Friday Jolt: Cyclists on Vashon

By Afternoon Jolt August 31, 2012

Today's winner: Vashon Island Bicyclists. 

It didn't get much press on this side of the water, but Vashon Island residents have spent several months fighting a (now partly implemented) county proposal to install rumble strips along the center line and shoulders of Vashon Highway, the road that encircles Vashon Island. Yesterday, county officials called an end to the $75,000 project, which was funded as part of a $500,000  federal highway-safety grant administered by the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Rumble strips, nearly invisible grooves in the road intended to alert drivers when they fall asleep or start to drift out of their lane, are extremely dangerous for cyclists, whose wheels (unlike car wheels) aren't built to take the jarring the strips produce; in the last two months, cycling advocates say, there have been two bicycle accidents due directly to the four miles of rumble strips installed in April.

"They're basically big divots in the roadway," says Blake Trask, state policy director for the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. "For some bikes, you can bend a wheel if you're on it for too long ... For a lot of bikes, you just lose control, because it's such a jarring motion."

State guidelines say rumble strips should only be installed on roads with wide shoulders (more than 4 feet between the edge of the rumble strip and the edge of the roadway) with speed limits of more than 45 mph; much of Vashon Highway does not meet those standards.

In addition to halting work on the rumble strips it had planned to install, the county's transportation department will also remove rumble strips installed near Vashon public schools. It's unclear what will become of the remaining money for highway safety on Vashon; King County transportation department spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok says the money can be used for "a variety of different safety projects."

Trask says the county's decision yesterday sets an important precedent. State funding for highway-safety projects is set to double, from roughly $24 million to roughly $45 million, under the federal transportation reauthorization act next year, raising the possibility of many similar projects on equally unsuitable roads across the state.

"The state tends to use this trickle-down approach by saying all projects benefit all users of the roadway," Trask says. "It's a cheap and easy way for them to say, 'We did something.' They're kind of like eating fast food, as opposed to going to the grocery store." Trask says a better alternative would be narrower (and more expensive) edge-line rumble strips, which take up much less of a roadway shoulder.
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