Slide #1: Introduction
Slide #2: Change in DOT Mission Statements
The mission statements of numerous Departments of Transportation across the country
are changing, slowly but surely, one by one. For these departments who have long been
working hard to meet the expectations of the general public and deliver the concept of
“connectivity” in America, this goal has now, at the end of the 20th century, been
essentially achieved. Now, the needs and expectations of the American public are
shifting, and these same Departments of Transportation are grappling to try to keep up
with these dynamic demands, and deliver not only “connectivity”, but also “quality of
life” in their mission statements to the general public. The priorities and expectations of
the public are expanding to now include:
Preservation of scenic landscapes and historic neighborhoods
Ability to walk and bike, and
Better access to public transit
Slide #3: Many Names of CSS
Context Sensitive Solutions, or CSS has had many names over the years. It began as a
grassroots movement that called itself “Thinking Beyond the Pavement” (TBTP).
Another term used in the past is “Place Sensitive Design”. Yet another term that has
been used is “Flexibility in Highway Design”. The institutionalized term that finally
emerged was Context Sensitive Design, or CSD. However, CSD was soon was found to
have a shortfall, in that this process was intended to apply to all functions of an agency,
and not only the design of “projects”. While these terms are all commonly used
interchangeably, the term Context Sensitive Solutions, which can refer to all aspects of
what an agency does and not only individual project design, better defines the movement
and more accurately describes its overall intent.
Slide #4: Definition of CSD/CSS
So what is Context Sensitive Solutions? Let’s now look at some definitions of CSS. One
of the earliest formal definitions of CSD was forged at an historic conference held in
Maryland in 1998:
Context sensitive design asks questions first about the need and purpose of the
transportation project, and then equally addresses safety, mobility, and the
preservation of scenic, aesthetic, historic, environmental, and other community values.
Context sensitive design involves a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach in which
citizens are part of the design team.
Over the years, CSD has reworked itself into CSS. IDOT’s current definition of CSS is:
An interdisciplinary approach that seeks effective, multimodal transportation solutions
by working with stakeholders to develop, build and maintain cost-effective
transportation facilities, which fit into and reflect the project’s surroundings – its
“context”. Through early, frequent, and meaningful communication with stakeholders,
and a flexible and creative approach to design, the resulting projects should improve
safety and mobility for the traveling public, while seeking to preserve and enhance the
scenic, economic, historic, and natural qualities of the settings through which they
Slide #5: CSS – Overall Approach
Therefore, CSS in its simplest form is essentially an approach that allows transportation
agencies to reach out and involve stakeholders in the planning and design of
transportation projects. Therefore, as an overall approach, CSS inherently includes:
Balancing between safety, mobility, community needs, and the environment
Stakeholder involvement in the decision-making process
Addressing all modes of transportation
Applying design flexibility
Incorporating aesthetics into design
Slide #6: Stakeholder Definition
The definition of a stakeholder is essentially any group or individual who has a stake in
the outcome of the project. Some examples of stakeholders include:
Residents or businesses along or within the influence area of a corridor
Communities, neighborhoods, or organized groups
Other agencies or advocates (individuals or groups)
Slide #7: Need for CSS
While CSS is an overall attitude or method of doing business that is meant to govern all
that a public agency does, it has come about predominately relating to highway building
and highway improvement projects.
Historically, the tasks of planning, design, and construction of highways were left to the
“professionals” in the industry – the highway traffic engineers. The design of these
highways was essentially dependent on “engineering considerations” such as providing
the highest quality of service at the lowest possible cost.
During the latter part of the 20th century, the automobile emerged as the predominant
mode of travel. With the ensuing growth in population and America’s economy, the
demand for travel increased.
The nation’s engineers responded, and faster, safer, and better roads were created.
Among these, the pinnacle of that effort was the 42,000-mile Interstate Highway System.
America was finally “connected”. Anyone could hop in their car and travel to the next
town, the next state, or across the whole country on the most modern, free-flowing, and
safest highway network in the world.
However, beginning in the 1960’s, strong cultural trends emerged, and the general public
began to take an interest in man’s impacts on the environment. This interest culminated
in the passing of one of the most important pieces of legislation in the later 20th century,
“NEPA; The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.”
From that point forward, roadway design and construction, and the implementation of all
public works for that matter, were never the same again. These efforts now became more
than just providing the most economic, shortest, fastest, or widest facility possible.
Those engineers, who were previously told to design roads to the highest standards,
regardless of impacts, were now required to consider features such as wetlands,
threatened and endangered species, adverse noise, and other environmental factors. Until
then, this approach was unheard of, and guidance and direction were as of yet, non-
Slide #8: Events Leading Up To CSS
Since NEPA in 1969, Congress has passed a series of policy acts and regulations to
provide this guidance and strengthen and increase their commitment to environmental
quality. In 1991, Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency
Act, or ISTEA, which maintained a strong national commitment to safety and mobility.
In addition, it emphasized the importance of good design that is sensitive to its
surrounding environment, especially in historic and scenic areas. This is evidenced by
Section 1016(a) of the act, which states:
“If a proposed project…involves a historic facility or is located in an area of historic
or scenic value, the Secretary may approve such project…if such project is designed to
standards that allow for the preservation of such historic or scenic value and such
project is designed with mitigation measures to allow preservation of such value and
ensure safe use of the facility.”
Around this same time, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation
Officials (AASHTO) looked beyond Interstate completion and in 1994, adopted the
National Highway System Design Standards policy. The relevant portion of that policy
foretells of a shift in focus as it states:
“Be it further resolved that the Member Department’s of AASHTO will work through
AASHTO’s design standards committees with the DOT and with interested parties on
design criteria and a design process for NHS routes that integrate safety,
environmental, scenic, historic, community, and preservation concerns, and on
standards which also foster access for bicycles and pedestrian traffic along with other
The National Highway System Designation Act was passed in November 1995, as
Section 109 of Title 23, United States Code. Congress again reemphasized and
strengthened this direction through this act, which states, in section 304:
“A design for construction or rehabilitation of a highway on the NHS may take into
A. The constructed and natural environment of the area
B. The environmental, scenic, aesthetic, historic, community and preservation
impacts of the activity; and
C. Access for other modes of transportation.
The National Highway System consists of approximately 161,000 miles of roads,
including the interstate system, or 4% of the total highway mileage. The primary purpose
of the NHS is to ensure safe mobility and access. By emphasizing the importance of
good design for these roads, Congress has said that these factors should not be
overlooked for any road.
Slide #9: Inception of CSS
Within the fertilized soil of ISTEA and the NHS Act, the seeds of CSS began to take
root. In 1997, the FHWA published one of the most authoritative and groundbreaking
works on the CSS approach. It is entitled “Flexibility in Highway Design” and it
demonstrates how agencies could accomplish the objectives of CSS within accepted
design criteria. This booklet details the various methods for using the flexibility already
inherent in the AASHTO Green Book, “A Policy on the Geometric Design of Roads and
Streets” for more context-fitting road designs. In fact, in the opening message from then
Acting FHWA Administrator, Jane Garvey, she states:
“This guide does not attempt to create new standards. Rather, the guide builds on the
flexibility in current laws and regulations to explore opportunities to use flexible design
as a tool to help sustain community interests without compromising safety.”
This guide clarifies that the Green Book is not a design manual. It provides guidance on
the geometric dimensions of the roadway. There are many aspects that the Green Book
was never intended to address, such as designing within the appropriate context. This
“Flexibility in Highway Design” publication was meant to bridge that gap and is still a
very relevant and useful document today, some 8 years later.
Slide #10: Thinking Beyond the Pavement
This publication sparked an historic event. In May of 1998, many transportation officials
from across the country gathered in Maryland to attend a groundbreaking new conference
entitled, “Thinking Beyond the Pavement: A National Workshop on Integrating Highway
Development with Communities and the Environment while Maintaining Safety and
Performance.” This conference was co-sponsored by AASHTO and the FHWA and the
Maryland Department of Transportation. In an opening remark by the Executive Director
of AASHTO, Francis B. Francois, he states; “Aesthetic, community-sensitive design is
where our nation wants to go and we should go with them.” It was at this gathering that
the basic principles of what was then first called Context Sensitive Design (CSD) were
Slide #11: CSD Barriers and Solutions
At this workshop, many barriers to CSD were also identified, among them are:
Rigid segmentation of responsibility during project development
Failure to consider a full range of design alternatives, and
Lack of clear communication between stakeholders and transportation agencies
How were these barriers to be broken down? The concepts had to me tested and put into
actual practice. Thus, in September 1998, the federal government acted, and a National
Steering Committee was created to institutionalize CSD principles in transportation
projects. Five pilot states were selected to be the test cases. This program, administered
by the FHWA, included Kentucky, Utah, Minnesota, Maryland, and Connecticut. Since
then, all of these states have adopted the CSS approach. To date, 26 states across the
U.S. have either adopted a CSS policy or are developing one.
Slide #12: Other Milestones
At the same time, our federal government was working the next transportation bill, called
the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). This legislation was
enacted in 1998, and again, demonstrated a clear, strengthened federal commitment
toward the preservation of historic, scenic, and cultural resources in the development and
implementation of transportation projects.
In June of 1999, the American Society of Civil Engineers in conjunction with the FHWA,
held a conference entitled “Flexibility in Highway Design: The Role of the Civil
Engineer”. Over 140 practicing civil engineers gathered in Reston, Virginia where they
listened to the nation’s leaders give talks on context sensitive design and had the
opportunity to participate in active and informative small group discussions.
A year later, in 2000, the FHWA and AASHTO also conducted an International
Scanning Tour to visit European countries and uncover CSD problems, practices, and
Slide #13: FHWA Call to Action
The FHWA has set a goal of all states adopting the CSS approach by 2007. This is
underscored in a January 24th, 2002, one page memorandum from Mary E. Peters, FHWA
“As you know, I believe it is important for the FHWA to identify the most critical areas
where we can make a difference. So that we can all concentrate our effort on the
critical areas, we jointly selected the “Vital Few,” which are: Safety, Environmental
Stewardship and Streamlining, and Congestion Mitigation.
Context Sensitive Design (CSD) is an approach that places preservation of historic,
scenic, natural environment, and other community values on an equal basis with
mobility, safety and economics. I am asking for your support and assistance in
advancing CSD as an element of our Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining
A transportation facility is an integral part of the community’s fabric and it can help
define the character of the community or it can destroy it. A context-sensitive approach
to planning and designing transportation facilities will help us better understand that
role and properly address it.
Our State DOT partners and we in the FHWA should view CSD as an opportunity to
connect with the communities and the constituents that we serve. We should seek to
institutionalize the principles of CSD with the same commitment that drove the
implementation of the Interstate Highway System. We are in an era that calls for
innovative thinking, improved coordination, cooperation, interdisciplinary decision-
making, streamlined implementation, and community acceptance. These are lofty but
necessary goals. I encourage each of you to work tirelessly in partnership with your
State DOT and other partners toward initiating CSD concepts where they do not exist,
and toward sustaining them where they do.”
Slide #14: Illinois Response
So how has Illinois responded to this call? In 2003, State legislation (PA 93-0540) was
passed instructing the IDOT to adopt CSS principles in its planning and design of major
projects. In fact, in late 2002, IDOT had already begun to research and develop a CSS
approach for Illinois. Thus far, they have held individual meetings with MPO’s
(Metropolitan Planning Organizations), mayor’s councils, and county engineers’ boards
across the state. The purpose of these meetings was to inform these groups that IDOT
intends to develop a Policy on CSS and educate them on the basics of what CSS means.
They have held open house public meetings with advocacy groups, and local leaders and
officials to solicit feedback on CSS. They have conducted detailed interviews with
personnel in other state DOTs who have already developed CSS policies. Overall, three
important themes have emerged through this process:
1) Transportation projects must be approached in a multi-modal scope, especially
with regard to accommodating pedestrian and bicycle needs
2) Stakeholders need to be involved in transportation planning and programming
decisions, and not just in the design decisions
3) A public perception exists that IDOT design standards are too rigid, and therefore
a major source of stakeholder resistance to IDOT plans.
Slide #15: Illinois Efforts
IDOT has also conducted a literature review, sent top staff to a CSS training seminar, and
has drafted a set of policies and approaches of their own, that attempt to fit CSS into how
transportation is done here in Illinois. This is summarized on IDOT’s CSS website
(www.dot.state.il.us/css/home.html). They also intend to continue the dialog with
stakeholders as this policy continues to develop.
Slide #16: Illinois CSS Policy
As IDOT continues to carve out their own specific CSS Policy, they have developed the
It must be applicable to a wide range of projects, not just the “mega-projects”
It must be flexible and modular, and able to be modified according to the needs
of the project
It must be simple and not create a host of new rules or layers of processes
It must expand on what the DOT already does
For a long time, IDOT has been using many of the approaches that constitute CSS to
solicit opinion from and involve the public on many projects statewide. However, these
methods have never been put into one easily referenced place. That is the goal of the
IDOT CSS Policy.
Slide #17: Additional Guidance
Throughout all of this, studies and guidebooks on the CSS approach continue to appear:
In 2002, NCHRP Report 480 was released, entitled, “A Guide to Best Practices in
Achieving Context Sensitive Solutions”. NCHRP stands for National Cooperative
Highway Research Program, which is directed by the Transportation Research Board, or
TRB. This report details the best industry practices for implementing the CSS approach
and includes extensive case studies of CSS projects from around the country. I’ll
reference some more of the content of this important report later.
Slide #18: Additional Guidance
In May 2004, AASHTO released their publication, entitled “A Guide for Achieving
Flexibility in Highway Design.” In this guide, AASHTO admits that the concept of
flexibility in highway design has provoked some measure of discomfort among the
highway design profession. Some see it as an end to the practice of design as it has
always been done or the abandonment of design standards. Others are concerned that
flexibly designed projects will compromise safety or increase the chance of lawsuits.
However, in AASHTO’s view, CSS is not in conflict with established processes and
design guidance. AASHTO supports the concepts and principles of flexibility in
highway design and feels that all professionals in this industry should understand how to
accomplish a flexible design solution within current design processes and approaches.
Flexible design does not mandate a fundamentally new design process, nor does it
suggest new or revised design criteria. Rather, the goal is to show designers how to think
flexibly, how to recognize the many choices and options they have, and how to arrive at
the best solution for the particular context.
Achieving a flexible context-sensitive design solution requires designers to understand
the reasons behind the processes, design values and design procedures. It pushes the
designer to know the how and why behind the design manuals they are using, much the
same way, as it is important to know these characteristics of any computer program we
use to aid us in our work.
Slide #19: CSS/CSD Vision
NCHRP Report 480 recounts the vision developed at the original 1998 seminar in
Maryland for the CSS movement. The vision addresses both the outcome and the
Slide #20: Outcome – Excellence in Design
A vision for excellence in the outcome of transportation design projects includes these
The project satisfies the purpose and needs as agreed to by a full range of
stakeholders. This agreement is forged in the earliest phase of the project and
amended as warranted as the project develops.
The project is a safe facility both for the user and the community.
The project is in harmony with the community and preserves environmental,
scenic, aesthetic, historic, and natural resource values of the area.
The project exceeds the expectations of both designers and stakeholders and
achieves a level of excellence in people’s minds.
The project involves efficient and effective use of resources (time, budget,
community) of all involved parties.
The project is designed and built with minimal disruption to the community.
The project is seen as having added lasting value to the community.
Slide #21: Process – Yields Excellence
A vision of the process, which would yield excellence, includes these characteristics:
Communicate with all stakeholders in a manner that is open, honest, early, and
Tailor the highway development process to the circumstances. Employ a process
that examines multiple alternatives and that will result in consensus on
Establish a multi-disciplinary team early with disciplines based on the needs of
the specific project and include the public.
Seek to understand the landscape, the community, and valued resources before
beginning engineering design.
Involve a full range of stakeholders with transportation officials in the scoping
phase. Clearly define purposes of the project and forge consensus on the scope
Tailor the public involvement process to the project. Include informal meetings.
Use a full range of tools for communication about project alternatives (e.g.
Secure commitments to the process from top agency officials and local leaders.
Slide #22: How Do You Implement CSS?
Let me illustrate the options described in the 1997 publication, “Flexibility in Highway
Design.” The first important concept everyone must understand is that every project is
unique. Factors that must be considered by the highway designer include the setting and
character of the area, the values of the community, and the needs of the highway users.
The ultimate task here is balancing the need for the highway improvement with the need
to safely integrate the design into the surrounding natural and human environment. In
order to accomplish these goals, designers need flexibility. The guide goes on to describe
the following options available to state and local highway agency officials:
Use the flexibility within the standards adopted for each state. Most state
standards are based on the AASHTO Green Book, “A Policy on the Geometric
Design of Highways and Streets.” The Green Book is not a cookbook.
Throughout the guide, standards are given as ranges, and often these ranges
provide enough flexibility to achieve a harmonious design that both meets the
objectives of the project and is sensitive to the surrounding environment.
Recognize that design exceptions may be appropriate where environmental
consequences are great. The design exception process is one where the designer
and the approvers of a project (a central office or the FHWA) all get together and
carefully analyze the individual design element being considered, the effect it
could have on the adjacent environment, and the ramifications in terms of safety
and operational efficiency.
Be prepared to reevaluate decisions made during the earlier planning phase
Lower the design speed, where appropriate. Its interesting to note that when we
received our copy of this publication at the District, it was accompanied by a
memo from the FHWA cautioning the users to avoid actually lowering the design
speed for a project, but rather to use the design exception process to address any
features that may be proposed that are lower than standard. In this way, attention
can be given to the specific feature and its effects on the setting rather than just a
blanket approach where all standards for the road would be lower.
Sometimes it may be appropriate to just maintain the road’s existing geometry
and undertake only resurfacing, restoration, and rehabilitation (3R)
An agency can consider developing or revising their own standards, especially
for what may be classified as “scenic roads”.
Through all of this it is important to recognize the safety and operational impacts
of various design features and modifications. This is an area where more
research and guidance is needed and is underway. Some of the ongoing efforts
by the FHWA relating to CSS include development of a Context Sensitive Urban
Street Design Guide; NCHRP Research Project 15-22 entitled Safety
Consequences of Flexibility in Highway Design; as well as development of an
FHWA CSS Training Course, all due out in the summer or fall of 2005.
All of these options provide designers with the flexibility to use their expertise and good
judgment in designing roads that fit into the natural and human environments, while
functioning efficiently and operating safely.
Slide #23: CSS Process
So, in summary, CSS is a process through which a partnership is forged between the
DOT and stakeholders with a common goal of developing working solutions to the
transportation needs along a corridor. The DOT must recognize that each stakeholder can
help provide a better understanding of the project area’s unique needs. The DOT then
combines this input with its own analysis to make transportation decisions.
Slide #24: What CSS is Not
It is important for all to realize that CSS is not a means by which the decision making
process is handed over to the stakeholders, nor does it imply that important transportation
decisions will be made based on any kind of voting process in which the stakeholders are
given an equal vote as the DOT. The DOT still carries the primary responsibility of
upholding safety, integrity, and good stewardship in carrying out their mission of
maintaining and improving its infrastructure. It is, however, a process through which
quality stakeholder involvement can contribute to these decisions and which can
ultimately lead to a general consensus about the choices made through this process.
Slide #25: Measuring CSS Performance
Much of the material in this section is taken from Performance Measures for Context
Sensitive Solutions – A Guidebook for State DOTs, NCHRP Web Document 69 (Project
20-24(30)), October 2004, prepared for the Transportation Research Board. This
research report divides performance measures into two categories; process-related
measures and outcome-related measures.
Slide #26: Process-Related Focus Areas
When assessing the performance of a CSS Process, they recommend asking the
following questions in self-assessment:
Related to how well the agency used multi-disciplinary teams:
Were the right people on the team?
Did the team function effectively?
Was the focus on CSS principles from the start?
Related to how well the agency engaged the public:
Presence of a public involvement plan?
Were external champions for the project created?
Was public input sought and used at key decision points?
Were adequate expertise and resources provided by the agency?
Did stakeholders feel a sense of “ownership” in the process?
Related to how well the project goals were met:
Was there support by a variety of stakeholders for the project P & N statement?
Was the evaluation of alternatives linked to the P&N?
Was the project consistent with local planning?
Did the project support community needs and values?
Related to the analysis of alternatives:
Was an adequate range of alternatives developed?
Were criteria laid out for the alternatives analysis?
Was there consensus on the range of alternatives and on the selection of the
preferred alternative? (Remember, consensus does not imply voting or mean that
everyone has to agree on the decisions, it just means everyone can live with the
Related to the design of the project:
Was the project designed to address actual accident data in addition to applying
Were design exceptions investigated where warranted to protect and enhance
community values and the environment?
Were multi-modal accommodations considered?
Were CSS construction and maintenance issues considered during project
Slide #27: Outcome-Related Focus Areas
When assessing performance of the outcomes of a CSS project, the following questions
Related to the achievement of the project vision or goals:
Was there a match between the original P&N statement and the final project?
Is there a tracking of project commitments?
Were the project vision or goals met?
Does the project support community values?
Are environmental resources preserved or enhanced?
Did the project leverage other resources (i.e., attract other financial support)?
Related to stakeholder satisfaction:
Was consensus achieved during various points during the project?
Was construction performed in a minimally disruptive manner?
Were tailored surveys of key stakeholders undertaken?
Related to an overall quality assurance review:
Can be done at the completion of a project or multiple projects
Can be a peer review and include other agencies/stakeholders
Can include interviews with internal project staff who worked on the project
Focus on applications and use of CSS principles
Identify lessons learned for future projects
Slide #28: Role of Public Involvement
Public involvement is the process of two-way communication between citizen and
government, by which transportation agencies provide information to the public and use
public input as a factor in decision-making. The new model for transportation decision-
making includes, as a given, that public input regarding needs and solutions, is seriously
considered by the decision-makers. And the new model of public involvement is
becoming more of engaging the public in the process rather than just informing them on
what the agency proposes to do. The practitioners must approach each and every project
as a transportation problem to be solved, not as a solution to be sold. These new models
have stemmed from federal legislation, a growing trend over the last 30 years of a shift in
power from the federal government to the states, and the empowerment of groups and
individual citizens to have a voice in public policy decisions that affect them and their
Slide #29: DAD vs. POP
One way that the changing Public Involvement Process is being looked at is that of DAD
vs. POP. The traditional method of public involvement, DAD, is comprised of the steps
of 1. Decide on Action, 2. Announce the Decision to the Public, and 3. Defend the
Decision. This type of process has been known to cause public mistrust, project delays,
higher overall project costs, poor relations with other agencies, and litigation. The new
emerging method of public involvement, consistent with CSS principles, has been named
by some as POP. This stands for Publicly Owned Project. The characteristics and
benefits of this approach include a participatory process, broad stakeholder involvement,
recognition of diverse perspectives, public trust, better accountability, and objective,
responsible, and fair transportation decisions.
Slide #30: State of the Practice
Cited from State of the Practice: White Paper on Public Involvement, developed by the
Committee on Public Involvement in Transportation, some benefits of a good public
involvement program include:
Public sense of ownership will provide sustainable and supportable decisions
– citizens will be more apt to accept negative consequences of projects when they
understand the policy or technical and regulatory constraints and have been
involved in the decisions made.
Agency decisions that reflect community values by involving consultation with
many segments of the community in a collaborative manner.
Efficient implementation of transportation decisions by understanding the
concerns of the public, it can be ensured that all of the problems and potential
solutions have been identified from the start, which results in less revisiting of
Enhanced agency credibility through more interaction with constituents. This
provides for a better public understanding of agency operations and agency
officials having a better understanding of public thinking, in the end improving
the agency’s relationship with the public.
Slide #31: Good Practices in Public Involvement
A main objective of public involvement is to improve decisions. Good decisions are not
only based on good planning and sound engineering, but they must also reflect the
interests of all stakeholders.
Another objective of public involvement is to build consensus on the path to decision. In
exchange for participation in a fair and open process, citizens are often willing to support
the outcome of a process even if their preferred alternative is not selected. This result,
sometimes known as “informed consent” is the desired outcome on highly controversial
projects. It allows projects to move forward even though all stakeholder desires are not
Good public involvement must also equip citizen participants with the information
regarding the project, as well as transportation issues, the planning process, and the
budgetary and engineering constraints of the agency.
Lastly, the objective of allowing the stakeholders to see how their input has an effect on
the agency’s decisions is important. A “black box” process is not successful public
involvement. The decision-making process must be open and clear and reflect citizen
Slide #32: Guiding Principles of Public Involvement
Public Involvement must not be misconstrued with public information or public relations.
Public information is one-way communication. Public relations programs can inform,
but their main focus is on promotion of a particular policy or solution. A good public
involvement program contains characteristics of both public information and public
relations. But it contains one aspect lacking in both, the opportunity for public input and
Public involvement activities should be designed so as to involve both decision-makers
and all interested stakeholders. One of the big challenges we are faced with today in
public involvement is seeking out those groups or individuals who have a stake in the
project, but may be isolated by cultural or economic barriers. Another population that is
difficult to reach are the users of a particular facility who don’t live or work in the
immediate project area. The practitioner must seek these groups out early, particularly
those who will be affected significantly.
The emphasis here is on partnering, achieving a mutual understanding of the problems to
be solved, the formal or informal agreements to work together, and the values and
constraints of each involved party. Partnering can lead to an efficient and effective
approach to gathering citizen input and is vital in developing workable solutions.
Don’t forget the need to begin public involvement early and keep it continuous
throughout the project development. This improves the credibility of an agency and
increases the public’s trust in that agency.
The decision-making process should be well defined for all participants. It should be
structured, and be a transparent process. Nothing should be hidden. The process must be
up-front, open and honest and delineated at the start of a project. The agency must
convey that public involvement is only one input into a complex decision process and
that transportation officials remain the decision-makers. However, decisions should be
structured so that outcomes reflect public input.
Lastly, agencies need to provide experienced, well-trained leaders to public involvement
programs. These spokespeople should be verse in agency policy, perspectives, and
operating procedures. Adequate resources should also be provided in terms of staff, time,
and budget for public involvement programs.
Slide #33: Challenges of Public Involvement
The practice of public involvement continues to evolve. Still, a number of challenges
Removing institutional barriers – Saying that the public is included in the decision-
making process and actually including them are two different things. A commitment
must be made by the entire agency to partner with the public and policies must be
developed to take their input seriously and to improve decision-making.
Ensuring a broad-based audience and improving communication tools – The
traditional method of public involvement revolves around public meetings. This heavy
use of that tool could lead to the overweighting of the voices of activists who attend those
meetings and a distortion of the community voice. Improved techniques must be
developed to respond to stakeholder time constraints, provide critical information to help
the public accurately assess the importance of the issues to their quality of life, and attract
and communicate effectively with a broader audience. Some effective tools include the
use of electronic media, mass communication techniques, and public opinion surveys.
Dealing with complexity – As transportation technology and funding mechanisms
become more complex, keeping the public’s attention and conveying this complex
information becomes more difficult. Many agencies are looking towards the internet and
other multimedia programs as the key to communicating complex information
Timing – A number of timing obstacles exist. Typically transportation plans are
developed over long periods and solutions take years to implement. It is difficult to
capture and sustain public interest in decisions that won’t come to fruition for years into
the future. Effective ways of conducting longer-term outreach programs need to be
developed. At the same time, streamlining efforts to shorten the planning and decision-
making process should be continued. Quantitative evaluation processes that focus on
measuring performance of alternatives against a broad range of public values offer high
potential in this area ( e.g., Expert Choice software).
Efforts are underway to develop standards to assess the effectiveness of public
involvement programs. Agency leaders often question the utility of costly public
involvement programs, while practitioners argue that they prevent delays, lawsuits, and
revisiting of decisions. Performance measures should focus on how well the expectations
of participants were met, costs in relation to benefits, and actual effects on decision-
Slide #34: FHWA Guidance for Public Involvement
The FHWA took this to the next level with their publication, Public Involvement
Techniques for Transportation Decision-Making. It highlights the great flexibility
available to transportation agencies in designing public involvement processes, the fact
that every situation and project are different and each approach to a specific public
involvement challenge will be unique. However, a systematic thought process should
consider the following fundamental guidelines:
Acting in accord with basic democratic principles means that public involvement is
more than simply following legislation and regulations – In a democratic society,
people have the opportunity to debate issues, frame alternative solutions, and affect
final decisions in ways that respect the role of decision-makers. In this way, the
public has the opportunity to help shape the substance of plans, programs, and
Continuous contact between agency and non-agency people
Use of a variety of public involvement techniques that target different groups or
Active outreach to the public means agencies search out the public and work hard to
Focus participation on decisions rather than on conducting participation activities
because they are required
Slide #35: Successful Public Involvement
The following five steps to setting up and implementing a successful public involvement
Set goals and objectives of the program
Identify the people to be reached
Develop a general approach that is keyed to the goals of the involvement program and
the target audiences
Flesh out the approach with detailed techniques
Assure that the strategies and techniques have aided in decision-making to close the
By giving thought to each of the five guiding principles and five detailed steps above
when designing a public involvement program, you can be assured that the results will be
better involvement, better decisions, and better projects.
Slide #36: Going Forward with Public Involvement
As we move forward, transportation problems will multiply, transportation budgets will
grow, the range of solutions will increase, and the demands of the public to be involved
in policy decisions will become more insistent. Lessons learned over the past decades
need to be analyzed and applied if we are to meet the challenge of including the public in
the complicated process of arriving at transportation decisions.
The question asked in public involvement programs needs to first and foremost be how
will we address the needs of the public and project at hand and not whether or when to
involve the public. The citizenry must also accept their responsibilities – to devote the
time and energy to understand the transportation needs and parameters of the projects that
affect them and their communities and to accept the results of a fair and open process.
This new model of a mutually respectful, fair, and open process constitutes the vision for
transportation decision-making of the future. And this, in essence, is the embodiment and
vision of the path to true Context Sensitive Solutions.
Slide #37: End Result: The Goal
Let me just leave you with the basic goal, or end result, of what CSS is meant to be, and
that is “Projects that improve safety and mobility for the traveling public, and
projects that simultaneously preserve and enhance the scenic, economic, historic,
and natural qualities of the settings through which they pass.”
Slide #38: Questions and Discussion
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