Mielke loses street fight

Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke put up a fight to expand the minimum width of urban residential streets from 28 feet to 36 feet in unincorporated areas, but was outvoted this week by Commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt.

Mielke was advocating on behalf of firefighters for a more expensive option that was opposed by the Building Industry Association of Clark County.

The width of 28 feet, as measured curb to curb, allows for two 8-foot-wide parking lanes and one 12-foot-wide travel lane (for two-way traffic.)

County staff — as well as the county planning commission and the Development and Engineering Advisory Board (DEAB) — proposed to keep the current width, which was adopted in the 1990s.

Fire officials, along with Mielke, pushed for 36 feet, the same width as “neighborhood circulator” streets (the streets that transition from arterials to residential). Those streets have, in addition to the two 8-foot-wide parking lanes, a 20-foot-wide travel lane that is typically striped.

Steve Schulte, transportation manager for Clark County Public Works, said wider roads would be more expensive to build and maintain and the increased amount of impervious surface would create more polluted runoff. For a developer of an 18-home subdivision, the wider streets would mean a cost increase of $77,000 to $92,000, Schulte said.

Stuart said he hasn’t heard examples of where 28-feet-wide streets have posed problems for emergency responders. A resident of west Vancouver’s Hough neighborhood, Stuart said fire trucks manage to make it down Hough’s older, narrower streets, where residents park on just one side.

Stuart said he recently watched a fire engine go down West 23rd Street.

Stuart wasn’t sure of the width of 23rd Street, but Loretta Callahan of the city’s public works department said 23rd Street (from Main Street to Kauffman) measures 24 feet, curb to curb.

Stuart says he doesn’t hear complaints about fire engines not having enough room, but he does hear from people who complain about drivers speeding through neighborhoods. Building wider streets will encourage speeding, he said.

Mielke didn’t buy it, and added that when Hough streets were built, people were driving Model T Fords.

And modern vehicles fit just fine, Stuart shot back.

“OK, OK,” intervened Chairman Boldt.

During the public hearing, Chief Scott Koehler of East County Fire & Rescue said responders “are fighting the clock” and need better access.

Jamie Howsley, an attorney for the BIA and chairman of the DEAB, said, with all due respect to firefighters, that fires aren’t everyday occurences and the cost of expanding streets would be passed on to homebuyers.

Eric Golemo, a civil engineer and member of the DEAB, said 36-foot-wide local access streets are rare.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recommends 26-foot-wide local access streets, Schulte said.

While Mielke lost on the issue of wider streets, he did get a win Tuesday. The county will ease up on requirements for medians in commercial areas; Mielke has frequently expressed frustration about not being able to turn left.

“This is a little shout-out to you, Commissioner Mielke,” Stuart said.

Scroll to top