be tailored to the specific context and needs of each project.

The Guidebook advocates the use of a multi-disciplinary team to work closely with communities and develop a wide range of solutions. It defines Smart Transportation as also including consideration of network connectivity to help ease the burden on the major highways, thereby allowing the DOTs to develop solutions which are more sensitive to context.

Smart Transportation can be summarized in six principles: tailor solutions to the context; tailor the approach; plan all projects in collaboration with the community; plan for alternative transportation modes; use sound professional judgment; and scale the solution to the size of the problem.

Other trend-setting concepts promoted in the Guidebook are:

1. Right sizing of projects to achieve a high value to price ratio, instead of constructing projects to achieve optimum Levels of Service performance measures;

2. Defining wide ranging measures of project success;

3. The need to understand place in transportation planning, design and construction;

4. A roadway typology that is not based solely on functional classification, but also takes into account land use and place;

5. The idea that high design speed does not automatically equate to high design quality.

Gateway 1: Collaborative planning for Midcoast Maine
Gateway 1 is a landmark long-term strategic land use and transportation planning project for the Midcoast Route 1 region in Maine. A collaboration amongst communities and state agencies, Gateway 1 explores new ways of combining transportation and land use decision-making. By doing so, the project will balance community growth and local values with transportation services and needs.
Intermodal Improvements, US-2, Leavenworth
Leavenworth, WA
The purpose of this project was to improve multiple modes of transportation on US-2 through the community of Leavenworth.
Mannsdale Road, Mississippi Route 463
Jackson, MS
Mannsdale Road is located west of the city of Madison northwest of Jackson, Mississippi. The road is about 8 mi long and is currently two lanes wide. Land use varies significantly along the short project length. Light commercial is prevalent at the beginning near the Interstate and shifts to existing and developing suburban areas along the middle of the corridor. The end of the project is primarily rural with very low density residential and agricultural uses. Most of the project area is rich in history with two early town areas, a former plantation, and two 150-year-old church congregations. To date, the local residents have been successful in influencing the character of the growth in the culturally rich area. Realizing the cultural significance of the area, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the FHWA determined that the project should be developed following the principles of CSD. MDOT has chosen to implement and develop context sensitive solutions by utilizing the NEPA process. A multidisciplined project team was assembled to see the project from initial concept through the NEPA phase. Currently, the design team and the public have reached general consensus and are advancing two build alternatives through the NEPA process. Early in the project a Citizen's Advisory Team (CAT) was assembled to represent the citizens in the corridor and work with the project development team to see that the project addressed citizens' concerns.
Route 50, Loudoun-Fauquier Counties - Virginia
Lenah, VA
<p>This project is a national demonstration project, funded under TEA-21 and VDOT's (Virginia Department of Transportation) Virginia Transportation Development Plan. The project is described as "Traffic Calming Measures for Route 50 in Loudoun and Fauquier Counties." </p>
Springdale, Utah: What's Good for a Park is Good for a Town, Too
Springdale, UT
"Surrounded on three sides by Zion National Park, the town of Springdale, Utah, has long served as the gateway community for the park's visitors ... However, with almost three million visitors every year, by the early 1990s, traffic congestion and illegal parking were taking their toll on the park and its gateway town. The heart of the project is the free shuttle bus system that runs through town, picks up and drops off passengers at parking facilities, hotels and major areas, and ends at a new visitor center located within Zion National Park."
US Route 101-Lincoln Beach Parkway
Lincoln County, OR
U.S. Route 101 is one of the most scenic highways in the United States; not surprisingly, it serves high local, regional, and tourist travel demands. A major conflict facing the entire Route 101 corridor was the need to provide better access to resort-oriented communities to enhance economic development while balancing the impact of capacity improvements, an issue was particularly acute in Lincoln Beach. Jurisdictions along the highway eventually approved the concept of a Pacific Coast Scenic Parkway to "increase the aesthetic experience, assist in access control, and develop community identity," despite its deviation from typical ODOT design concepts.
U.S. Route 3
Port Ontario, NY
U.S. Route 3 runs north-south between the shore of the east end of Lake Ontario and Interstate 81 in New York State. Route 3 is a two-lane rural highway that passes through many old downtowns and small villages. The route is part of the Seaway Trail, a national scenic byway, and is also part of a state bicycle route. This particular project consisted of reconstruction and improvements along a 1.1-km section in the village of Port Ontario, town of Richland, Oswego County. The project included the replacement of two bridges over the mouth of the Salmon River, intersection improvements, accommodation of bicycles and pedestrians and general improvements in geometric standards. The location where Route 3 crosses the Salmon River in Port Ontario is approximately 1 mile upstream of Lake Ontario and is approximately 1,500 ft.
Paris Pike - Kentucky
Lexington-Paris, KY
Paris Pike is a US urban/rural primary route between the northern limits of Lexington and the southern limits of Paris, serving commuters as well as through travelers on a segment officially designated as a scenic route. The project involved reconstruction of an existing two-lane road into a four-lane over a distance of approximately 13.5 miles. The need for this improvement is based on Paris Pikeメs importance in the regional transportation system, i.e. its system linkage, its lack of sufficient capacity to adequately serve not only projected travel but also existing traffic demands, inadequate existing roadway geometrics and design features, safety considerations, and social demands. A wide range of context sensitive issues were addressed as part of the construction, impacting both the natural and human environments.
Maryland Route 108
Olney, MD
Since the mid-1980's, land development around this suburban Baltimore highway has lead to drastic increases in traffic volume. Officials sought to maximize Route 108's capacity and relieve its congestion just as Maryland was developing their "Thinking Beyond the Pavement" approach. As a result, this project contributed greatly to MD's knowledge of Context Sensitive Solutions. The reconstruction of Route 108 resulted in lessons learned about the CSS process and its benefits.
Maryland Route 355
Montgomery County, MD
Significant regional traffic growth and localized development has resulted in traffic increases along Route 355, a two-lane highway in rural and suburban Maryland. Completion of this mobility-enhancing project required a comprehensive approach involving design creativity, stakeholder involvement, and agency coordination. Stakeholders learned that converting a two-lane highway into a six-lane arterial in a built-up area is no small feat, especially when the conversion is done in a manner in which the finished product fits with the surrounding area.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report NCHRP Report 582: Best Practices to Enhance the Transportation - Land Use Connection in the Rural United States

The report explores how different types of rural communities can integrate land use and transportation planning. The report also highlights programs and investment strategies that are designed to support community development and livability in rural areas while providing adequate transportation capacity.

Rural communities throughout the United States are facing a wide and complex range of challenges that both affect and are affected by the transportation system. These include economic shifts away from traditional employment in local farming and manufacturing toward industries such as agribusiness and tourism; changing demographics such as rising percentages of elderly residents or new levels of racial and ethnic diversity; rapid growth in some rural areas and population decline in others; and a lack of adequate capacity and/or commitment to engage the public in transportation and land use planning. These trends are further complicated by funding challenges associated with operating, maintaining, and building transportation infrastructure.

Although urban areas may be facing many of the same or similar issues, the presence of such challenges in a rural setting poses a unique set of circumstances that requires a distinctly different approach. Although abundant research findings exist on strategies and measures to address the effects of growth and development on transportation systems and services in urban and metropolitan areas, there has been little corresponding research to address how rural communities can work with transportation agencies to set and reach mutual goals for livability and mobility.

Surveys for this project indicated that the number one challenge for rural communities is to provide access within the community to destinations such as jobs, shops, services, education, and healthcare. The particular type of accessibility need for each community varies based on the community's particular setting and economic base. For example, exurban communities are primarily concerned with providing access to jobs in adjacent urban centers; destination communities focus on bringing visitors into the community and providing access to tourist destinations; and production communities either attempt to improve accessibility between local products and their markets or to diversify the local economy. Other frequently cited challenges include maintaining or improving water and air quality, improving driver safety, protecting open space and environmentally sensitive lands, and providing access between the community and destinations around the larger region.

Best practices and strategies for achieving these results within various types of communities fall into three major activities:

  1. Set the regional framework for where and how development should occur, through practices such as
    • Growth management and preservation strategies to guide development into suitable locations; and
    • Regional access management strategies promoting access to designated development areas as well as discouraging unwanted rural development.
  2. Improve local accessibility to daily needs such as jobs, shopping, services, and health care, through practices such as
    • Development standards and plans to promote mixed-use, walkable community centers; and
    • Transportation investments focused on improving street connectivity, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and transit service to community focal points.
  3. Enhance community design, through practices such as
    • Context-sensitive roadway design techniques that complement natural and built environments; and
    • Local access management and community design strategies, particularly along key commercial corridors.

Book Icon Book Flexibility in Highway Design
A guide about designing highways that incorporate community values and are safe, efficient, and effective. It is written for highway engineers and project managers who want to learn more about flexibility available to them when designing roads and illustrates successful approaches used in other highway projects. The guide aims also at provoking innovative thinking for fully considering the scenic, historic, aesthetic, and other cultural values of communities, along with safety and mobility needs.
--  Federal Highway Administration
Burlington, Iowa: Revitalizing a Struggling Small Downtown
Burlington , IA
<p>Burlington, Iowa, was a significant Midwestern river and rail transportation hub from the 1820s til the mid-twentieth century. Manufacturing remains an important component of the local economy, but sprawling suburban development has made it difficult for the downtown area to compete. In the 1960s, the community college moved from downtown to West Burlington. Major retailers, such as J.C. Penney, left for a mall there in the 1970s. And in 2000, Burlington lost 1,500 downtown jobs when the area hospital moved west as well. In the face of these challenges, the Burlington community has rallied around its downtown and formed a successful public-private partnership to support reinvestment.</p>
Edgartown, Massachusetts: Promoting Walkable, Attractive Development on Upper Main Street
Edgartown, MA
<p>This case study examines ways in which to ensure the character, quality and pedestrian-orientation of historic, downtown main street facing typical, strip commercial, auto-oriented development patterns. The economy of this 19th century whaling community in Martha's Vineyard revolves around serving vacationers and retirees drawn to Edgartown by its seaside character, a busy harbor, and a well-preserved town history. Through a carefully managed planning process in coordination with arts and community development agencies, the town developed a master plan that has guided historically consistent, appropriately scaled downtown growth and supported additional bicycling, walking and transit options for local residents and some 20,0000+ summertime visitors. </p>
Lincoln City, Oregon: Taft Village Redevelopment Plan

<p>This case study examines what can be done to revitalize a small urban village in a rural setting, with a state highway running through it. Lincoln City spans eight miles along the Pacific coast. Taft is one of the city's five villages, all of which are bisected by State Highway 101,a heavily trafficked coastal road. The Taft village plan resulted in a special ODOT designation that allowed officials to treat Highway 101 differently than most state highways because of its joint function as a main street. Using the STA modified design strategies, more than $10 million in roadway and streetscape improvements has helped to develop the local economy, improve traffic flow, and enhance the downtown. More than 15 new businesses have opened, many older businesses grew or remodeled, and many new jobs have been created. For more information about Special Transportation Area (STA) designation, see Main Street-When a Highway Runs Through It: A Handbook for Oregon Communities, ODOT, 1999. </p>
Sedona, Arizona: Serving Visitors and Preserving the Region’s Natural Beauty
Sedona, AZ
<p>This case study examines innovative and cost effective transportation and land use strategies, including public transit services, that enhance this southwestern rural region's livability, preserve its cultural and environmental assets, and support some five million annual visitors. Through a collaborative process involving multiple jurisdictions and agencies, a regional transportation plan was created that emphasized the following: creating a regional multimodal transportation system, limiting new highway construction, fashioning an effective public transportation system, and changing community design to create a more livable community for pedestrians and bicyclists. A major catalyst to the project was the hope that creating a true multimodal, livable community would both preserve its natural beauty and character and would increase the marketability of the region for visitors to make their stays lengthier. </p>
Virginia Creeper Trail: Leveraging Transportation Improvement for Revitalization
Abingdon/ Damascaus, VA
<p>Constructed in 1984 on an abandoned rail line through national forests and parks, this 33-mille hiking, biking and equestrian trail has attracted visitors, new residents, and businesses to the Appalachian towns of Abingdon and Damascus,VA. More than 100,000 people use the trail every year, generating between $2.3 and $3.9 million in local revenue. The communities of Abingdon and Damascus have successfully used the trail to improve their historic areas and attract tourists from the region and far beyond.</p>
Western Piedmont Region, North Carolina: Managing Highway Corridors and Guiding Development
Hickory, NC
<p>This regional case study examines innovative and cost effective transportation investments that enhance a rural region's livability and preserve its cultural and environmental assets. The region's' two major highways, Interstate 40 and US Highway 321, have increased the potential for economic development by providing increased access to the region and by providing opportunities for business locations (such as retail outlets for locally manufactured furniture). At the same time, corridor development has created challenges such as disrupting access to properties along the highways, threatening scenic landscapes and the natural environment, and disturbing traditional community character Over the course of nearly two decades, local governments and the Western Piedmont Council of Governments (WPCOG) developed three corridor plans along the two major routes, each aimed to promote safety, traffic efficiency, aesthetics, economic development, and compatible residential uses. All three plans supported common objectives (primarily access management and rationalizing land use), but in each case the planners adapted the research, public engagement, technical methods, and recommendations to suit local conditions and needs.</p>
Website Icon Website San Juan County Scenic Roads Manual (opens in a new window)

The value of our County roads is found in the unique visual experience they offer. The appeal to a large tourist population accounts for a substantial portion of the County's economy. The guide emphasizes that the aesthetic criteria and engineering requirements can be mutually beneficial. The goal of these guidelines is to implement rural road modifications which provide user safety, long range reduction of maintenance costs, and a roadway that is attractively integrated with the roadside and surrounding landscape.

San Juan County Scenic Design Manual places emphasis on design that is aesthetically pleasing and contextually sensitive

San Juan County Scenic Design Manual places emphasis on design that is aesthetically pleasing and contextually sensitive
photo credit:San Juan County

-- San Juan County Commissioners
U.S. Route 62 Village of Hamburg
Hamburg, NY
<p>The purpose of the project was to coordinate highway improvements and revitalization efforts in accordance with the Department’s Context Sensitive Solutions philosophy and Environmental Initiative. The intent is to incorporate the Village’s desire for change, improvement and a rebirth of the community into the Department’s basic mission for improving the transportation corridor. </p> <p> Route 62 in the Village of Hamburg is not only the center of local business, but also a major truck route. As such, the project addressed, safety, capacity,aesthetic context concerns, and infrastructure deficiencies. The New York State Department of Transportation project encouraged collaboration and community engagement, which resulted in in well-informed and community-valued design alternatives.</p>
Policy Icon Policy Document New Greenway Guide: Rural Roads

Older roads in rural areas are often 16 to 18 feet wide. However, modern road standards routinely require wider specifications in response to increased speeds and liability concerns. Local roads are straightened and widened,clearing away all vegetation, destroying stone walls and other historic features, and making unnecessary rock cuts and uniform slopes. Even off of narrow, naturally graded roads, new driveways are often required to be much wider than the main road, with curbing and storm drains that are out-of-place in rural areas.

The results of wider roads in rural areas tend to be faster vehicle speeds, more serious crashes, and higher construction and long-term maintenance costs. Excessive speeds help make the death rate per vehicle mile for rural areas much higher than the rate for urban areas. Rural roads should be context sensitive, designed to reflect the character of the surrounding countryside, and compatible with slower farm equipment, nearby vegetation, and crossing wildlife.

-- John Clarke

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