Small step for safer island biking: King County removes Vashon rumble strips

As we reported in September, residents of Vashon got organized and successfully stopped plans for rumble strips on Vashon Island highway shoulders, arguing that the strips make roads more dangerous and less comfortable for cycling.

Today, Bike Vashon reports that King County workers are out removing the few stretches of rumble strips they had completed before the community convinced them to halt the work (UPDATE: Crews are only removing some of the rumble strips, primarily where they reduced the shoulder width to less than five feet).

Stopping the rumble strips, which in places reduced a formerly bikeable shoulder to just a couple feet of rideable width, was a significant victory for bike safety. But perhaps more importantly, the strips spurred people to get organized and engaged behind the cause of road safety for all Vashon road users. Residents got politically active, wrote a position paper about proper rumble strip use on the island and twice engaged the Vashon Maury Island Community Council to vote against the rumble strips (which they did both times).

Puget Sound islands are beautiful, special places, but their roads see their share of senseless deaths and injuries. Like anywhere, safe roads do not just happen. They require an active community pushing their transportation departments and elected officials to make needed changes.

I’ve heard calls for six-foot minimum widths for shoulders. This sounds like a great start, since skinnier travel lane widths also decrease speeding, a big problem on many island roads. What changes do you think could make the biggest impact on all-ages island road safety?

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15 Responses to Small step for safer island biking: King County removes Vashon rumble strips

  1. Al Dimond says:

    If we ultimately intend to travel in a lane on bikes, shouldn’t we request that the space be turned into a bike lane? If a lane is designated for travel we should be able to reasonably expect it be signed and maintained appropriately, have decent sight-lines with cross streets, and be clear of parked cars, garbage cans, overgrowth, etc. I don’t know exactly how this works out on the island, but on Juanita Drive north of Kirkland the shoulder is used as a bike route and suffers from all these other uses (the parked cars are particularly galling when there’s no lack of space to park cars in the area; were there a marked bike lane there could be a place wide of the bike lane reserved for stuff like garbage cars).

    • Andres says:

      Well, no, it’s a shoulder. It has multiple uses. A broken-down car or driver who receives an important phone call can use it to pull over, for example. A pedestrian could use it for walking. And, of course, a bicyclist who is not comfortable taking the lane could use it for cycling.

      If there’s enough space for it, sure, it would be nice to have a (separated?) bike lane and walking space for pedestrians, but assuming that should happen to all shoulders seems wrong.

    • Nick Hughes says:

      OR – you can just have the road declared off-limits for anything but bikes. Some of you purists drive me nuts with your “Gotta have it all” entitlement attitude.

      • Al Dimond says:

        It’s sort of ridiculous that I’m being called a “purist”, and I’ll tell you why. I’ve never been to Vashon but I use Juanita and other roads with shoulders fairly often. If I ride outside the shoulder (i.e. I’m taking the lane on a descent where I can go the speed limit, or the shoulder is obstructed or soft or has dangerous pavement conditions, or I’m approaching an intersection and can’t see cross traffic) I get honked at and yelled at by drivers that think I don’t belong there (and not only that — I’ve also been run off the road and passed on the shoulder). Now those are the real purists — they believe there’s no place on the actual road surface for me at all.

        So where there’s a consistent, paved shoulder it’s almost certain to become a bike lane in the worst sense — in that it’s the only place on the road a cyclist can ride without facing deliberate harassment and intimidation by drivers. But it lacks the legal protections of a bike lane. People park in it. People put their garbage cans in it. Debris is swept into it. The pavement is not maintained to the condition of the rest of the road. Overgrowth intrudes onto it. Signs are placed in it. Sight lines with cross streets are not considered in their design. And if I was hit by a driver turning across my path (from the oncoming direction or from a cross street) while I was riding in a shoulder, the driver would almost certainly use the fact that I was traveling in a shoulder, not a legal travel lane, to spread part of the blame to me. Many of these problems also apply to bike lanes on exurban or rural roads without sidewalks, but our position in requesting basic maintenance is stronger when the government has signaled its commitment to the lane as a travel lane as opposed to a shoulder. And in a collision blame wouldn’t be heaped upon me if I was using a lane as clearly intended.

        A lane that’s clearly marked for the shared of cyclists and pedestrians, whose intersections are designed for the travel of cyclists and pedestrians, that is kept clear of debris and obstructions, whose pavement is maintained? Sounds like a great idea. There are bits of that on the eastside on streets that lack sidewalks, and it seems to work OK. A place for people to park their cars and leave garbage cans wherever they want? No. Surely those sorts of uses can be accommodated in controlled ways without the DOT abdicating all responsibility for bike travel on the road.

      • Jeremy says:

        Okay, here’s some “gotta have anything at all” entitlement from a bicycle purist:

        http://www.chad.co.uk/news/local/schoolboy-in-plea-for-cycle-lanes-1-4984541

        What impudence! Asking not to be run over. What is this world coming to, where a speeding car driver cannot do as they wish?

  2. Nick Hughes says:

    A popular designated bike route, the Yakima River Canyon, has its rumble-strips on the center line of the road rather than the sides. Just as effective without the consequential hazards to bikers and runners – and half the cost to the state for the feature.

  3. Cheryl says:

    I am not a purist, but having used a bicycle exclusively in 1981-1984, I know bike commuting hazards.

    This is a victory for the bicyclist advocates on Vashon, without whom these make-work rumble strip project might have rolled on.

    Most, if not all, bicyclists also own autos and pay the various taxes and etc for road maintenance. Glad to see bicyclists get safety needs met, and kudos to the brave cyclist commuters that brought this sanity to the Vashon Hwy, you know who you are. Sometimes the county wears the white hat!

    BTW, having formerly lived on Vashon, we need those shoulders available for quick veers to avoid hitting deer or being hit by leaping deer on that particular stretch of the highway.

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  5. Jon Korneliussen says:

    Remove the center stripe. Now cars have added room to move around obstacles. This is quite common everywhere else in the world but here, where we still demand two 12′ travel lanes even on rural roads that see less than 500 vehicles a day. Instead, we could tighten up the total travelway to 18′ on rural roads, which would discourage irresponsible speeding and encourage safe passing maneuvers. This would improve safety for all users with no special facilities. It would be fiscally responsible, too.

    • Law Abider says:

      If you think 9′ travel lanes for cars is safe in anyway, for any speed, you must have rocks in your head. 10′ lanes are a bare minimum, and even those are highly recommended against. And lane widths aren’t something put in place to stick it to cyclists. They are the results of 100 years of testing, with lots of statistics to back it up.

      And you also have to realize, not only passenger cars travel on roads. Delivery trucks, construction equipment and even military convoys use these roads.

      • Jon Korneliussen says:

        I do think a single 18′ travel way is acceptable and I don’t have rocks in my head. Thank you for demonstrating the irrational knee-jerk desire for two large, segregated lanes. What about all those narrow neighborhood streets with no divider? How does anyone safely maneuver there? ;)

        My point is that on rural roads, a narrower marked travel way with no divider will allow vehicles to safely maneuver around obstacles without the need for separate bike lanes or sidewalks. It forces drivers to be more aware, discourages speeding, and makes the road usable for everyone. This is not a strange concept. It is quite common around the world. Only in America do we demand such direction, control, and singularity of purpose.

      • Law Abider says:

        Neighborhood roads work because they aren’t designed for through driving. If two cars meet, one needs to pull to the side to allow the other to continue, which isn’t a big deal.

        But even a quick read into AASHTO and looking at statistics throughout history, nowhere, is there a recommendation for going less than 10′, unless it’s a neighborhood street, again not designed for through driving. Any road above a neighborhood street should be 10′ to 12′. In fact, in rural areas, it’s actually required to go 11′, since they assume people have larger cars and semi trucks are more likely to use rural roads than city roads.

        Reducing a two way rural road to 9′ to add a bike line would not only greatly increase accidents amongst cars, it would make it very dangerous for cyclists. Given the choice between keeping their distance from oncoming cars and adjacent cyclists, which do you think a driver would choose?

        But let’s ignore all the laws, statistics and common sense for a minute and entertain a two lane, rural road with 9′ foot drive lanes. Your average small car is about 6′ wide, which leaves a slim 1.5′ on either side of the car. To maintain any hope of safety, you would need to reduce the speed limit to about 20 miles an hour. Now can you imagine driving out to Paradise at 20 miles an hour? It would take a very long day, just to drive out and back. What it would come down to is drivers going way over the 20 mph limit, just to get anywhere. Accidents would go up and cyclists would not go anywhere near that road for fear of their lives, and for good reason. If you think a 12′ lane rural road is dangerous now…

        And as my final bit, I would ask you about a rural road, anywhere in the world, that has an 18′ shoulder to shoulder width, that you might know of. What is the safety record of it? Do cyclists use it?

      • Jon Korneliussen says:

        L.A., AASHTO is a recommendation, not a requirement, and a very conservative one at that. MUCTD only recommends centerline markings for rural roads where ADT exceeds 3,000 vpd, or “where an engineering study indicates such a need”. It is always the responsibility of the licensed engineer to design an appropriate facility for a given application.

        What I’m suggesting is that a marked travel way of 18-20′, with 5-6′ shoulders (and possibly no median line), for rural roads with low traffic counts is absolutely acceptable, and even desirable in applications where bicycles and pedestrians are common. I think you are overstating the danger of this configuration. The shoulders provide space for pedestrians and bicyclists without the expense of dedicated facilities, and can also be used by vehicles to avoid obstacles. This paved width exceeds AASHTO guidance for rural roads, which recommends 12′ lanes with gravel shoulders (which squeezes bicyclists and pedestrians into the travel lane, effective reducing the 12′ lane width and increasing the risk of collisions).

        I think if you search Google you will find that narrow rural roads and unstriped roads far more common than you think, even in the US. I’ve cycled on many low-volume unstriped rural roads in Europe, where the width was 3 m or less and felt very safe. Some were actually marked bike routes, too. Their safety record is fine. Removing the centerline signals to the driver to be more vigilant for hazards, and that he/she is permitted to use the entire paved area to maneuver around obstacles. Narrower travelways reduce speeding. These are simple, low cost ways to reduce conflicts and should be considered where appropriate.

        Regards,
        Jon

  6. John says:

    It has been many years since I’ve ridden a bike on Vashon, but still fresh in my memory is the day I heard that a good friend died falling asleep at the wheel on Vashon Highway.

    The position paper properly recommended rumble strip alternatives like “Edge Line Rumble Strips” and “Narrower Rumble Strips”, which would be great compromises. Removing them altogether concerns me.

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