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Cyclists voice frustration over rumble strip project

A cyclist makes a point at Wednesday
A cyclist makes a point at Wednesday's meeting with county officials.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

Nearly 40 cyclists met with King County officials Wednesday night to register their frustrations with the county's aborted rumble strip project.

The meeting, a precursor to an open house the county plans to hold May 21, was a chance for county officials to hear from cyclists about the project — a $75,000 effort to grind both the center lane and the shoulders along much of Vashon Highway — which was halted two weeks ago after a flurry of complaints.

Rumble strips are considered a safety measure, alerting drivers who are veering out of their lanes. The county received a state grant for the Vashon project and five others after submitting data that county officials said showed those particular stretches of highway had a high rate of run-off-road collisions.

But cyclist after cyclist at the standing-room-only meeting Wednesday night told county officials that their plan to make the highway safer for motorists has already made it more dangerous for cyclists.

The grooves are hard to see at night or even on a sunny day, when shadows obscure them, some said. They've narrowed the biking lane, forcing cyclists to go into traffic to get around other cyclists, walkers or parked cars. And several cyclists noted that it's hard to maintain control over their road bikes — which almost always have high-pressured tires — when they hit the bumpy strips.

"I can tell you, when I hit the rumble strip, it's very noticeable," said John "Oz" Osborne.

"I'm bi-modal. I ride, and I bike," said Charlie Baccus. "And I don't know if those rumble strips will save me or kill me."

Cyclists were upset about the lack of notice about the project, which came as a surprise to many people. They also wanted to see the data the county used to secure the grant. Were those run-off-road collisions due to excessive speed, icy conditions or drunk driving, asked Michael DeBlasi, speaking on behalf of a newly organized cycling group that has launched a website called bikevashon.org.

"We want to know the details. We want to know how the rationale was made," he added.

Cyclists were invited to attend the meeting by Harold Taniguchi, director of the county's Department of Transportation, who sent out an email to several cyclists who had contacted the county to complain. The project is suspended, Taniguchi said in his email, "until we’ve completed our conversation with the community and settled on a satisfactory approach going forward."

The county expects to be able to issue an update on the project's status by mid-June.

A handful of county officials attended Wednesday's meeting, including Henry Perrin, manager of the road services' division arterial safety project, and Paulette Norman, the county's road engineer. The purpose of the meeting, Norman told the group, was to hear their concerns and note their questions, with an eye towards addressing those questions more fully at the May 21 open house.

"We're really interested in listening," she said. "And we're going to answer the questions as soon as we can."

But Norman acknowledged that the county erred in both its lack of notice to the community about the project and its failure to ask residents for feed-back before the project began.

"We do feel bad about not doing more outreach," she said.

Asked after the meeting if removal of the rumble strips is an option, she said, "Everything is up in the air at this point."

The open house will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, May 21, at Chautauqua Elementary School.

 

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