How to know when a transportation project is “context sensitive”

To achieve livable street environments, PPS focuses on achieving an equitable balance among pedestrian, bicycle, vehicle and other uses, while developing a mix of amenities and activities that contribute to pedestrian convenience and enjoyment. This is a much more holistic perspective of streets, one that looks “beyond the pavement,” and also entails a much more holistic and inclusive process, one which looks beyond traditional experts in transportation, the engineers, and incorporates the knowledge of the community – residents, business people, civic leaders and local officials – to arrive at and realize a community vision.
As a concerned citizen or transportation professional, how can one know when a project is well achieving context sensitive outcomes? One way is to look at the process and its elements. A conext sensitive transportation project:

  • Starts with defining the purpose and determining vision of the project with a full range of stakeholders. The purpose can be amended as the project goes along, but a common goal is important from the outset.
  • Forms a multi-disciplinary team from the beginning, a team that uses all disciplines based on the needs of the project, and includes the public.
  • Examines multiple alternatives that helps the group reach consensus on a common approach.
  • Has open, honest, early and continuous communication with all stakeholders. The public is as a type of stakeholder and formal and informal public meetings should be part of the communication plan.
  • Incorporates the uses and activities of all users and of the community as a whole. The street or highway development process is tailored to meet those circumstances.
  • Is in harmony with the community in that it is sensitive to its context, whether it is of environmental, social, scenic, aesthetic, historical or natural resource value. The landscape, the community, and valued resources are understood before engineering design is started. A full range of tools for communication about project alternatives is used (e.g., visualization).
  • Is perceived as adding long-term value to the community.

Within the transportation profession, the 1998 “Thinking Beyond the Pavement Conference” outlined seven “Qualities that characterize excellence in transportation design” and eight “Characteristics of the process that yield excellence,” which are posted on the Context Sensitive Solutions Online Resouce Center. These “qualities” and “characteristics” are goals for any context sensitive solution project, and can also be used as evaluation criteria upon its completion.