After last week’s column covering the California Highway 1 rumble strips here in Santa Cruz, and our Question Of The Week asking about RS, some different viewpoints came in. Even though I – and every cycling group and organization I’m aware of – oppose rumble strips (because they cause bike crashes – even deaths), it turns out that some of you like them.
So, to be fair, I’m sharing some comments from the other side of the debate today. To quickly capture the theme, those in favor of RS like how they provide a device on the shoulder that scares drivers and keeps them from getting too close to riders. Cyclists also like that when a car hits the rumbles they can hear it and it gives them time to react defensively. Rumble-strip likers believe it’s easy to avoid hitting the RS and that new riders just need to learn about them, just like they must learn about other common road obstacles.
“My goodness, your article was so against RS you’d think Caltrans was mixing plutonium with the asphalt. They’re not very fun to drive on, I’ll grant you. So don’t drive on them. [Editor’s note: I think Chris meant “ride on”]
“I’ve seen so many errant drivers crossing them, and heard the sound of the rumble strips that I’ve almost become used to them. I know that almost every one of those idiots is on a cell phone or texting. I think that they get back on the road because they can’t hear their calls when they’re driving over rumble strips. The worst sound is when it is behind you and getting louder. Wouldn’t it be much worse not to hear anything, and not have them get back on the road?”
Vern from Southern California offered a different response to our Question Of The Week:
“I didn’t see the correct response to your survey about rumble strips. The correct response is ‘Yes, I love them and they save bicyclist lives!’ It is true that the road needs to be wide enough to accommodate the cyclist between the edge of the road and the RS. But rumble strips prevent drivers from going off the edge of the road and running into bikers. Yes, they’re a pain to ride on, and that’s the point! Drivers won’t and thus they will stay away from bikers. Furthermore, they make noise when you’re on them so riders can hear a car on the rumble strip before it gets to them. I have not ridden the roads described in the October 15 issue, but I’ve ridden lots of roads with RS and I’ll take them any day.”
Osman from Santa Cruz says weigh the pros and cons of RS:
“I don’t like rumble strips. But I also don’t like speed bumps, drainage grates, cattle guards, manhole covers, etc. These hazards can also be dangerous to novice cyclists. So the question is not whether I like speed bumps; it is whether I hate speed bumps more than I hate speeding cars. Do I hate drainage grates more than I hate flooded streets? Do I hate cattle guards more than I hate to “share the road” with cows? So, when it comes to rumble strips we should weigh the pros and cons. And if it benefits drivers more than bicyclists, this is no reason for cyclists to be against them. By the way, motorists and cyclists are the same people.”
Fellow Santa Cruzan Andrew sees RS as safety devices:
“The rumble strips on HW 1 were intentionally made more narrow to take up less space and have less impact on the available pavement to the right of the white line. When I’ve been out there riding they seem very manageable and do not intrude on the shoulder space. HW1 in the area north of Santa Cruz is an inherently dangerous, intimidating section to ride, especially for a beginner, and certainly [for] a beginner in any kind of close quarters riding formation [is] even more of a bad idea.
“But in my opinion the rumble strips are the only active safety device (that Caltrans seems to want to consider) on that road that might prevent a driver from striking me from behind or head-on as a result of them being distracted, drunk, on the phone, dozing at the wheel or gazing at the ocean…. all of which are in the back of my head when I ride that section. Recent accidents there are valid evidence, in my opinion.
“The fact that occasionally someone might crash because of the strips does not mean they are statistically more dangerous, as there may be hundreds of incidents where a driver’s attention is quickly regained by the running over the strips, and yet those incidents are for all practical purposes going unrecorded. Now if we could just get the proposed rail trail built out there, this RS discussion would be happily moot.”
Joe from Scotts Valley, California, via Texas, wrote with some tips for riding near RS:
“As a cyclist I’m pretty familiar with these devices, having been exposed to them in many setting when we lived in Austin, Texas. One comment mentioned that they might be easier to see if they were incorporated with the paint stripe. That may be true but a painted rumble strip is far more likely to cause a crash in wet conditions than an unpainted wet RS.
“Following too close behind is generally the culprit when trailing riders are suddenly faced with these craters. Riders who are pulling at the front of a group are also subject to choosing to cross the RS to avoid an obstacle (cone, branch, hubcap, couch cushion etc.) but that deliberate move should be executed safely and called out to the peloton. Rear view mirrors also help to alleviate some of the tension of having to cross the strip.
“On the other hand, RS do a fantastic job of alerting drivers to the fact that they are straying from their lane and over the last few weeks, during which I’ve been up to and back from Davenport, Swanton and Bonny Doon on Highway 1 several times, (on the bike and a few times in the car) passing drivers have been remarkably courteous regarding their poaching of the shoulder and that was definitely not the case prior to the RS. Here in Scott’s Valley the shoulders are just more runway for distracted drivers!”
And another local roadie, Frank, wrote to me:
“I’m just not getting your objection to rumble strips, Jim. The ones I’ve experienced are interrupted for cars and cyclists making turns, so crossing them shouldn’t be an issue. If it is, get off your bike and walk.
“If a rumble strip keeps bicyclists attentive and not riding into traffi,c it seems worthwhile to me. If it keeps drivers attentive (wakes them up) if they’re drifting over the centerline or onto the shoulder, it seems worthwhile to me. Riding on highways with high speed traffic is dangerous.
“At the meeting in Santa Cruz I believe Caltrans said they would only install them where there is at least a three-foot shoulder. I’ll ride single file on a three foot shoulder with a rumble strip anytime if it promises to keep me and drivers I’m sharing the road with a little more awake and attentive.”
To me, there seems to be a disconnect between those of us who are fighting against rumble strips and those who argue that they make us safer. It’s rather obvious that if it’s a straight road with wide enough shoulders, cyclists can avoid the rumble strips. And in that scenario, they might warn drivers from crossing the RS and hitting us.
However, RS are not walls or barriers. They can’t actually shield us from drunk or distracted or out-of-control drivers. Yet, RS can and do cause cyclists to crash and even die. They also scare beginners enough that they may choose to just not ride, which is bad for the health of road cycling in our country. We need more roadies, not less.
These reasons are why cycling groups have always fought rumble strips. For example, the Bike League, America’s oldest bike organization fighting for safe roads since the 1890s, writes as a best practice for rumble strips, “”Not on designated bicycle routes and other roads where bicycling is expected.”
If RS were only being installed on straight roads with wide shoulders, perhaps we wouldn’t be debating them. But Caltrans in California is now ignoring the long-time standards of RS installation. And that’s what’s so upsetting and wrong.
In fact, we just heard that Caltrans will now install them on portions of California’s State Route 9 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_State_Route_9 and on the very popular cycling route in Fremont, California, Niles Canyon Road (State Route 84) http://www.examiner.com/article/best-bike-rides-the-bay-area-exploring-niles-canyon-road. Sad news.
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Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.