Strong Town Principles in a Rural Environment

Pam Burke

Hello Everyone,

I'm Pam and I've been a member for awhile now, also read the books, and firmly believe in the principles.  I live in a rural agricultural area in Frederick County Maryland, where many roads are narrow (18' wide or less), and the posted speed limits and traffic volume are low (25-30 mph, and approx. 500 tpd).  

I do work with an advocacy group that is trying to preserve these rural roads as they are for the multi-use possibilities they provide (cycling, horseback riding, walking, driving slowly to enjoy the view, etc.).  Our roads department insists on mowing all vegetation within the public right of way, and we are having a hard time getting them to let trees, bushes and native flowers grow along our roadsides.  Their stance is that a tree is a hazard and they will keep the right of way clear, using boom mowers.  We're looking for ways to show that this practice actually leads to higher vehicle speeds, making everyone less safe, and doing a whole lot of environmental damage in the process.

I might add that the right of way in most areas is 25' either side of centerline, making the mowed area 16' from the edge of the road in most cases.

Is anyone able to provide examples of where reduced mowing has actually improved safety?  Or any other information that might be helpful in convincing our roads department to consider another way?  We know there are many urban examples but they seem to disregard that even though the speed limits are similar and the urban traffic volumes are much higher.

Thank you very much!

Pam Burke



  • Comment author
    Charles Marohn
    • Official comment

    Hi Pam. About a decade ago, I wrote a piece trying to get at this exact thing (Roads, Streets, Stroads, and Park Roads). 

    Engineers tend to hate this, but the federal park road standards are legit standards that allow for the preservation of the kind of views and amenities that you are asking for. In other words, think of your rural road as a park road instead of as a junior thoroughfare. 

    Here's a link to the standards on the Federal Highway Administration's website.

    If they don't like these standards, have them explain why. It's not going to be a safety reason -- the federal government uses these in state parks and they generally have lower fatality rates than your standard rural roadway -- and so it will likely be a functional reason (traffic too slow, limits on mobility, etc...) Point out that those are value decisions, not safety decisions, and as such elected officials should make that decision.

    I wish you luck. Let us know what happens.

  • Comment author
    Pam Burke

    Thank you very much!  It looks like just what we need to keep safe what will only be made less safe by "improvements".  Looking forward to reading it all.


  • Comment author
    Steve Hoad

    Pam: In your situation, what is the pedestrian path? It appears that some shoulder mowing might be preferrable to none, perhaps a narrower band leaving a pathway---space to be off of the roadway and out of harm's way?


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