Speed limit on Drayton Harbor Road will not increase

Published on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Residents living along the stretch of Drayton Harbor Road just west of Harborview have spoken – 25 mph is fast enough.

After hearing arguments from the public both for and against a proposed speed limit increase, Whatcom County Council voted 6-1, with council member Barbara Brenner in support, against upping the speed limit to 35 mph. The section of Drayton Harbor Road in question runs just more than one mile from Harborview Road west to the Blaine city limits.

The vote was a result of a petition filed by Blaine resident Al Mason last October. Mason collected 69 signatures of residents supporting the speed limit increase but, as several members of the public often pointed out, none of the signers lives along Drayton Harbor Road.

Ron Butcher, who lives along the stretch of road, said he was uncomfortable with the idea of Drayton Harbor Road becoming a major arterial for west Blaine and thought the newly renovated Lincoln Road should be used for that purpose. He compared the section to Birch Bay Drive, which also has homes directly abutting it and a 25 mph speed limit.

“An increase in speed equals a decrease in driver, pedestrian and bicyclist safety,” Butcher said.

While most members of the public spoke against the speed limit increase, a smaller contingent thought it was completely necessary. Patrick Guimond, who lives in the Birch Point area, said he has seen drivers pass over the double-yellow center line in frustration with the current speed limit, which he believes is too low.

“I really do feel the speed limit is too slow, and that’s causing issues for drivers,” Guimond said.

A traffic study of the section of Drayton Harbor revealed approximately 85 percent of drivers travel the road at 35 mph. Whatcom County engineering Joe Rutan said most people will drive the speed they feel comfortable with on a given road.

“It’s shocking how little of an effect that black-on-white sign has on the way people drive,” Rutan said.

The study also revealed a number of sight distance issues on the road due to the inclines it travels over. These inclines can prevent drivers from seeing obstacles ahead and not allow them to stop in time.

County council member Sam Crawford cited these issues specifically in explaining why he voted against the increase.

“The fact that people are doing between 35 and 38 mph is not safe,” he said.

Brenner said she supported the increase because she thought it would make the road safer. Legally allowing people to drive 35 mph would eliminate the need for drivers to guess whether an oncoming car is going 25 or 35 mph and make the stretch consistent with other county roads.

“If we’re going to follow the rules we always follow, then we should make it 35 mph,” Brenner said.

After county council voted to reject the change, Rutan said he was not at all surprised with the final result. As one of the county’s oldest roads, dating back to the 1880s, Drayton Harbor Road is a bit of an anomaly because it winds along a route county engineers would not choose to take now.

“If this were a new road, we wouldn’t even build it this way,” Rutan said. “It’s a very old road on an eroding bluff.”