California Department of Transportation

Context Sensitive Solutions

"Context sensitive solutions (CSS) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders to develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility. CSS is an approach that considers the total context within which a transportation improvement project will exist." 

-- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

Inherent in Caltrans' mission to increase mobility across California is the need for context sensitive solutions that consider collaborative, community-sensitive approaches to transportation decision-making. To support these approaches the Department has adopted a number of policies that encourage the appropriate functional disciplines to respond to community values.

Directives and Guidelines
The Director's Policy on Context Sensitive Solutions (DP-22) is a Department-wide effort to create an environment in which innovative solutions can flourish through community involvement.

The Deputy Directive on Accommodating Non-Motorized Travel (DD-64) is a nother policy effort in which the Department has attempted to create an environment for innovative actions—in this case with alternative transportation. This policy directs that the Department fully consider the needs of non-motorized travelers (including pedestrians, bicyclists and persons with disabilities) in all planning, maintenance, operations and project development activities and products.

In another notable attempt to implement policies on Context Sensitive Solutions, in June 2005 the Department published the second edition of its landmark publication on Main Streets: Flexibility in Design and Operations. This joint effort of Traffic Operations, Design, and Planning was updated to provide implementation guidance, identifying concepts that might be compatible with community values while assuring safe and efficient operations for vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and highway workers.

Community Involvement and Public Engagement
The Division of Transportation Planning (Division) envisions transportation decisions as the product of collaborative work and choices made jointly by all stakeholders. In order to ensure that this vision of collaboration is put into practice, the Office of Community Planning is encouraging efforts to enhance public engagement in planning activities. These efforts can be accessed through the “Public Participation and Engagement” efforts summarized on this web site.

As further evidence in encouraging community involvement, the Department published an interesting article in the Winter 2005 issue of the California Transportation Journal, entitled Giving Communities What They Want: Context Sensitive Solutions. This article explores how the Department is working with communities to implement CSS, an approach that “makes it possible for Caltrans to maintain its responsibilities for safe, interregional mobility while being responsive to natural, cultural and built environments.”

The Office of Community Planning has also compiled a California Mainstreet Listing specifically for this purpose. This listing contains the conventional state highways that serve as the mainstreet, gateway or commercial strip of communities across California. It provides a database of potential opportunities for accommodating a community's values when discussing the implementation of the Main Streets: Flexibility in Design and Operations for projects on the appropriate conventional Main Street highways.

This California Mainstreet Listing is made available to both Department staff and communities at large to encourage interaction and partnerships. This listing can also be used as a tool to identify opportunities to enhance more “livable communities” while improving mobility and safety efforts along transportation corridors. If you would like to talk with a Department representative regarding a state highway that runs through your community, please refer to the Headquarters Staff Contact List for the appropriate District Liaison contact. If you would like to learn more about “livable communities” please visit our web site on the Definition of Livable Communities.

Nationally Recognized Program
The Department was one of three recent recipients of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) Center for Environmental Excellence Best Practices in Smart Growth and Transportation 2004 Competition. The competition, cosponsored by AASHTO's Center for Environmental Excellence, along with the Federal Highway Administration, included a review of 36 applications from 21 states. In September 2004, AASHTO presented the award to Caltrans as a finalist in one of three categories. The Department won in the category of “Institutionalization or Organizational Change” for its submittal of Context Sensitive Solutions: Changing the Culture.

Other Web Sites
If you have more interest in CSS, the Department's primary contact has a website on Context Sensitive Solutions (located within the Division of Design), and this web site is a wonderful resource on this subject.

The Project for Public Spaces in collaboration with Scenic America and Federal Highway Administration Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has also created a new online peer-networking website at Context Sensitive This site was developed as the Transportation community's Online Resource Center for Context Sensitive Solutions, and was created to integrate context sensitive solutions (CSS) into project planning, development, and implementation in all 50 states by September 2007. Other partners in this effort include: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO); Federal Transit Administration (FTA); Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE); National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO); and National Park Service.

Program Contacts
If you have further questions on CSS within the Department, you may contact Carolyn Dudley within Division of Design at (916) 654-5505.