- What is CSS?
Context sensitive solutions is an approach to advancing transportation programs and projects in a collaborative manner and in a way that fits into the community and environment. The approach has evolved since 1998, when the seminal Thinking Beyond the Pavement conference set out the basic concepts for what had been known as context sensitive design (CSD). During the early CSD implementation efforts, transportation agencies quickly realized that decisions made during long range planning affected design choices made during project development. In addition, the links between design decisions and construction, operations and maintenance activities became critical for ensuring customer service from “cradle to grave.” These early learning experiences revealed the cross-cutting and multi-dimensional aspects of CSD and eventually led to the term “context sensitive solutions.” This evolution from CSD to CSS reflected the intent to expand the concepts of CSS well beyond the design process to include all phases of program delivery, including long-range planning, programming, environmental studies, design, right-of-way, construction, operations, and maintenance.
In recognition of the evolution of CSD to CSS, AASHTO and FHWA refined the 1998 CSD definition, principles, qualities, and characteristics. This refinement is continuing as part of an ongoing effort. FHWA and AASHTO have collaboratively defined CSS as:
A collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in providing a transportation facility that fits its setting. It is an approach that leads to preserving and enhancing scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and environmental resources, while improving or maintaining safety, mobility, and infrastructure conditions.
Further definition of what CSS is for transportation processes, outcomes, and decision making is provided by the following core principles, qualities, and outcomes. These core CSS principles, qualities, and outcomes apply differently depending on the circumstances, scale, and type of project. The statements below can also be used as a basis for assessing whether an activity meets CSS goals.
Core CSS Principles
- Strive towards a shared stakeholder vision to provide a basis for decisions.
- Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of contexts.
- Foster continuing communication and collaboration to achieve consensus.
- Exercise flexibility and creativity to shape effective transportation solutions, while preserving and enhancing community and natural environments.
Context sensitive solutions is guided by a process which:
- Establishes an interdisciplinary team early, including a full range of stakeholders, with skills based on the needs of the transportation activity.
- Seeks to understand the landscape, the community, valued resources, and the role of all appropriate modes of transportation in each unique context before developing engineering solutions.
- Communicates early and continuously with all stakeholders in an open, honest, and respectful manner, and tailors public involvement to the context and phase.
- Utilizes a clearly defined decision-making process.
- Tracks and honors commitments through the life cycle of projects.
- Involves a full range of stakeholders (including transportation officials) in all phases of a transportation program.
- Clearly defines the purpose and seeks consensus on the shared stakeholder vision and scope of projects and activities, while incorporating transportation, community, and environmental elements.
- Secures commitments to the process from local leaders.
- Tailors the transportation development process to the circumstances and uses a process that examines multiple alternatives, including all appropriate modes of transportation, and results in consensus.
- Encourages agency and stakeholder participants to jointly monitor how well the agreed-upon process is working, to improve it as needed, and when completed, to identify any lessons learned.
- Encourages mutually supportive and coordinated multimodal transportation and land-use decisions.
- Draws upon a full range of communication and visualization tools to better inform stakeholders, encourage dialogue, and increase credibility of the process.
Context sensitive solutions leads to outcomes that:
- Are in harmony with the community and preserve the environmental, scenic, aesthetic, historic, and natural resource values of the area.
- Are safe for all users.
- Solve problems that are agreed upon by a full range of stakeholders
- Meet or exceed the expectations of both designers and stakeholders, thereby adding lasting value to the community, the environment, and the transportation system.
- Demonstrate effective and efficient use of resources (people, time, budget,) among all parties.