California Department of Transportation

Context Sensitive Solutions

Quality transportation design is the culmination of philosophy and principles in the project development process that provides a transportation system that enhances the place in which it serves. Whether a project is in an urban, rural or natural setting, the transportation facility must be in harmony with the community goals and the natural environment. The purpose of this website is to provide Caltrans roadway and roadside designers and its partners with information on the Caltrans CSS policy, and the guidance, tools, links, and examples to understand the CSS philosophy. Using the CSS process to engage stakeholders early and continuously in transportation decision-making ensures the protection and enhancement of the environment and quality of life while meeting the multi-modal transportation needs in California.

Director's Policy on Context Sensitive Solutions

Caltrans Implementation Plan for Context Sensitive Solutions

DD 64 Complete Streets - Integrating the Transportation System

Highway Design Manual Philosophy

Pedestrian Accessability Guidelines

Roadway Aesthetics Treatment Gallery

HDM Topic 82 - Application of Standards

The Highway Design Manual philosophy mirrors the concepts of Context Sensitive Solutions. This philosophy for the project development process seeks to provide a degree of mobility to users of the transportation system that is in balance with other values. Caltrans policies, practices, or mandatory design standards provides a guide for highway designers to exercise sound judgment in applying the policies, practices, or standards consistent with this philosophy. This flexibility is the foundation of highway design and highway designers must strive to provide for the needs of all highway users in balance with the needs of the local community and the context of the project. Caltrans policies, practices or mandatory design standards allow sufficient flexibility in order to encourage independent designs that fit the needs of each situation.

The policies, practices or mandatory design standards used for any project should meet the minimum guidance given to the maximum extent feasible, but the philosophy provides for the use of nonstandard design when such use best satisfies the concerns of a given situation. Deviations from the Caltrans policies, practices or mandatory design standards requires review and approval for nonstandard design through the exception process (see Index 82.2 of the Highway Design Manual) and should be discussed early in the planning and design process.

Main Streets

Main Streets, California

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has a number of policies that encourage designers to respond to community values where state highways serve as main streets. This booklet identifies design opportunities that a local community may desire in the context of their downtown while assuring safe and efficient operations for pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles and highway workers.

Caltrans Landscape Architects' role in implementing the Director's Policy (DP #22) on Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) is to work on the development of highway improvement projects on the PDT, project managers, project engineer and other functions to engage stakeholders at the earliest phases of project development. Landscape Architects use of innovative tools and techniques early on projects fosters creative interaction between Caltrans and communities to ensure highways coexist harmoniously with the natural and built environments. They are lead professionals responsible for transportation system improvements that balance safety mobility, maintainability, and economic needs with adjacent land use and aesthetic, environment, scenic and community values; address multi-modal needs; maximize worker and traveler safety; and preserve and enhance the environment through sustainable solutions.

External Links

Public Involvement and the Organizational Landscape - State Departments of Transportation Undergo a Cultural Shift


FHWA's Publication Flexibility in Highway Design

TRB Draft CSS Guidelines

Context Sensitive Solutions

FHWA CSS National Dialog2

FHWA- A Guide to Transportation Decision Making

Another excellent site on public involvement, MnDOTs Public Involvement Process, "Hear Every Voice":

FHWA Public Involvement Techniques for Transportation Decision Making

Caltrans Office of Community Planning Public Participation Guide

NCHRP Report 480 A Guide for Best Practices for Achieving CSS


Updated 04-22-2015