People have always lives on streets. They have been the places where children first learned about the world, where neighbors met, the social centers of towns and cities, the rallying points for revolts, the scenes of repression…The street has always been the scene of this conflict, between living and access, between resident and traveler, between street life and the threat of death.

— Donald Appleyard

For many decades, state DOTs have provided quality transportation projects to their constituents. The mobility we enjoy every day is a tribute to their dedication and commitment.

Many DOTs today, however, are realizing that the strategies they have traditionally employed to address congestion are no longer effective. Traditionally the twin objectives of high speed and high levels of service yield an infrastructure agenda that consists almost entirely of plans to build new streets and roads, and to widen, straighten, and flatten existing ones. It was in response to this culture of “transportation as if nothing else mattered” that our streets started to fall short of meeting their community goals. It was this sentiment that sparked the “asphalt rebellion” across the country, and the federal historic and environmental protection laws of the 1960’s.

Different times require different approaches – that’s why DOTs across the country are looking to context sensitive solutions (CSS) as a more effective approach to improving mobility in the long-run, but entails a culture change away from conventional techniques. But it’s a big job: one transportation leader estimates that it takes at least five years to change the culture of a an agency as large as most DOTs, even with total commitment by upper management.

Implementing such an extensive culture change requires new tools for highway engineers and project managers, and most of those new tools are not technical ones. True, new (or revived!) flexible design skills are needed, but transportation professionals also need training in: how to define problems more broadly; communications and consensus-building skills; and conflict-management skills. PPS’s training in CSS is a critical component of the fundamental shift in the way state DOTs operate.

A Revolution in State DOTs: Context Sensitive Solutions was last modified: May 3rd, 2012 by Project for Public Spaces