Committee says ‘new thinking’ is necessary to
 ‘protect neighborhoods’ from ‘dangers’ of traffic

Report and Commentary by Sue Forde, Managing Editor, Citizen Review Online

Clallam County, WA – After a number of highly debated public hearings about proposed road reconstruction, the Clallam County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution on Aug. 10, 1999 appointing citizen members to the Clallam County Rural Roads Design Standards Advisory Committee.  The Committee was given two tasks: to come up with recommendations for “appropriate” community involvement during road project development; and to formulate recommendations for design standards used in road construction and reconstruction in rural areas.

In November 2000, the Committee submitted its report to the commissioners, which related primarily to major and minor rural collectors in the Sequim/Port Angeles area.  The Committee, which consisted of 11 individuals, most of whom expressed concern with a current “automobile-centered” design approach, want to move away from automobile usage, and toward “multi-modal transportation” – i.e. walking, bicycling and other non-motorized methods of transportation.  The report expressed concern about “sprawl” in the rural areas, as well as the urban areas. 

The “transportation element must be consistent with the land use element,” the report states, but has left in place instead the “old, sprawl-promoting transportation design and performance standards.”  It says “while the “[existing Clallam County Countywide] comprehensive plan is essentially an anti-sprawl document, it neglects to consider that sprawl is not just remote low-density development but also the automobile-centered transportation system that serves it.” (emphasis theirs).  “This automobile-centered approach is especially destructive to rural neighborhoods,” (emphasis theirs) the report states. (Ed. Comment: see our story on “sprawl” to get another viewpoint.)

The introduction states that “road construction and sprawl are related issues that have generated controversy in Clallam County, Washington, and nationally.  When constructing or reconstructing roads, conventional engineering practice requires the use of automobile-centered design standards.  The focus of these standards is to move the maximum number of motorized vehicles through the system as rapidly as possible.  They ignore the effects of automobile traffic on surrounding environment and neighborhoods. 

“After decades of this approach with its attendant costs and destructiveness to neighborhoods, communities around the state and nation are changing their road design process. (Ed. Note: see our story on the “consensus process”).  With the ‘encouragement’ of new federal transportation policies (ed. Note: top-down governance), many communities are questioning the old speed-focused design standards.  People want projects that enhance their neighborhoods.  They want safe multi-modal transportation.  Some states have abandoned the conventional design standards altogether in favor of more flexible standards.

“New thinking is necessary to protect neighborhoods and communities from the dangers of traffic.” (emphasis theirs)  (Ed. Note: Over the past 8 years of the Clinton administration, many new “new thinking” projects have been put into place – read the articles by Henry Lamb to see where this “new thinking” is heading.)

The committee, the report says, “believes the unacknowledged price for rural character preservation and intact rural neighborhoods is slower traffic speed.  Sacrificing driver ‘comfort and convenience’ may be necessary in some instances to preserve the integrity and safety of rural neighborhoods as well as rural character.” (emphasis theirs) 

In order to accomplish this goal, the committee proposes that roads be built much narrower than they have been.  “We believe the best way to decrease speeds and the ‘detrimental effects of traffic’” is to include features like “narrow traffic lanes and curves”.  (Ed. Comment: What about using a far less expensive method of speed limit signs??)    

The report states that “today’s roads are designed for the ‘operationally efficiency (speed), comfort, safety, and convenience’ of the worst driver, speeding in the largest vehicle, in the worst traffic 20 years from now.” (emphasis theirs)   

It goes on to say that this approach is that a roadway is wider, straighter, flatter and faster than the road it replaced.  The report says that factors such as “safety for children, comfort and safety for people walking or bicycling, right-of-ways for a separate trail or path, noise, air and water pollution, and sprawl” are not accounted for.

 “Rural roads are important public spaces where the residents take a walk, jog, meet their neighbors, and let their children walk or bike,” it says.  “It is the front porch values and goals of rural citizens which the land use policies of the comprehensive plan articulates.” (Ed. Note: Living on a rural road myself, I have never noticed people meeting their neighbors on a roadway – and with the width of the present standard roads, there is plenty of room for walkers, joggers, bicyclists, etc.  I would never allow a child to walk on any road without my being there – would you?  It seems that narrowing the roads would create a far greater hazard to all concerned.)

The report boldly states, “Nationwide there is an increasing awareness that road design is neighborhood design.”  (Ed. Note:  Where is the local control in this?  Repeatedly this report calls on nationwide transitions in road design, rather than looking at our local concerns.  Why should we jump on the bandwagon just because “they” are doing it??  Who are “they” anyway??)

The findings and recommendations of the committee include:

Findings:  Because of a “lack of effective public notification and absence of a forum for effective public involvement”, public hearings associated with road reconstruction projects in Clallam County have been unnecessarily contentious.  The county has no written procedure for notifying and involving citizens in the development and design of road improvement projects.  (Ed. Comment:  Read about the consensus process, and how “groups” are brought to “predetermined outcomes” – this is the type of “forum” consistently used in Clallam County and elsewhere to “educate” the population sufficiently so they’ll agree with the outcomes that the county wants.”


“To adopt the citizen involvement process described in their publication “Road Work: Citizen Involvement in Rural Road Design, Clallam County, Washington.”  The Committee believes that this process, which encourages early and continuous citizen involvement, will eliminate much of the discord currently experienced during road project development. It is modeled after the public process recommended by the Federal Highway Administration and meets the GMA requirements for public involvement.” (Ed. Note: in a word, “group think” is used in this “process”, rather than allowing for “individual thinking”.  See the use of the Delphi Technique and the Consensus Process to attain Pre-Determined Outcomes.)


“The use of the Washington state city/county standards on road reconstruction projects in Clallam County sabotages county policies on rural lands, rural neighborhoods, and transportation.  In doing so these design standards take the county out of compliance with the Growth Management Act of 1990 (RCW 36.70A) and the Planning Enabling Act (RCW 36.70).

The committee believes the best way to decrease speeds and the detrimental effect of traffic is to retain the existing features of our rural roads that tend to slow traffic.  These features, including narrow traffic lanes and curves, are the same features that give rural roads their charm and rural character. We believe the trade-off for preserving rural character, presently unacknowledged in the Clallam County Comprehensive Plan, is reduced speed for motorized vehicles.”


The committee recommends the county commissioners adopt the more flexible Vermont design standards for use on rural collectors and local roads, and consider its use on arterial reconstruction projects passing through defined rural neighborhoods.  The Vermont design standards are recognized nationally for their flexibility and ability to preserve rural character, while providing for safe multi-modal travel.  These standards have also been adopted in rural Massachusetts.

“Vermont, a largely rural state, develops its standards specifically to give road designers greater flexibility to preserve valuable historic, cultural, and scenic resources as they plan transportation improvements.  Because of their more flexible approach to design controls and cross-sectional elements, the Vermont standards can accomplish the following goals:

Reduce motorized vehicle speed

Retain rural character

Improve multi-modal safety

Preserve part of the right-of-way for a separate pedestrian path.

Health and Safety

 Quoting “Making Walking and Cycling Safer: Lessons from Europe”, the report states “Pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths are a serious public health problem that has largely been ignored in the United States.”  The report makes false premises – calling on national statistics to validate what is being promoted for the Clallam County rural area. “In the U.S. 6,000 pedestrians are killed every year; 90,000 are injured…” the stats go on and on.  “The causes of these depressing statistics are rooted in the way we have been designing our roads.  It is time for change.”  (Ed. Note: How can they come to this conclusion?  With few exceptions, I would warrant to say that it’s not the roads’ design that causes accidents but careless drivers and/or pedestrians/bicyclists.  The blame could be placed as easily on the increasing incidence of alcoholism and drug abuse – and probably is in other reports, where the predetermined outcome is to gain more funding for this social issues…)

“Providing decent conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists is not just a matter of public safety.  It is also a matter of fairness and civic responsibility,” the report states.  (ed. Note: Why should government get involved in issues of this nature?  I have driven along many country roads, and seen the courtesy and consideration of drivers everywhere concerning pedestrians and bicyclists.  They slow down and make a wide berth around them so as not to disturb them.  Another factor: Just how many pedestrians and bicyclists are there – enough to warrant adversely affecting motorists in their interest?  How safe is it to have extremely narrow roads – especially in the winter months, when you might need that extra bit of pavement to keep from going into the ditch – or a place for an emergency vehicle to park in the event of an accident?)

"Rural Character"

The report calls upon the idea of following the San Juan County scenic roads manual, which “describes, protects and enhances their rural roads scenic qualities.”  “Our county roads are part of the scenic element and rural character that should be preserved,” the San Juan Commissioners stated in March 1995.  Their byways are characterized by “narrow roadways with diverse and contrasting features in close proximity”…providing “a unique visual experience when traveling through the rural landscape.”  There exists “an intimacy and awareness of the landscape not obtainable on higher speed roads,” the San Juan manual says.  It goes on to say that the roads there that have been widened, straightened, paved, or otherwise ‘improved’ have often caused “changes to environmental features and in turn have degraded the scenic and cultural values associated with a rural road.”  (Ed. Comment: Since when is a road built primarily for a scenic drive; I always thought the purpose of a road was to get a person from one place to another in the quickest, safest way.  This is all very “touchy feely”, and I don’t believe that Clallam County residents, for the most part, are in favor of this type of thinking.  No wonder the public hearings were called “contentious” in the report!)

The Committee takes it upon itself in the report to define what the Clallam County Comprehensive Plan calls “rural character”.  The term “rural character” was not defined in the Plan, so the committee decides to define it here:  “Based on the intent of the comprehensive plan to preserve rural quality of life for local residents, the committee believes the following to be true with regards to rural character:

“The proper perspective for defining rural character is the front porch perspective, that is, the perspective of each of us from our home environment and neighborhood as we work or sit and enjoy a summer afternoon or go for a walk with our family.  It is not the perspective of the commuter or the tourist.  The comprehensive plan intends to preserve rural quality of life and the context of rural neighborhoods from the perspective of local residents.  (emphasis theirs) 

“Rural character is a scenic landscape of open spaces, and also is composed of the human activities upon that landscape that define rural life.  Restoring the multi-modal function of rural roads should be the first priority of any contemplated improvement project, giving non-motorized users equal consideration in rural neighborhoods and where otherwise appropriate. (Ed. Note: The intent here is to take us back to pre-motorized vehicle days.)  Drivers passing through rural areas need to be alert and moving slowly enough to react safely to the occasional slowly moving tractor, horseback rider, or group of school children walking from the school bus stop. (Ed. Comment: We ALREADY do this!!  And there are ALREADY laws in place to punish people who don’t obey the speed limit, or who might bring harm to another individual.)

“Because rural roads are an integral part of the rural landscape and rural neighborhoods, their design will either improve or degrade rural character. 

“Preservation of rural character requires slower, not faster traffic speeds. (Ed. Comment: the whole argument here is against faster speeds – the concept of wider roads being safer roads is completely ignored.)  “On faster roads the city/county standards call for clearing a wide swath through the landscape, removing trees and other vegetation, lowering hills and straightening curves to provide increased stopping sight distances and clear zones.  Wider expanses of asphalt, higher vehicle speeds, and removal of vegetation are the antithesis of rural character.” (emphasis theirs) 

“Rural character has economic value for the residents and property owners of rural Clallam County.”  (Ed. Note:  “how?”)

The New Old-Fashioned Road

The report states: “New federal transportation policies encourage a “throw out the manuals” approach to project design which focuses on neighborhoods and community rather than on commuting.  They further recommend that designers use an “outside-in” approach to designing roads, focusing first on the needs of children, bicyclists, and pedestrians and then on people driving motorized vehicles.”  This is total promotion of the multi-modal system of transportation that has been promoted for the past eight years, which de-emphasizes the use of the automobile, and emphasizes instead the use of walking and bicycling as alternative transportation modes.  This concept comes from Europe, and from an administration, which believes in globalization, top-down management, rather than local management where the local people can decide for themselves what’s best for them.

Legal Issues

The report states that the best protection from liability exposure is to document the decision-making process and the design process, which guided project development.  It appears there is a concern about lawsuits in the event the narrower roads turn out more in the way of accidents. 

Contributing sources to the report include the Sierra Club, the Smart Growth Network (an anti-sprawl organization), “How to protect communities from Asphalt and Traffic, by the Conservation Law Foundation, the Environmental Law Journal, the U. S. Dept. of Transportation, and the Alabama Dept. of Transportation, among others. 

Committee Members were: Stuart J. Bonney, owner and principal architect of Olympic Design Works, Inc., who takes great interest in local preservation issues and maintaining the “rural character” of our “unique” environment; Kris Hanson; Bill Hennessey; Bob Lake, Air Force & CIA, lives on Freshwater Bay with his kayak and family; Dave LeRoux, current and founding member of Peninsula Trails Coalition; Don Myers; Ron Schromen-Wawrin; Kathe Smith, a bicycle commuter and member of the Clallam Transit Advisory Board; Russ Westmark; Pat Willits; and Jim Winders.  Ex-officio Committee members: Steve Hauff, Andy Meyers and Pat Willits.  Clallam County staff: Don McInnes, Jim Rumpeltes, Deb Kelly, Alanna Hollander and Lynn Fox.

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