Fostering Downtown Revitalization

In Traverse City,MI, downtown is a destination for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The addition of benches transform the street into place people can shop, meet, and relax in.


In Traverse City,MI, downtown is a destination for motorists,cyclists and pedestrians. The addition of benches transform the street into place people can shop, meet, and relax in.
photo credit:Gary howe via flickr (CC)

In historic Carlisle,PA, streets are festive:  lined with trees, shops,  American flags, and excellent signage.


In historic Carlisle,PA, the streets are festive: lined with trees, shops, American flags, and excellent signage.
photo credit: exithacan via flickr (CC)

Events like the Tulip festival in Pella, Iowa, draw large crowds, bringing downtown Pella to life.


Events like the Tulip festival in Pella, Iowa, draw large crowds, bringing downtown Pella to life.
photo credit: OlyaA (busy) via flickr (CC)

Some of the most popular applications of CSS in rural communities are transportation improvements that foster downtown revitalization, especially in areas where the Main Street is a regional highway. Towns and villages throughout the world have used CSS techniques for more than 20 years to support development initiatives by reconfiguring roadway lanes and street networks to attract shoppers and residents while cutting down on high-speed, through traffic; improving pedestrian facilities & civic spaces; and managing parking in central business districts and surrounding neighborhoods.

Façades, Festivals, and Footpaths: Greenville, Kentucky’s Downtown Redevelopment
Greenville, KY
<p>Five years ago if you took a stroll down Main Street in Greenville, Kentucky on a Saturday night you would have likely walked on deteriorated sidewalks, peered into vacant storefronts with dilapidated façades, and felt enveloped by silence and darkness. Like many other small towns throughout the United States, Greenville’s downtown had slowly deteriorated as development and investments were directed elsewhere.</p> <p>However, thanks to a forward-thinking mayor, a proactive tourist commission, an involved local community, and a supportive area development district, that same walk down Main Street today looks and feels very different. In this town of 4,300, as many as 8,000 people have been known to fill the streets of Greenville on a weekend night in the summertime to enjoy live outdoor music, find something to eat at a variety of food stands set up by local establishments, and enjoy each other’s company. Previously vacant buildings are now abuzz with activity, many now home to new retail stores and restaurants. A mature woodland area off the downtown area has been preserved as a 12-acre nature park, complete with trails, bridges, and a manmade waterfall. Sidewalks have been built and repaired, historic-looking street lights now shine down on the streets below, planters and trash receptacles have been installed, and engraved brick pavers line new curbs. Residents in the region no longer think of Greenville merely as a lazy county seat with a historic courthouse, but rather as an economic and entertainment focal point in Muhlenberg County.</p> <p>This positive change in Greenville was neither an accident nor left to chance; rather, it was the result of a small community with a vision for how to build on its local assets and infrastructure, seek innovative financing, and cultivate partnerships in a challenging economic environment. This southwestern Kentucky town’s revival can serve as a model for other small communities throughout the country working to revive their historic downtowns and Main Streets.</p>
Vibrant Rural Communities: Clinton, Iowa
Clinton, IA
<p>In 1996, the City of Clinton, Iowa, set out to improve a stretch of US Highway 30 that runs through the heart of town. The road forms a segment of historic Lincoln Highway— dedicated in 1913 as one of the nation’s first transcontinental highways. It also serves as an entryway to Clinton and the State of Iowa. As such, city officials wanted to reconstruct the road in a way that meshed with the local context. With the cooperation of several State and Federal agencies, the community created a corridor that respects existing development, presents a welcoming gateway to the community, and sustains adjacent neighborhoods’ economic vitality.</p>
Houghton Streetscape and Brick Street Re-Installation
Houghton, MI
<p>The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Ishpeming Transportation Service Center (TSC) and its partners took an innovative approach on the US-41 Houghton, Michigan, downtown streetscape project by, among other things, actually drawing traffic and business into the work zone during construction. US-41 runs through the city of Houghton on a one-way pair, with northbound traffic on two-lane Shelden Avenue, and southbound on two-lane Montezuma Avenue. Originally, MDOT proposed a simple resurfacing project for downtown Houghton. However, when MDOT approached the city with its proposal, the city volunteered to help make it much more.</p> <p>By coupling funding from traffic and safety, road preservation, and Transportation Enhancement grants with city-secured monies from Michigan's Vibrant Small Cities Initiative and a Rural Development loan, a simple resurfacing project became a $4.6 million end-to-end and storefront-to-storefront reconstruction. The ratio of funding, with the city putting up more than two-thirds of the money, was atypical for a state trunkline project.</p> <p>Since the project then included complete reconstruction of the roadway, the city took the opportunity to replace the underground utilities (water, sewer, storm sewer and electricity). Together, MDOT, the city, and the project design engineer, U.P. Engineers and Architects, developed a plan that included concrete brick pavers (another unique choice for a segment of state highway) for the roadway, new decorative sidewalks, and new streetlights matching historical lights from Houghton's past.</p> <p>Routing traffic away from downtown was bound to cause concern for businesses and their customers, planned mitigation notwithstanding. The city and MDOT went to great lengths to make sure the negative impact of the detour on drivers, businesses and their customers was minimized. Special events, held during the project, drew thousands of people to downtown Houghton right in the middle of this complete reconstruction.</p>
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.

The Danville Project
Montpelier, VT
The Danville Transportation Enhancement Project is a partnership among the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Agency of Transportation [VTrans], and the Town of Danville, Vermont designed to integrate artistic enhancements into the redevelopment of a portion of U.S. Highway Route 2 through the village center.
Woodard Avenue
Absarokee, MT
When the small town of Absarokee, Montana faced the prospect of needed safety improvements along its Woodard Avenue main street, citizens never imagined how much their town would improve as a result of the solution offered by their state transportation agency.
Highway through Mutzig, France
"Mutzig is one of the many beautiful towns in Alsace, and the conversion that was made of the main street in the 1980s lives up completely to the inherent charm of the town."
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.
Laneda Avenue, Manzanita Downtown Transportation Plan
Manzanita, OR
Thoughtful, community-based planning preserved the quiet charm of this small coastal town.
Main Street - Littleton, NH
Littleton, NH
This town of 6,000 serves as a regional center and recently used "placemaking" to develop new concepts with the community and NHDOT for a total reconstruction of Main Street starting in 2005. CSS experiments were used to test the validity and acceptability of potential changes.
Town Center in Buxtehude, Germany
"During the 1980s a large full-scale study has been conducted in Buxtehude, including extensive rebuilding in the town center and in an adjoining urban area, and in-depth initial and follow-up studies of the traffic and the environment. The principles developed in this connection became one of the models for the 'Tempo 30' programme now in force in German towns."
Downtown Revitalization and Access Improvements, US-395 - Colville
Colville, WA
The mixture of significant freight and highway traffic on Main Street with its multiple traffic lights and slower speeds has created congestion, noise, and air quality concerns.
Downtown Revitalization, Safety & Congestion Improvements, SR-14 - Bingen
Bingen, WA
The purpose of this project was to reduce traffic congestion through this section of SR-14, which improved safety and traffic flow (mobility). The city of Bingen needed economic revitalization of the downtown corridor, and anticipated that their efforts to improve the transportation system would result in improved economic vitality.
Bridgeport Way - University Place, Washington
University Place, WA
Bridgeport Way is a major urban arterial and it could be considered as a "Main Street" of University Place. The project involved reconstruction of an existing five-lane road into a four-lane divided roadway over a distance of approximately 1.5 miles. The purpose of this project was to address the safety concerns due to the high number of crashes over the past years. At the same time it was viewed essential to the vision statement of the City Council that aimed in improving the quality of life in the community by creating a town center. The goal of the project is to develop Bridgeport Way as a corridor that will improve traffic safety, increase the mobility and cohesiveness of the community, enhance the appearance of the corridor, and control traffic growth.
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Building Projects that Build Communities: Recommended Best Practices
A handbook by Washington State Department of Transportation to help everyone work together on transportation projects that meet the community's needs.
-- Community Partnership Forum, Washington State DOT
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Improving Small City Highways: New Techniques for Improving Safety and Livability Through Technology Transfer
Highways provide needed access to destinations in small cities in addition to allowing through travel to other places. Many small city highways are very wide and traffic speeds excessively high. Extensive paved areas, narrow sidewalks, and little greenery has resulted in a dangerous, unpleasant environment for residents and visitors. Increasing traffic volumes and resulting highway reconstruction often make problems worse. City residents recognize these problems and would like to see design solutions that improve the safety and livability of their communities.
-- Greg Pates, Landscape Architect, Minnesota Department of Transportation
Article Icon Article / Paper / Report Main Street ... when a highway runs through it: A Handbook for Oregon Communities
When Main Street also serves as a state highway, communities are faced with significant challenges. The biggest challenge is to strike a balance between the needs of pedestrians, shoppers, employees, business owners, and residents with the needs of through traffic - both auto and freight - to move safely and efficiently over longer distances.

Main streets that are also state highways are found throughout Oregon: from small, rural ranch downtowns to segments of large cities. some of these main streets have kept their historic character, with a classic, small town, "Mayberry USA" appearance that is typified by a mix of uses and multi-story buildings fronting a wide sidewalk. Other main streets may have lost much of their historic appearance to strip development, parking lots, and expansion of multi-lane highways.

Whatever the character of your main street, this handbook recognizes that good highways and main streets are both critical to the health of the state's communities. It describes the many tools available to identify the problems and figure out good solutions for Main Street ... when a highway runs through it.
-- Oregon Department of Transportation
Article Icon Presentation Using CSS to Help Transportation Investments Foster Livability Webinar Materials

On May 18, 2010, presented a webinar on applying CSS to transportation investments in order to achieve livability sponsored by FHWA, in partnership with the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, Renaissance Planning Group, and Project for Public Spaces.

The ideas of livability and Context Sensitive Solutions have the potential to transform America’s communities so that they not only have improved transportation systems, but are also sustainable, vibrant, and foster personal and social well-being.

This webinar was intended to help practitioners at the federal, state, and local level understand which CSS principles to apply, and in which situations, in order to address obstacles to livability in America’s diverse urban, suburban, and rural landscapes.

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.

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>
Cutler-Orosi, California: Community-Based Transportation Planning
Orosi, CA
<p>The two agricultural communities of Cutler and Orosi, CA were struggling with high poverty rates, inadequate water and sewer capacity, and a dangerous traffic problems on the main street/ state highway. Through an innovative design charrette, community residents (many of whom speak only Spanish) and business leaders made context sensitive design recommendations to improve pedestrian and bicycle uses, lighting and sidewalks, which supported goals for traveler safety and economic development. Since the 2001 workshop Caltrans has repaved entire stretches of the study area, using reflective materials for foggy seasons and visibility. All intersections now have crosswalks. ADA compliant ramps have been added, and tree wells have been put in to make way for plantings to be contributed and maintained by community and civic groups. New traffic lights are being added or upgraded, as well as new and upgraded signage to alert drivers that they are in downtown and school areas. </p>
Hutchinson, Minnesota: Implementing a Transportation Plan to Accommodate Regional Growth
Hutchinson, MN
<p>Home to Hutchinson Technology, Inc. and consumer products manufacturer 3M, Hutchinson MN is a manufacturing town that is also attracting exurban development based on its proximity to the Twin Cities. The town used a context-sensitive solutions approach to revitalize flagging downtown businesses and reduce the impacts of rising regional highway traffic. Key projects from a highly coordinated local and regional planning process include a bypass for high-speed regional traffic in conjunction with multimodal modal improvements to the original Main Street highway. </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>
The Northwest Vermont Planning Project: Changing Land Use to Effect Rural Highway Improvements
<p>This case study was spurred by a controversy over indirect and cumulative impacts of the proposed Chittenden County Circumferential Highway road project (known by most as “the Circ”). Based on more than 20 years of difficulty advancing plans for the project, the state realized that much of the growth problem stemmed directly from a lack of resources for growth-related planning at the local and regional levels. VTrans was reacting to transportation issues caused in part by poor land use decisions at the local level. By providing planning support and sophisticated scenario modeling tools through five regional planning agencies, VTrans worked with a variety of rural communities to coordinate plans and resources towards a mutual goal of building efficient transportation infrastructure that helped them cultivate desirable development. </p>
Unity, Maine: Preserving Farmland Through Strengthening Community Character
Unity, ME
<p> Located in one of Maine's poorest counties, Unity has a small liberal arts college that specializes in environmental programs; a concentration of senior and low income housing; a declining agricultural economy; a flaggin town center; and development of former farm fields for new homes, businesses and even the new Masonic hall. The Unity Barn Raisers group came together to revitalize the center, bring essential services back to Main Street, improve the local transportation system, and create a true sense of community in Unity. Through locally-driven building projects, land use ordinances, and pedestrian investments that foster compact growth, the organization is helping to restore the community's walkable scale and vitality. </p>
Moss Point, Mississippi: Rebuilding A Rural Community After Disaster
Moss Point, MS
<p> This case study examines rebuilding a devastated rural community with interconnected transportation and land use goals. Highway 613, the local Main Street, and the bridge over the bayou to Interstate 10, were expanded in ways that helped speed the decline of downtown. Businesses along one whole side of the center of Main Street were removed, making the town center feel open, deserted and uninviting. The wider street with few controlled intersections made pedestrian movement difficult. After Hurricane Katrina washed away several other key community buildings, the town conducted a design charrette. The resulting plan included moving the city hall and fire station out of the flood zone and onto Main Street while realigning other streets to make way for a proposed waterfront park. Just south of the park would be a restored main corridor with mixed use buildings and storefronts pulled up to the street in the original style of the town center. As of summer 2013, the city has built a new central fire station, opened a new city hall, and has revitalized the downtown riverfront park and main street landscape. The City's downtown association has adopted a "Main Street Four-Point Approach" created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.</p>
Policy Icon Policy Document Planning for Transportation in Rural Areas

This FHWA document is designed as a resource to rural planners, city and county engineers, stakeholders, local officials, and other decision-makers involved with developing rural transportation plans. It is intended to foster a better understanding of the characteristics, issues, and trends affecting rural transportation systems and the benefits of good rural system planning. It provides approaches and case study profiles for public consultation, environmental review, transit system planning, intelligent transportation system planning, and access management.

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>

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