Context-sensitive solutions is a theoretical and practical approach to transportation decision-making and design that takes into consideration the communities and lands through which streets and highways pass. The term is related to but distinguishable from context-sensitive design in that it asserts that all decisions in transportation planning, project development and maintenance should be responsive to the context in which these activities occur, not the design process. CSS seeks to balance the need to move vehicles efficiently and safely with other desirable outcomes, including historic preservation, environmental sustainability, the creation of vital public spaces. In transit projects, CSS refers to context sensitive planning and development around transit stations known as transit-oriented development. In contrast to long-standing practices in transportation design that place primary importance on moving traffic, the CSS process emphasizes that transportation facilities should fit their physical settings and preserve scenic, aesthetic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.
For instance, if a state highway that passes through a downtown main street, applying CSS principles would entail creating a street where the movement of vehicles does not impede pedestrian activity and sidewalk commerce, rather than a street, widened and straightened to increase speed and mobility for vehicles as a singular transportation objective. CSS therefore includes principles for context-sensitive decision-making that place a high value on community input and consensus, more technical principles of context sensitive design; when CSS principles are applied to transportation projects, the process involves a much broader range of disciplines than traditional transportation design methods, which rely on the judgment of traffic engineers. CSS is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves everyone with a significant stake in the project, such as the residents and local institutions that will be affected by an intervention or a failure to address the transportation implications of development such as congestion.
Rather than approaching these stakeholders at the tail end of the design process in an attempt to gain approval, CSS emphasizes the need to incorporate their feedback from the outset of the planning and design development processes and during all subsequent stages of construction and maintenance. The following list of qualities describe the core goals of the CSS process; the CSS Product: Qualities of Excellence in Transportation DesignThe "Qualities that Characterize Excellence in Transportation Design" – that is, of the physical end product of the CSS process – are: 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 for the community. The project is in harmony with the community, it preserves environmental, aesthetic and natural resource values of the area, i.e. exhibits context sensitive design. The project exceeds the expectations of both designers and stakeholders and achieves a level of excellence in people's minds.
The project involves effective use of the resources of all involved parties. The project is built with minimal disruption to the community; the project is seen as having added lasting value to the community. This outline of the core steps in the CSS process was developed at the "Thinking Beyond the Pavement" conference; the CSS Process: Characteristics of the Process That Yield Excellence"The Characteristics of the Process that will Yield Excellence in Transportation Design" are: Communication with all stakeholders is open, honest and continuous. A multidisciplinary team is established early, with disciplines based on the needs of the specific project, with the inclusion of the public. A full range of stakeholders is involved with transportation officials in the scoping phase; the purposes of the project are defined, consensus on the scope is forged before proceeding. The highway development process is tailored to meet the circumstances; this process should examine multiple alternatives that will result in a consensus of approach methods.
A commitment to the process from top agency officials and local leaders is secured. The public involvement process, which includes informal meetings, is tailored to the project; the landscape, the community, valued resources are understood before engineering design is started. A full range of tools for communication about project alternatives is used; the initial guiding principles of CSS came out of the 1998 "Thinking Beyond the Pavement" conference as a means to describe and foster transportation projects that preserve and enhance the natural and built environments along with economic and social assets for neighborhoods they pass through. In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration announced that under one of its three Vital Few Objectives they had a target goal of achieving CSS integration within all state Departments of Transportation by September 2007; the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Organizations is now developing strategic goals and objectives for CSS which it describes as a "fundamental change in the way we do business