Bicyclists protest misplaced “rumble strips”

Published on: September 2, 2010



Photo by Melody Jameson

Activists campaign for them. Community planners designate sites for them. Transportation authorities put them on their “to do” lists. Governmental agencies encourage their use as means to energy conservation.

The subject of all this attention is the bikeway, including the single lane set aside parallel with roadways for bicyclists. In fact, given the attention, one could get the impression that providing safe lanes on public roads for the cyclists actually is a priority.

The facts, however, do not bear it out, say area bicyclists. Riding a bicycle along public roads in South Hillsborough County means encountering road debris, trash thrown from vehicles, dead animals, fallen trees and objects bounced off truck beds. The worst obstructions by far, though, are the grooves dug in road surfaces designed as safety features for motorized vehicles but that act like long, torturous and often inescapable vibrating steps for the cyclists. They’re known as “rumble strips.”     

And, they are dangerous to bicyclists, says Jim Wheeler, without hesitation. Wheeler, Kings Point resident and ride leader for the upcoming Sammy’s Ride, the Arizona to Florida trek to raise funds for pediatric cancer research, conducts 40, 50, and 60 mile training rides every week on local roads and those surrounding Hillsborough County. Those rumble strips can upend the most experienced of cyclists, he asserts.

Plus, “you can’t hear and you can’t see” because of the teeth chattering vibrations as a light weight racing or long distance bike is driven over the regularly placed road surface gouges, Wheeler adds. The rumble stripping on the east and west sides of U.S. 301, south of S.R. 674, for example, is simply “deadly,” he says.

Another cyclist and Kings Pointer, Ruth Husky, echoes Wheeler’s views. Husky, who has been riding a bicycle for more than 30 years for exercise and enjoyment, says she avoids U.S. 301 altogether now. The patterned depressions in the pavement within the bike lanes is “ very unsafe” and causes riders to “lose control” of their machines, threatening to toss them into the path of ongoing traffic, she adds.

The rumble strips “shake the whole bike,” a Fuji road machine, and that stretch of U.S. 301 from SCC to Ellenton “scares me to death,” Husky says.

Two more SCC riders, Doug Gatchell and his wife, Sharon, favor recumbents, where the rider is in a more reclined position on the machine, with the feet pedaling ahead of rather than under the body. Gatchell calls the rumble strips “very stressful” for all cyclists and especially so for the rider of the recumbent bike. ”You don’t feel particularly safe,” he notes.

Given that condition and the fact that the recumbent machine is a little wider than the more conventional two-wheel bike means simply eliminating from the riding route those roadways known to be unsafe for cyclists because of the rumble stripping, Gatchell says.

Wheeler points out that he has no objections whatsoever to the rumble strip concept, adding that, in fact, his father years ago promoted the idea as a law enforcement officer. And the roadway pavement depressions do alert motor vehicle drivers when they’re sliding out of their lanes. But he believes the realty does not match the vision.

Citing a Florida Department of Transportation policy implemented in January, 2009, Wheeler points to the department’s objective to provide audible and vibratory markings on rural roadways with a posted speed of 50 miles per hour or greater. The FDOT policy states the markings “shall be installed on the outside edge lines for all two-lane and multi-lane undivided rural roadways.” (Emphasis added.)

The markings, however, often are installed in the bike lanes, instead of on the demarcation line, Wheeler says, and the situation is not confined to Hillsborough County.

Design engineers in FDOT’s District 7 Tampa office also recognize the problem. Spokesperson Kris Carson advised The Observer early this week that remedial work on about 5.5 miles of bikeway along U.S. 301 south of S.R. 674 will be undertaken as soon as a contractor can be engaged. The rumble strip in the bikeway will be eliminated and new warnings will be properly placed with new white striping, she said. It won’t happen right away, but it will happen as soon as possible, she added

Asked if the issue had been raised in bikeway discussions at the Metropolitan Planning Organization, an arm of The Planning Commission, Beth Aldren, an MPO planner, said she was not aware of any such discussion, but added it would be a topic for consideration by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Jim Shirk, current committee chairman, told The Observer this week the subject would be raised during the committee’s monthly meeting on September 8.

Meanwhile, the League of American Bicyclists is stepping up its efforts to ensure appropriate use of the rumble strip. The strips have their place on interstate or major highways, but arbitrary use of them on roads not proven to need them results in “two bad things,” Wheeler notes. “Either the roads become unusable by cyclists or cyclists are forced to ride in the traffic lane.” This, he suggests, was not the intent of the federally mandated bicycle lane vision which so many have strived to make reality.

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson