Sustainability Started with Context Sensitive Solutions

Ironically the guide for highway design is referred to as the Green book. Today the term green is associated with design and construction of sustainable solutions. Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) originated in the transportation community in the late 1990s when concerned citizens and organizations blocked transportation improvements with not in my backyard, NIMBY mindset.

Witnessing the role 3D road design played in breaking project log jams inspired me to embrace CSS. The Federal Highway Administration embraced CSS when they published Flexibility in Highway Design 15 years ago.

NIMBY carried over to the land development market. The Sustainable Land Development Initiative emerged when communities resisted urban sprawl, cookie cutter approaches to subdivisions. I joined SLDI about 10 years ago and was inspired by the new triple bottom line – People, Planet and Profit, philosophy to land development. Suddenly, I transformed from a transportation engineer professional to a transportation engineer tree hugger.

To understand the relationship of CSS and SLDI lets start with the following definitions:

Profit = highway designer and constructors

Planet = environmentalists

People = public

Prior to the Interstate Highway System, parkways were designed in the 1930s, using a philosophy of building a highway set in a natural environment. To reduce the perceived scale of the roadway (Flexibility in Highway Design, page 17); Green space between sidewalks or non-motorized vehicle paths and the travel lanes also helps to break up the perceived width of the pavement. Readings on page 23 A successful highway design process includes the following:

Early and continuous public involvement throughout the project

The use of visualization techniques to aid the public

Early and continuous use of a multidisciplinary design team

The application of flexible and creative design criteria

Tremendous insights are available on the Context Sensitive Solutions website.

As housing markets become healthy again, the land development process could benefit from the learning journey of CSS professionals. Private sector designers and contractors can benefit from the path to progress in the transportation community.

Previous articles articulate the importance of 3D road design in visualization. Initial 3D visualizations were in some cases a manual process. 2D final plans were used as a resource to create 3D models from scratch in order to be visualized in 3D Studio MAX. Visualization professionals charged large fees to generate 3D models from 2D drawings. Many transportation agencies associated visualization with an expensive retrofit process reserved for a few critical projects.

InRoads and Modelview, Intergraph products, dramatically reduced the cost of visualization. An example of perception overruling reality was revealed in a project consisting of a major river crossing with interchanges on both banks. One of the premier users of InRoads/Modelview created engineering accurate 3D models of the project in one month as part of their oral proposal presentation. Photomontage images of proposed design views were augmented with a visualization video all produced within the one month proposal preparation. Shockingly, they did not win the project. In the debriefing, the DOT had perceived that they could not afford the cost of visualization on the project. Their experience with their 2D road design product clouded their view of the progressive proposal.

A couple years later I attended a conference where a project designed with InRoads was shown in 3D Studio MAX. Knowing that InRoads was integrated with AutoCAD, I expected that the visualization professional would be simply reading the engineering models into AutoCAD and saving them for input into 3D Studio MAX. Shockingly, I discovered that the 3D models were recreated manually from 2D drawings. My concern is that transportation agencies, who are always trying to do more with less will be overcharged for visualization deliverables.

I hope that design and construction professionals in the land development business will take advantage of the 3D pioneers experience in the transportation community. Builders have a wealth of time tested 3D tools that can lower the design cost and simultaneously improve the quality of benefits for the people and the planet. CSS is a proven building block on the pyramid of progress toward sustainability.



What Is CSS?

Context sensitive solutions (CSS) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in providing a transportation facility that fits its setting. It is an approach that leads to preserving and enhancing scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and environmental resources, while improving or maintaining safety, mobility, and infrastructure conditions.

Results of Joint AASHTO / FHWA Context Sensitive Solutions Strategic Planning Process, Summary Report, March 2007

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