Our oldest means of transport — our own two feet — is making a comeback. In the interests of sustainability, transportation planners and engineers are trying to more thoroughly and effectively integrate pedestrians and bicyclists into thoroughfare design. To help guide this effort, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and partners like the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) have developed a recommended practice for the design of walkable major urban thoroughfares.
Besides mobility, urban thoroughfares have economic and social functions as well, functions often forgotten in the age of the automobile. ITE‘s recommended practice centers on context-sensitive solutions (CSS) — meaning that planners consider all potential uses and benefits of the thoroughfare in their design.
“The process brings together stakeholders affected by the street to discuss the goals, objectives and issues of the community,” says Brian Bochner, TTI senior research engineer and the technical project director. “This process builds ownership and consensus for the efforts to develop or revitalize the street.”
For example, a transportation agency might need to make some changes to the roadway. That may also provide an opportunity for area businesses, the community and users of the roadway to discuss beneficial changes, such as improved lighting, wider sidewalks, etc.
“What’s new about this concept is that, from the very beginning, agencies are listening to the stakeholders who live and work there, as opposed to just looking at mobility needs,” says Beverly Storey, TTI associate research scientist. “They’re listening early in the process, before design, and everyone works together toward their mutual goals.” This approach can also save money by avoiding costly changes to design or construction, and can help agencies leverage funding.
Sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the effort to compile best practices for CSS began in 2003 in a joint effort by ITE and the Congress for the New Urbanism. Contractors TTI and Kimley-Horn led the creation of the final recommended practice, Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach: An ITE Recommended Practice, published in 2010.
Part of TTI‘s role in the project was to identify issues of interest, work with a wide variety of stakeholders and help find consensus on best practices. TTI also performed outreach, giving workshops around the country to introduce the concept and get participant feedback.
“Publication of the ITE Recommended Practice served as a significant milestone for the advancement of context-sensitive design principles and concepts within the traffic engineering profession,” says ITE Deputy Director for Technical Programs Philip J. Caruso. “The Texas Transportation Institute played a key role in transforming these principles and concepts into clearly defined guidelines and technical tools.”
FHWA and EPA have accepted the document, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has also accepted it as compatible with its standards. Texas and other states have incorporated all or part of it in their design policies or manuals.