Resources for Saving America's Rural (Collector) ROADS & Communities

Compiled 2001-05 with links updated 2009

--Just Enough (poem, 1984, Nanao Sakaki)           
--And simple truth miscall'd simplicity (WS, Sonnet LXVI)

     As departments of transportation (DOTs), having "completed" the Interstate Highway System, re-focus their attention to the reconstruction of American's rural roads, they have tended to bring with them the inappropriate design models and rationales of the interstate--the "maximized-constant-speed interstate" concept. These wider and straighter speed inducing, less safe, & sprawl inducing design models have little relevance (context) when applied to the design of rural residential "collector" roads. There is need in the country to develop context sensitive design solutions CSD/CSS (defined) along with resultant traffic calming guidelines for rural and scenic roads.
     This page lists links to informational resources for saving rural roads and communities. Here are contributions from citizens and organizations, links to progressive state CSD laws and links to DOTs that have been involved with Context Sensitive Design through programs which should result in the education of DOT's administrators and staff.
     This brief listing includes publications by safety experts, links to recommended standards for rural roads as well as some citizen group action sites and forums.


--Research: widening lanes to 12 feet on rural collector roads will actually make roads less safe, Accident Analysis and Prevention (2003).
Rural Roads Design Standards Advisory Committee Report, Clallam County, Washington.
Legal Opinions, & a Brief for Safety Innovations.
How to Protect Communities from Asphalt and Traffic" (CLF publication); also to selected quotes on traffic calming.
Citizen Participation in Context-Sensitive Highway Design--Scenic America.
Through-truck restrictions on rural community roads: protect intimate rural roads from over-widening with through-truck restrictions. Also reports on the Health Effects of Diesel.
"Quiet Lanes". Attempts in Britain to not over-build rural roads. Also, "Self-explaining roads".
AASHTO Roadside Design Guide, Chapter 10: Roadside Safety in Urban and/or Restricted Environments (safety without removing the trees).
"Mitigating the Effects of Gravel Mining upon Rural New Mexico and Alternative Materials in Road Construction". This report contains useful information in recycling to save the landscape.
Opinions by ENGINEERS that supports flexibility.
FHWA's CSD initiatives: "CSD/Thinking Beyond the Pavement" - State DOTs participate in CSD educational programs. Also FHWA interactive site.
A Guide to Best Practices for Achieving Context Sensitive Solutions" (with CD-ROM) via the National Academy of Science.
Building Projects that Build Communities"-- Recommended Best CSD Practices. --Washington State DOT's Community Partnerships.
Vermont DOT Standards--used in road construction and reconstruction in rural areas.
CSD State Laws and Executive Orders. Three examples from 2003-4.
Smart Growth Network: "More Democracy, Smarter Growth", also Stewart Udall's reflections on the mistakes of this century.
STPP Finds 'Fix it First' and Public Transportation are Key....
Conserving Scenic Corridors  "A Highway RunsThrough It"
CSD/CSS Forums.
Group's Actions in New Mexico.


RECENT RESEARCH: Paper by Prof. Robert Noland on Lane Width and Fatalities:
     "Traffic Fatalities and Injuries: The Effect of Changes In Infrastructure and Other Trends", 28 pp; presented at the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, January, 2001
has been published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention (2003) and can be downloaded from HERE. "THE IMPLICATION [of the study] strongly suggests that widening lanes to 12 feet will actually make roads less safe."--Prof. Robert Noland, (Professor and Director Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University).

Citation to this Version:
Noland, Robert B. (2003). Traffic Fatalities and Injuries: The Effect of Changes in Infrastructure and Other Trends. Accident Analysis & Prevention 35(4), 599-611. Retrieved from

Robert Noland's Paper: a SUMMARY, by Kim Sorvig


RURAL ROADS DESIGN STANDARDS Advisory Committee Report--"Road Work", Clallam County, Washington, 16 pp. "We believe the best way to decrease speeds and the detrimental effects of traffic is to retain the existing features of rural roads that tend to slow traffic speeds. These features, including narrow traffic lanes and curves, are the same features that give our rural roads their charm and rural character." "Today's roads are designed for the 'operational efficiency (speed), comfort, safety, and convenience' of the worst driver, speeding in the largest vehicle, in the worst traffic 20 years from now." Recommends support for Vermont State Design Standards used in road construction and reconstruction in rural areas. The report was generated in Washington State but these issues seem to be the same the world over. Comes with bibliography. This report is available in pdf format [ROAD report.2.pdf] from Bill Hennessey, M.D., chair of the Clallam County Washington advisory committee. Related website:


LEGAL OPINIONS on Prof. Noland's Paper noted above on Lane Width and Fatalities:

     "My thinking on this is partly shaped by the paper that Prof. Robert Noland presented...showing that such "improvements" (widening, straightening roads)...actually show a slight increase in accidents that caused injury and death." Opinion by Seth Kaplan, Staff Attorney, Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), 62 Summer Street, Boston MA, 02110.

     Legal opinion: a brief, "NM14 Construction Design and Liability", New Mexico Environmental Law Center.

     Legal Support for Safety Innovations (from the Clallam County report, Road Work): "Note that experts in liability law (including the Supreme Courts of states such as Washington) have ruled that governmental agencies and their design consultants "are not insurers against accidents nor guarantors of safety." Based on court cases cited in the Clallam County report, "There is little reason for concern that a well-engineered project which meets well-defined public goals defined through a well-documented public process would result in a judgment of negligence or other wrongdoing against a county road [or state highway] department... Moreover, it is not negligent for a public official or agent to use professional judgment in accomplishing stated public goals defined by documented public policy. It is proper and necessary for them to do so. In any case, adherence to accepted standard practices, such as the AASHTO Green Book guidelines, does not automatically establish that reasonable care was exercised. Conversely, deviation from the guidelines, through the use of a design exception, does not automatically establish negligence. The best protection from liability exposure (none is perfect) is to document the decision-making process (balancing competing community values) and the design process which guided project development." --provided by Bill Hennessey, M.D., Chair of Rural Roads Design Standards Advisory Committee, Clallam County, Washington. Related website:


TAKE BACK YOUR STREETS, HOW TO PROTECT COMMUNITIES from Asphalt and Traffic, revised 1998, by Stephen Burrington, of (Conservation Law Foundation). "This is an essential guide for any community activist, local policymaker or concerned citizen interested in knowing how to use existing laws and regulations to persuade public highway officials to design and widen streets and bridges in ways that don't harm the natural environment, destroy community character and create unsafe neighborhood speedways." Take Back Your Streets is not currently available online but we look forward to it's return.

Selected Quotes from Take Back Your Streets, on traffic calming.


SCENIC AMERICA--Transportation Planning & Design: An Overview
Transportation is big business in the United States....  This may be bad news for America's communities and countryside if thousands of miles of scenic, historic and environmentally sensitive roads are widened, straightened and flattened beyond recognition; or if opportunities are lost to promote pedestrian and bike friendly communities. Fortunately, the movement for reform in road design is underway and a growing number of far-sighted highway engineers are promoting a new way of thinking....

     Scenic America's publication: "Getting It Right in the Right-of-Way: Citizen Participation in Context-Sensitive Highway Design," Getting it Right in the Right-of-Way includes information on community involvement in transportation planning, advises citizens on planning strategies for working with state highway engineers, provides basics road design vocabulary and information on federal laws that support context sensitive solutions, and gives helpful case studies. Scenic America, 2000. 24 pages. Bookstore:


PRECEDENTS of Restrictions on Through-Trucks for Rural Roads in the USA. The ability of states and counties to legally prescribe truck restrictions or bans appear to be somewhat common as examples on this linked page suggest. In many cases such restrictions are essential to protect communities in rural America that depend upon their byways remaining viable, safe, healthy and scenic economic resources.

     On the Health Effects of Diesel--A Good Reason to Keep Rural Community Roads Modest.



Quiet Lanes are minor rural roads that are appropriate for use by walkers, cyclists, horse riders and motorised users.

     "Road function and road category as a basis for Self Explaining Roads"
From: Speed management By Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, European Conference of Ministers of Transport, OECD/ECMT Transport Research Centre, Page 71

     Self-explaining roads; From the abstract: "Traffic systems having self-explaining properties are designed in such a way that they are in line with the expectations of the road users."


"THE AASHTO ROADSIDE DESIGN GUIDE, 'Chapter 10: Roadside Safety in Urban and/or Restricted Environments,' SPECIFICALLY mentions trees as a restricted environment, and offers approaches to the designer in providing roadside safety without removing the trees." --Donal Simpson, AIA, AICP, ASLA. "Restricted Environments", Turquoise Trail, Alternative Design Plan, 1998.

OPINIONS by P.E.s and planners that support flexibility and warn against the effects of over-widening:

     "There is a tremendous amount of discretion associated with highway design."   "AASHTO provides Guidelines and recommendations; the intent is to inform designers so that they may use their discretion in making informed design decisions." . . . "I am currently working with a refreshing . . . DOT whose current [May 2001] refrain is that 'sometimes less is more' and that 'sometimes what we don't do is more important than what we do'. They have also decided that they will not build anything without local community acceptance. A paradigm shift is occurring...." --Rick Chellman, P.E., TND engineering.
Web site:

     "Just like the widening of roads increases vehicle use, building a road for a design speed of 60 when it will be posted at 50 will invite speeding." --Scott Batson, PE, Senior Engineering Associate for Portland Office of Transportation.
     Portland DOT
Traffic Calming Web Site:

     "My personal observation is that wider lanes encourage excessive speeds and lazing driving, which can then result in larger vehicles (RVs in particular) coming over the centerline anyway when they cannot brake and slow sufficiently before a curve. [Widening will make] the road into what sportbike riders call 'long, fast sweepers.' "
     --Harrison Marshall, state DOT transportation planner, North Carolina.


CSS interactive, commissioned by the FHWA for DOTs as well as citizens. The site was created with input from Scenic America, AASHTO, ITE, NACTO, NPS, FTA and others. One can search how a state's DOT relates to CSS. Engineers & citizens can look for CSS projects by searching under the Green Book road classifications. Search problems that CSS projects address, such as speeding or vehicle accidents.

Maryland DOT [search "CSD"]


Cautionary article - Is CSD used as little more than a way to blunt community criticism? T.A. Magazine Article, Spring 2002


"A GUIDE TO BEST PRACTICES FOR ACHIEVING CONTEXT SENSITIVE SOLUTIONS" (with CD-ROM)--This is a valuable resource for educating people about CSS, by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, aka, "Report 480". "The document is especially notable for its direct language encouraging design flexibility and for its discussion of 'substantive' vs. 'nominal' safety. It openly encourages engineers to seek design exception when the situation warrants and to avoid doing projects where well defined 'performance based' problems do not exist." --Bill Hennessey, M.D
     Abstract: This guide demonstrates how state departments of transportation and other transportation agencies can incorporate context sensitivity into their transportation project development work. The guide is applicable to a wide variety of projects that transportation agencies routinely encounter. While the guide is primarily written for transportation agency personnel who develop transportation projects, other stakeholders may find it useful in better understanding the project development process. Example project documents are included on the accompanying CD-ROM. Obtain from Transportation Research Board Bookstore. Search "Entire Bookstore" under title.
     --Information provided by Bill Hennessey, M.D., Chair of Rural Roads Design Standards Advisory Committee,
Clallam County, Washington: related website:


"BUILDING PROJECTS THAT BUILD COMMUNITIES"-- Recommended Best Practices. --Washington State DOT's Community Partnerships. Includes chapters: Using the Community Partnership Approach, Setting the Stage for Success, Working through Design, Review, and Approval, Building Your Project, Evaluating, Adjusting, and Improving, Case Studies, Tools and Resources.
Download chapter by chapter or complete book (pdf) from

VERMONT DOT'S CONTEXT SENSITIVE "State Design Standards" used in road construction and reconstruction in rural areas.


CSD STATE LAWS and Executive Orders. Below are two examples with some good language, but we think these could be stronger, involving the education of administrators as well as staff, P.E.s.:

1. CSD Executive Order: Michigan Governor Granholm signs Executive Directive instructing MDOT to implement and further develop context sensitive design (CSD) policies. Read the Directive. Read also a comprehensive follow-up article "Sensitivity Training--Transportation officials, citizens polishing new people-and-pavement policies" by Kelly Thayer, Great Lakes Bulletin News Service, 12/10/04.

2. Context Sensitivity bill was signed by the Governor of Illinois on August 19, 2003.

3. CSD Executive Order: Washington State executive order mandates CSD on all Washington State DOT projects:
Read the Directive



     How far have we come towards meaningful citizen participation in road design? Stewart Udall said the Interstate Highway program was another plan that never asked counties or cities what they thought might be better for their constituents.... "It took the Senate decades before they allowed cities to have options." --From "Stewart Udall reflects on the mistakes of this century", Arizona Daily Wildcat, Nov., 15, 1999.

     Smart Growth Network: "More Democracy, Smarter Growth: While transportation has for decades been a state and federal enterprise, reforms in recent years now place such decision making more in the hands of local officials and citizens."


STPP: "While some states have embraced the concept of Fix It First, others have not, instead favoring new highway construction over maintenance and repair of existing streets and roads."

'FIX IT FIRST' and Public Transportation are Key to Job Creation. "Over the last decade, research repeatedly has demonstrated that public investment in new road projects has come at the expense of needed repairs to the existing transportation system. This report is yet another call for wiser use of public investment," said Anne Canby, president of the Surface Transportation Policy Project. The STPP is a diverse, nationwide coalition working to ensure safer communities and smarter transportation choices that enhance the economy, improve public health, promote social equity, and protect the environment.


Project for Public Spaces--Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) and CSS &CSD Links


Conserving Scenic Corridors (in Florida & elsewhere)

From the Introduction (Section I):

     This paper addresses scenic corridor protection techniques, both regulatory and incentive based. Section II discusses the roots of the scenic highway movement in the United States. Section III then provides an overview of Federal scenic byway programs. Next, Section IV describes state programs with an emphasis on Florida's scenic highway program. Finally, Section V of this paper discusses local government and community-based scenic corridor protection strategies including tools and techniques for implementing scenic corridor programs.



     Context Sensitive Solutions Forum (CSS Forum): This is a discussion group for Citizens, Environmentalists, Advocates, Elected Officials, Professors, Students, Transportation Officials and Engineers to discuss and share innovative ideas, problems and research for the purpose of improving transportation systems and public outreach.

     Conservation Law Foundation's Transportation Initiative (CLF-Streettalk), a bulletin board posting professional and community Q&A on context-sensitive roads and "a variety of transportation, community, and livability issues." Example apropos to rural roads: Framed as "off-tracking", a Lane widening (DOT) rationale verses traffic calming: A discussion on TLCNet-Streettalk apropos Re: 11 or 12 foot lanes for rural collectors?--deconstructing an "off-tracking" NM DOT rationale for widening intimate mountain scenic roads. Chat started 5/04/2001 and may be accessed from:



New Mexico's National Scenic Byways Threatened.  Citizen's advisory committees (CACs) try to hold the line:

--The Turquoise Trail (NM14)--For ten years NM citizens have resisting overbuilding and maintenance-driven reconstruction of the National Scenic Byway. See proposed dimensions, Dec. '03 and read NM14 CAC letters to New Mexico's Department of Transportation. Visit Portions of the Turquoise Trail lost! Also see: NM14 Construction Design and Liability, a brief by the NM Environmental Law Center.

--Report: "Mitigating the Effects of Gravel Mining upon Rural New Mexico and Alternative Materials in Road Construction". This report contains useful information in recycling to save the landscape.

--Billy the Kid Trail (U.S. Highway 70--Citizens of Hondo Valley (Lincoln County) resist 4 lane road, request safe improvements instead. Valley Community Preservation Commission


To: Ecological, Environmental & Open Spaces


Site managed by Ross Lockridge III, member of Citizens Advisory Committee for the Turquoise Trail of NM

Page last updated: April 2017