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County decides to continue controversial rumble strips
In an effort to address concerns raised by cyclists, King County officials plan to remove some of the rumble strips along the shoulders of Vashon Highway, sweep shoulders more frequently and install signs warning cyclists of the stretches of grooved pavement.
But they stopped short of agreeing to a motion passed by Vashon’s community council and pushed by many Island cyclists calling for a complete end to the project and a commitment to pave over the rumble strips that have already been installed over the course of the next two years.
Harold Taniguchi, director of the county’s Department of Transportation, said during a telephone interview Monday that the county will continue a project that was halted four months ago, extending the installation of rumble strips south down the center line of Vashon Highway to the Tahlequah ferry terminal. The stripping project currently stops at S.W. 204th Street.
The county will also mill a few additional stretches of pavement along the shoulders of the highway on the southern half of the Island, in keeping with its initial rumble strip plan.
But the new work plan reflects what Taniguchi called a “balanced approach” and “a compromise,” limiting the extent of the project and repaving stretches that Island cyclists convinced him and his engineers were problematic.
Specifically, according to Taniguchi and Paulette Norman, the county’s road engineer, the county will remove nearly a mile of shoulder rumble strips and not install another mile crews had planned, reducing the extent of the shoulder rumble strips along the highway from 9 miles to 7.2 miles.
Because of concerns that cars won’t cross rumble strips to make way for cyclists, the strips won’t be installed on the narrowest stretches of Vashon Highway — all told, about a half-mile of roadway where the lanes are narrower than 14 feet from centerline to the edge of the pavement.
Miles of what’s called thermoplastic markings will be installed at 200 feet intervals, making the strips far more visible. And 12 warning signs, letting cyclists know that rumble strips are ahead, will be installed, Taniguchi said.
“Considering where we were when we had the open house on Vashon,” he said, referring to a May gathering where many Islanders expressed concerns about the project, “I think we’ve come a long way. We’re very, very thankful for the feedback we received from the cycling community. … Our staff listened and made adjustments.”
The county expects to resume the project in September. The changes will cost the county about $30,000.
Leaders in Vashon’s cycling community, however, expressed disappointment with the county’s plans. Steve Abel and Tim Baer, two avid cyclists, met with Tanuguchi and Norman last week, where they learned about the county’s design revisions. Both men said they had hoped for a wider range of concessions.
“I’m disappointed they haven’t embraced the vision the way we had hoped,” Baer said.
Abel said the county made what he called “some significant concessions.” The decision, for instance, to remove shoulder rumble strips (or not complete their installation) between Cemetery Road and S.W. 204th — a stretch students often use en route to school — is noteworthy, he said. Rumble strips will be removed from that stretch because of the difficulty young people might face navigating the grooved pavement.
But overall, he said, he’s frustrated that a motion by the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, which passed unanimously last month, didn’t carry more weight.
“This is a cheap engineering solution that didn’t really address the bigger picture,” Abel said. “These rumble strips were designed for high-speed rural roads. They’re trying to make them apply to what are really ex-urban roads.”
“It’s one more hazard (to cyclists),” Baer added. “And if you don’t know how to do it, the surprise can kill you.”
Abel and Baer said they planned to take the issue to Bike Vashon, a group of avid cyclists that organized after the rumble strip installation project started. “Do we want to take a scorched earth approach, or do we accept this and continue to negotiate?” Abel said. “That’s what we will have to decide.”
The rumble strip project came as a surprise to Islanders, after road crews showed up unannounced in April and began milling both the center lane and shoulders. Within days, the milling had made it to 204th Street, the center of the island, when cyclists converged on the corner and demanded a stop to the project.
County Executive Dow Constantine ordered a temporary halt and county officials, in several meetings that followed, apologized to Islanders for their lack of public notice. But the project, they’ve said all along, is an important one: Rumble strips have proven effective in reducing the number of accidents on rural stretches of roads. The county obtained a $500,000 grant for the county-wide project after submitting a request highlighting the dangers of some of its rural roads, including Vashon Highway.
But cyclists say the milling project has ruined miles of good bike lanes on Vashon and made cycling less safe.
It comes at a time, they note, when many planners and policymakers are pushing to make communities more bike-friendly, not less, and when schools and parents are trying to get young people to hop on bikes. The county’s approach, some have said, suggests it’s taking a car-centric view of the roads, not one that recognizes the importance of sharing the road with cyclists.
Taniguchi said he knows that Baer and Abel weren’t happy with the extent of the county’s revisions. But both he and Norman said they believe they’ve developed a working relationship with Vashon cyclists as a result of the project and they hope to continue the conversations.
“We’re definitely mindful that the position they had was to cease and desist,” Taniguchi said. “But we’re coming back with a balanced approach.”
But Abel said it’ll be a bitter moment if and when the machinery returns. “I’ll be disappointed if they grind more rumble strips,” he said.
County officials plan to discuss the new scope of the rumble strip project at the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at McMurray Middle School.