Workshops aim to educate transportation planners and designers on the big picture
Context…cooperation…collaboration…compatibility…compromise…consensus. Those are but a few of the key terms that are heard during the context sensitive solutions (CSS) workshops currently underway throughout the state of Texas. Sponsored by the Federal Highway Department (FHWA), the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and local metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), the goal of the workshops is to educate transportation planners about the concept of CSS.
“CSS involves developing a transportation project design that accounts for the diverse needs of a transportation facility given its relative environment,” says FHWA Statewide Planning Engineer Kirk Fauver. “It is an approach that considers the total context within which a transportation improvement project will exist.”
The workshops tie in with the FHWA Strategic Plan, which includes several goals developed to encourage state departments of transportation to reinforce their CSS policy by partnering with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to implement a joint CSS action plan at the national level.
In 1998, a national conference called “Thinking Beyond the Pavement” was held in Maryland. It was a gathering of transportation professionals who brainstormed ideas to make streets and highways function better for their community with more compatibility and less adverse impact. The conference crystallized principles that had been successfully used and packaged them under the moniker of CSS.
An example of such success was a Fort Worth project that was to be constructed in a highly visible area of town and had many objectives such as increased capacity, safety, historic preservation, park protection and improved aesthetics. When this project restarted in the late 1980s, involvement of diverse stakeholders resulted in a better coordinated effort and led to the stakeholders becoming part of the solution and facilitating difficult decisions.
“These workshops are intended to provide a first level of training to people involved in transportation facilities planning and design,” says Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Senior Research Engineer Brian Bochner. “TxDOT employees are the primary audience, but the workshops are also attended by transportation professionals from MPOs, cities, counties and other transportation agencies. We’ve even had elected officials, consultants, architects and chamber of commerce officials attend.” TTI is one of the CSS workshop team members.
The topics covered in the one-day workshop include understanding good and bad examples of past and current CSS projects, designing major urban thoroughfares and discussing what information is needed to enable agencies to increase use of CSS. The CSS team customizes the workshop for the city the class is held in and also invites local speakers to share stories about their projects. So far, the workshops have been conducted in Corpus Christi, Arlington, Lubbock, El Paso, Austin, Weslaco and San Antonio.
The series of photos above shows a recently completed construction project in El Paso, Texas, with improved aesthetics along the roadway.
“Streets or roads create an environment that may be associated with the area, such as quality of life and economic development. So the idea of CSS is to take into account all of the objectives and issues and make the best selection of those in trying to develop a transportation project,” says Bochner.