Vashon convinces county not to install more rumble strips, fight invigorates island bike activism

With debris, cracks and other issues common on shoulders, rumble strips add an extra challenge and hazard to biking. Image from the Bike Vashon website

Rumble strips. When installed correctly on certain roadways, they can prevent car crashes, especially for people who fall asleep at the wheel. But they can also destroy bike routes and create safety hazards for people on two wheels.

So when the King County Department of Transportation started cutting rumble strips into the shoulders of Vashon Island’s roads, the many bike-loving islanders protested. They convinced the county to stop the work until the community could have input, then formed the group Bike Vashon. The group created a position paper outlining the advantages and disadvantages of installing the strips and engaged with the Vashon Maury Island Community Council, which voted twice to urge the county to stop installing the strips.

Last week, the county abandoned the rumble strip project. But beyond simply dodging a project that could have created serious safety issues for people biking, there is now an active crew of biking advocates who are organized and working on a community vision for making the island safer and more bike-friendly, with talk of bike lanes, 6-foot shoulder minimums and more.

From Bike Vashon:

Responding to Community Safety Concerns, King County Department of Transportation Changes Course and Halts Rumble Strips

Decision paves way for new direction in King County to make safety improvements for everyone who uses County roads; opens new partnership for community and County to create a Bike-Friendly Vashon

After a months-long process of hard work and perseverance by Islanders committed to safer roads, the King County Department of Transportation took an important step to address safety concerns by announcing a halt to a plan to install more rumble strips on Vashon.

“We want to thank the County for their responsiveness to residents who communicated the very real threats to safety and mobility due to the installation of rumble strips on Vashon,” said Steve Abel. “Dow Constantine’s leadership and willingness to listen shows how government can work for residents across King County.”

“I am pleased that the County was receptive to such a compelling case for safety made by the Vashon-Maury community members,” commented State Senator Sharon Nelson. “I have heard from many constituents expressing their concerns as car drivers and bike riders, alike. It’s clear there is a better way forward and I thank the County Executive and staff for their willingness to look beyond rumble strips for roadway safety.”

The installed rumble strips on Vashon have created hazardous conditions for many users of the road, like moms with bike trailers who lacked the room to maneuver between rumble strips and ditches. The lack of rumble strip gaps at driveways and in critical locations have created obstacles for residents, such as the disabled crossing the road with canes or walkers. Additionally the County’s installation of rumble strips by the main campus of the Vashon School District negatively impacted efforts made through a $260,000 state grant to make it easier for kids to walk and bike to school.

Already, at least two bicycle crashes this summer can be attributed to the rumble strips.

Vashon’s concerns over rumble strips are not new or unique. Nationally, rumble strips are a cheap and easy method to address some safety concerns, while often making roads more dangerous for non-motorized users. Unfortunately – like in the case of Vashon – rumble strips are often installed improperly. Like Vashon as well, local governments across the U.S. are prone to ignoring state and federal advisories, requirements and guidance on where they should be used.

Because of concerns about their overuse across Washington state and the potential for more rumble strips across King County, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and Cascade Bicycle Club have worked with community members and Bike Vashon to address this issue.

“This work to find a solution that makes our roads safer for all has also been about people standing up and working together to create a better future for Vashon’s kids, economy, and community.” noted Tim Baer. “Yesterday’s announcement signals a new willingness and opportunity for the County and island community to partner together on growing bicycling and walking, while improving safety for everyone.”

“Now is the time to work together with our friends at King County to develop a plan for safety and mobility on Vashon that works whether you walk, bike, drive, or take transit,” said Charlie Backus. “Our goal is to create a bicycle-friendly island, improving the safety for all, while giving residents the freedom to get around easily.”

Next steps include mitigation for the existing rumble strips that were improperly installed. Bike Vashon sees this new approach by King County Department of Transportation as an important move forward to developing an approach to safety on island roads that includes the needs of those on foot, in a wheelchair, on a bike, or in a car.

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11 Responses to Vashon convinces county not to install more rumble strips, fight invigorates island bike activism

  1. Kirk From Ballard says:

    OMG, it’s just mind numbing the things the local “Transportation” departments do in the name of safety. They can only think of one mode of transportation.
    Good fight and good luck Bike Vashon!

  2. Bill says:

    I can hardly believe this battle had to be fought again. When WSDOT began cutting rumble strips into state highways in 2008, often ignoring guidelines, cyclists raised enough of a ruckus that the remainder of the project was completed according to the guidelines and the state paved over the non-complying bits. Whoever oversaw this project at the county should be called on the carpet for not learning from the state’s experience. Vashon should not settle for anything less than repaving the non-complying portions of the rumble strips.

  3. rider says:

    Could you post a similar photo of what a shoulder “in compliance” looks like?

  4. Todd says:

    As a biker, I love rumble strips. I feel a hell of a lot safer with them.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      When they are not occupying needed biking space, then I like them. Like on the I-90 Bridge where they are in the shoulder between the traffic lane and the biking/walking trail. I want the state to use any tool available to make sure people don’t get near the trail (and falling asleep at the wheel is very common).

      But on a lot of highways where the shoulders are not dependable, the rumble strip sometimes forces you to ride further into the traffic lane than you would prefer. Plus drivers think you’re just being a jerk because they don’t understand why you’re not on the shoulder.

      I would love to see the islands around the Puget Sound set the standard for bike-friendly island roads. Vashon is in position to do just that. Can the travel lanes be skinnier, allowing for more shoulder or even an actual bike lane? There have been some devastating car wrecks in recent months due to dangerous driving. This could address both these issues, since wide traffic lanes encourage speeding.

      • Todd says:

        I’m all for that. With the amount of on road riding I do, the biggest fears I have are not so much the asses on the road (they exist — yeah I know it’s hard to believe). I worry about the driver on the cell phone, the driver loaded, or the driver who falls asleep. Those rumble strips do give me a bit more piece of mind.

      • Todd says:

        peace??

  5. merlin says:

    Thanks for posting this story, Tom. When I first encountered the rumble strips on nice wide sections of Vashon Highway shoulder, I thought they were OK – but that was before I had to cross them to get around a parked car. I also didn’t realize that the rumbles had narrowed the shoulder so much that Island residents riding with 3-wheelers or trailers no longer had room to ride. A few weeks later I experienced another downside to the rumbles: in sections with narrow shoulders and rumbles in the center line only, drivers were reluctant to cross the rumbles to make room for me on my bike. All told, the rumbles create far more problems for bike riders than they solve. I look forward to working with others on Vashon to make the Island truly safe and friendly for all people, especially people who bike and walk.

  6. Wally says:

    Grumblestripes/tumblestrips: King County created a hazard where none existed. Besides the fore mentioned problems of narrowed shoulders, bashful drivers and loss of control if you hit the strips… there is now an added danger to to passing, ridding tandem is impossible and just try pace lining. The worst thou is the loss of the serene beauty and joy of ridding Vashon. Just wait ’till winter when freezing water seeps out of the strips onto the shoulder making an ice rink for the elderly, school children and cyclists.

  7. Pingback: Small step for safer island biking: King County removes Vashon rumble strips | Seattle Bike Blog

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