In 1981, Architect Kevin Lynch asserted in Good City Form that, “We might think of travel as a pleasure, rather than a brief and necessary evil.” Lynch’s perspective that transportation infrastructure should enhance the urban experience rather than undermine it preceded the introduction of Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) by almost 20 years. Nevertheless, he captured the essence of why CSS should be important to us: roadways are an unavoidable part of our everyday lives – why not make them a more enjoyable experience?

This October, RVi (with TxDOT, CTRMA, and RTG) led a CSS Aesthetics Workshop in Oak Hill in Southwest Austin. The purpose of the workshop was to seek consensus among stakeholders regarding the context of Oak Hill and to evaluate a range of aesthetics options intended to help ensure that mobility improvements proposed for this important corridor will enhance the quality of life in Oak Hill.

At the heart of every successful CSS project is effective listening. Listening not only yields a clear understanding of context and the needs of stakeholders, it encourages constructive input and a collaborative creative problem-solving spirit that benefits everyone. In Oak Hill, stakeholders who expressed interest in aesthetics during earlier public meetings were invited to attend the CSS Aesthetics Workshop. This stakeholder group was asked to review and evaluate a range of aesthetics elements from comparable projects around Texas and to provide feedback regarding treatments that could effectively be used in Oak Hill. As one might expect, there was great diversity in the observations that stakeholders made regarding what they felt was appropriate for Oak Hill, but the team listened and the feedback provided was extensive and constructive. Digital Audience Response System technology was utilized to engage participants with live question-and-answer polling regarding prioritization of the proposed improvements. Using this technology, the team was able to gather real-time feedback from stakeholders regarding how they felt project resources should be prioritized. Following the workshop, an online survey was launched to gather additional input from stakeholders.  The results have helped the design team to accurately document stakeholder desires and will minimize opportunities for misunderstandings in the future.

While the proposed Oak Hill Parkway has clearly been a controversial project in the Austin area since the 1980s, the use of the CSS process and the input provided by the stakeholder group during this CSS Aesthetics Workshop will prove to be invaluable in providing constructive design direction for the team as the project moves forward.