How to Implement CSS with Your Community

“Streets and roads can knit communities together and enhance the character and identity of the place where they pass. They can become symbols of pride for a community, have a considerable economic impact on local businesses and help create strong and viable community centers. In other words, improving the livability of streets is not just a pedestrian, vehicle traffic, bicycle or a transit issue – all must be considered together.”
–Project for Public Spaces, Inc., The Role of Transit in Creating Livable Metropolitan Communities

More and more communities around the country are demanding from their DOTs better transportation solutions – ones that not only accommodate traffic, but also improve community life, economic vitality and environmental sustainability. When streets and roads balance the needs of drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, they can increase safety, enhance quality of life and promote economic strength. But how is CSS implemented?

Community Right to Context Sensitive Transportation

The purpose of street and road planning has been to serve the so-called “motoring public” – those of us who drive, in our role as motorists, and specifically as motorists who are interested only in getting from Point A to Point B as fast as possible.

However, the landscape that streets and roads traverse is, except in the countryside, full of people who are already at a place rather than going someplace, and who have a right to go out on foot or by bicycle. Yet, with some exceptions, transportation agencies tend not to recognize streets and roads as settings for private homes and businesses, as public places that give communities their character, or as transportation facilities for non-motorists. They tend to support the rights of the motorist only.

How to work with your DOTs

It is worth developing a relationship with your State Departments of Transportation (DOT). State DOTs are conduits for the federal funds that typically pay for 50-80% of all road projects. They are also typically the channels for state road funds, and in most cases they are the source of statewide design standards and the arbiter of local discretion in road design. Thus the probability of your having to deal with your state DOT regarding the design and impact of a project in your community is very high. Also remember that your DOT is a very large organization with a huge budget, complicated funding mechanisms, voluminous technical standards, and a great deal of power. For these very reasons, a State DOT can have enormous effects on a community — for good or bad.

Thus it is well worth developing a relationship with such an agency to the point where you can influence their treatment of projects in your community. Needless to say, this is a big job. Be prepared to start early, be in for the long haul, get educated, and invest a large amount of time. But also remember that DOT employees are public servants ultimately accountable to you, the citizen. Partner with or join local advocay groups to combine efforts towards greater results.