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Going the Distance Together: A Citizen’s Guide to Context Sensitive Solutions for Better Transportation


The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.
Stephen R. Covey

As you turn the first page of this book, you ask yourself, “What’s in it for me? Am I spending my time or investing my time?”

We live in an exciting time of great innovation and rapidly changing thinking about how to solve transportation problems. Since the early 1990s, hundreds of new organizations have formed to advocate for cyclists and pedestrians; curb sprawl and promote smarter solutions to growth; save scenic roads and promote heritage tourism; support local sustainable agriculture; bring back freight rail and promote light rail; and protect the environment by adopting new energy technologies and constructing resource efficient buildings. Curious people can tap into the web to access a vast universe of transportation information and case studies, and quickly communicate with friends and neighbors through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and many other sites and place-focused blogs about new approaches in planning, design, construction, and maintenance. The result has been an explosion of ideas and innovative transportation projects that has brought new life to urban neighborhoods, greater mobility to rural communities, and provided creative approaches to many long-standing problems.

And yet, too often citizens feel distant from transportation decision making and powerless to do anything about it. Isn’t there a better way to communicate with the “powers that be,” a better way to engage in transportation decisions that will profoundly affect our lives?

This guide can help you invest your civic energies wisely. Context-sensitive solutions (CSS), a consensus-building process, invites you to become a full collaborator in all aspects of transportation planning, from national, state, and local policy to operations and maintenance; from broad community visioning to specific project construction.

This material has been organized to be accessible both on first read and as a future reference tool, with five chapters, illustrations, quotes, and case studies to convey complex information at a glance. The chapters are organized as follows:

I. Transportation and the Quality of Life

  • Transportation is fundamental to achieving national goals, sustaining community values, and promoting personal well being.
  • Asking the right questions can contribute to the right solutions.
  • The relationship between transportation and quality of life requires an understanding of how, when, and by whom transportation decisions are made as well as the community context in which they occur.
  • Citizens must take the lead in scripting the transportation “play” by formulating and communicating the information that will feed into the Community Context, Vision, Values, and Plans.
  • CSS is a collection of effective practices you can use to foster collaboration and build consensus to make the transportation play a success.

II. Research on Community Context, Vision, Values, and Plans: The Foundation of Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS)

  • Asking context questions can guide the Community Context, Vision, Values, and Plans (abbreviated in this Guide to Community Context).
  • Joint agreement between citizens and professionals on the definition, principles, qualities, and outcomes of CSS establishes the foundation of collaboration.
  • Professionals from many disciplines can ensure that accurate information and best practices inform the definition of context, including the transportation context, and are included in the analysis of alternative solutions.
  • Citizen stakeholders make an indispensable contribution to defining context.
  • Asking the right context questions is the most important step in getting the right answers.
  • Various tools and techniques are available to help to define context.

III. Shaping Transportation Decisions

  • It is important to be in the right place at the right time to influence transportation decisions.
  • Important decisions are made at each stage in the Life of a Transportation Project.
  • Citizens, practitioners, and public officials all have a role in shaping decisions.
  • Inter-disciplinary teams are essential in making good decisions.

IV. Understanding Professional Responsibility and Design Flexibility in Project Design

  • Learning about a transportation project in its earliest stages increases your chances of influencing its outcome.
  • Projects should be linked to community vision, land use and the transportation context.
  • Citizens should understand how practitioners view transportation context.
  • Citizens should become familiar with both the analytical framework of engineers and the tools of the trade in transportation design.
  • Citizens should understand how practitioners define their responsibilities.
  • Citizens should adopt and adapt innovative tools of the trade.

V. Going the Distance Together: Partnership through Collaboration

  • Collaboration and consensus have many benefits.
  • Collaborative partnerships achieve better project results.
  • Collaboration is challenging.
  • Citizens, practitioners, and decision-makers should adopt methods for achieving collaboration that fit the community’s needs and preferences.
  • Citizens and practitioners should objectively measure project outcomes, including effectiveness of process and on-the-ground solutions.

As a concerned citizen, you are both a collaborator and a civic critic. You represent one of many perspectives, some of which may appear to be mutually exclusive. For example, community residents may focus only on how a particular transportation project works in their neighborhood whereas transportation engineers must ensure that the same project also moves people and goods throughout the region. At its finest, collaboration between citizens and transportation practitioners is a dynamic process that can address many needs and incorporate many perspectives, yielding results that are greater and better than the sum of their initial perspectives.

The purpose of this guide is to help you ask the right questions at the right time to ensure that transportation projects fit the context of your community. CSS is based on the principle that if transportation professionals—policy-makers, planners, engineers, designers and operators— and citizen stakeholders collaborate, all parties will have less to criticize and more to applaud.

While the focus is on processes and decision stages common to all states and metropolitan areas, the principles, qualities, and multiple benefits of early and continuous CSS collaboration apply equally to the wide variety of transportation systems managed by city, county, and regional agencies, from roads to rail. For example, when the text refers to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), the local equivalent might be the Capital Improvement Program, though the form and timing of these two investment-planning documents may be different. The point is that CSS is a collaborative process to address all transportation needs, whether those are national, state, regional, or local.

The authors wish to acknowledge the contribution of the following technical advisors for their contributions in conceptualizing this Guide:

  • Don Arkle, Alabama Department of Transportation
  • Doug Bartlett, New Jersey Department of Transportation
  • Scott Bernstein, Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • Angie Cradock, Harvard School of Public Health
  • Rusty Ennemoser, Florida Department of Transportation
  • Mell Henderson, Mid-America Regional Council
  • John Holtzclaw, Sierra Club
  • Linea Laird, Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Gary McVoy, New York State Department of Transportation
  • Sally Oldham, Historic Preservation Consultant
  • Leighton Powell, Scenic Virginia
  • James Rosenow, Minnesota Department of Transportation
  • Heather Smith, Congress for the New Urbanism
  • Mark Van Port Fleet, Michigan Department of Transportation
  • Louise Wilson, Montgomery Township, New Jersey