Even if you have never heard the term Context Sensitive Design, there is a good chance that you have driven along a roadway that was created using this approach to transportation design and engineering. Since the term was coined at the FHWA’s Thinking Beyond the Pavement conference in 1998, Context Sensitive Design (CSD) has been adopted by agencies throughout the country and applied to transportation corridors in virtually every state.

Here in Texas, the North Central Expressway in Dallas, San Antonio’s Loop 410, and the SH-45 Tollway outside of Austin are all good examples of CSD at work. At its core is the premise that we must focus on designing transportation infrastructure in ways that make it a valued part of a community’s fabric, rather than a divisive structure. While CSD recognizes that roadways must be carefully engineered to move traffic efficiently and safely, it asserts that these goals can be achieved without sacrificing the unique qualities of the community they are intended to serve. To communicate this concept more concisely, the FHWA has outlined four guiding principles of CSD:

 1.  Involve Stakeholders
Strive towards a shared vision to provide a basis for decisions. Involve a full range of stakeholders (public agencies, businesses, residents) and work to achieve early consensus for a shared vision.

2.  Communicate
Foster communication and collaboration on a continual basis to achieve consensus. Host regular meetings, share materials and exhibits that are easily understood, listen, and maintain an open dialogue.

3.  Understand the Context.
Ensure a comprehensive understanding of contexts. Walk the site, talk with residents, and understand what makes a place unique.

4.  Be flexible and Creative.
In designing transportation solutions, exercise flexibility and creativity while preserving and enhancing the community and natural environments.

As landscape architects, RVi always works to create design solutions that are contextually appropriate. Examples of our transportation design projects include Quinlan Park Road in Steiner Ranch, the Town Lake Bridge Guidelines in Houston, and the I-10 El Paso Aesthetics Guidelines for TxDOT. Additionally, RVi has been selected as the CSD consultant for planned improvements to US 290 (The Y at Oak Hill) in Southwest Austin, as well as the extension of Parmer Lane in Northwest Austin.

More detailed information on the FHWA’s guiding principles can be found on their website.