All Member Forum

Rural Reflections

By Mr. Ransford McCourt P.E., PTOE posted 09-01-2020 04:57 PM


I grew up in a rural community with 54 students—the largest graduating high school class in its history. Two cars at the only four-way stop in our area was congestion, and summer was a pain because we couldn’t get out onto the highway (tourists!). In transportation a “blinking” light defined your town, signs became target practice, and nobody did anything unless somebody died in a crash. You see the worlds as:

Rural – Open spaces equate to freedom, independence is valued, you work hard to get ahead, you’re away from crowds, you create your fun, silence and dark skies abound.
Urban – Crowded, noisy, “you can’t see the stars,” rules matter with so many people, lots of talk, slow, entertainment at your doorstep, amazing diversity of jobs (some where you can even earn a lot of money).

In rural areas getting from point A to point B is a lifeline. Grocery stores are not a few minutes away, but commonly 20+ miles…hospitals can be an hour (likely more) away…
entertainment is hours away…and the airport is a day trip. In this world, the need for a pick-up truck isn’t discretionary or vanity. Speed has a different context. When people talk transit, bike, and pedestrian, it’s an entirely different world.

Public transit meant to me Greyhound or hitchhiking—neither of which continues today where I grew up. People are left with few mobility choices, particularly when they age in place. You are dependent on family and friends. Today, bicycle facilities mean economic development for small communities with recreational assets, yet many times, all the bicycle funding is mostly consumed in urban areas.

I knew growing up that urban folks in the Willamette Valley did not get it. Having lived in the urban areas of both San Francisco, CA, USA and Portland, OR, USA, I know rural folks struggle with understanding why they don’t get it. How we think about these differences is as much about diversity as any demographic issue, and it says a lot about how we listen.

Alcohol and run-off-the-road are real, BIG transportation issues in rural areas. I had friends do both. They were lucky. Others were not. This can be corrected. We have a role. We need help from the technologists and vehicle manufacturers on driving under the influence, distracted or fatigued. Your car should not move when the driver engages in these proven dangerous activities. Given the time it has taken to get seat belts to the 90 percent level (50 years), let’s hope we get there faster this time.

Horizontal curves, we can work on. It’s time to implement recent recommendations from the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to the Federal Highway Administration providing improved uniformity and guidance for advanced curve warning—from rumble strips
to wider markings and signs that have proven results in enhanced safety.

Federal reauthorization in the United States provides an opportunity to focus on rural issues like fix-it-first, safety, and economic development. We can make a meaningful difference in rural communities by investing now. Investments in communication/5G (as noted in Steve Gayle’s article on page 32) can make work-at-home a rural opportunity. Focusing on reduction of run-off-the-road crashes must be a high priority in our push for Vision Zero. Let’s not miss this opportunity to work together to Shape Your Community.

This is the President's Message in the September 2020 issue of ITE Journal.