Advocating for Context-Sensitive Transportation Solutions
New York by Chris Ford

Scenic Solutions for Highway Design

The best time to promote context-sensitive solutions (CSS) is early in the planning process. Seek opportunities to participate: find out how citizens and local organizations can have a role in transportation planning for your community so that you are a part of the ongoing decision-making process.

How to Participate in Long-Term Transportation Planning

Join a citizen advisory committee for a local, regional, or state transportation planning agency. If such a committee does not exist, create a transportation advisory committee to fill the need. Explore opportunities for citizens to become involved locally in traffic management or road design, or initiate a community road design committee for your neighborhood.

Contact your metropolitan planning organization or state transportation agency about transportation projects you would like to see implemented. Most metropolitan regions (those with a population of over 50,000) have a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) that conducts transportation planning for the area. The MPO is responsible for the region’s long-range transportation plan (typically 20 years) and short-term Transportation Improvement Program (usually three to six years).

Gather support in your community and among local officials for a specific transportation need; then request that the planning organization include the project in the state and local transportation plans.

Organize your allies to participate in public hearings and submit testimony. Federal law requires each state and metropolitan planning agency to include public involvement in the adoption of transportation plans. Be ready at the hearing with a clear statement, questions, and alternative solutions. Citizens and experts alike can also submit written testimony.

Advocate for your state to pass context-sensitive highway design legislation. In addition to the state DOT, communicate your concerns to the governor and to members of the state legislature who sit on the transportation committee. Legislation is much stronger than an administrative order (See Scenic America’s model legislation). A state law that mandates CSS ensures that this comprehensive way of thinking will persist over time, regardless of who is the governor or who leads the state DOT.

Further, state legislation can help ensure that the state legislature provides some oversight on performance: Is CSS working, and what can be done to improve it for the benefit of citizens in your state?

How to Participate in Specific Transportation Projects

Make very clear your concerns about the project. Explain the features or characteristics you want to protect and outcomes you want to achieve, even if you don’t yet have a specific design alternative you wish to promote.

Request a visual simulation to illustrate what the project will look like as designed. The project engineer should be able to produce visual simulations to illustrate several alternative designs that will solve the problems both you and the engineer have identified. Computerized visual simulation, which can illustrate various design alternatives, can be an especially powerful tool for predicting the impact of the transportation project.

Develop an alternative proposal. Try to be positive in your efforts: identify not only what you don’t want, but what you do want in this road project and how that can be accomplished. A positive, well-grounded alternative proposal, perhaps prepared by a hired consultant, can open some eyes. Establishing an alternative proposal also gives your potential allies a specific option to support besides the status quo or the original proposal.

Consider the following when developing alternative proposals:

  • Make sure the project is consistent with local land use plans.
  • Ensure that the project provides for bicycle and pedestrian needs.
  • Recommend to the project engineer that other professionals, such as landscape architects or planners, be involved if they are not already.