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Islanders sound off over rumble strips at public gathering with top county officials

Lu-Ann Branch describes her recent experience leading a group of eighth-grade cyclists on a ride along the highway as King County Transportation Director Harold Taniguchi listens. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Lu-Ann Branch describes her recent experience leading a group of eighth-grade cyclists on a ride along the highway as King County Transportation Director Harold Taniguchi listens.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

Dozens of Islanders told King County’s top transportation official Monday night that newly installed rumble strips have made Vashon’s main arterial more dangerous for cyclists.

In a lively but civil meeting at Chautauqua Elementary School, one resident after another, some clad in biking clothes, questioned the county’s rationale for the decision, challenged some of its statistics and described recent incidents where they felt vulnerable because of the miles of grooved strips meant to make the roads safer.

The meeting — the county’s first public gathering since the rumble strip controversy erupted a month ago — began as an “open house,” with stations where Islanders could speak individually to county officials. But after Islander Ann Leda Shapiro took to the stage yelling “mic check!,” a phrase made famous by the Occupy Movement, County Transportation Director Harold Taniguchi good-humoredly agreed to change the meeting into a wide-open give and take — and then proceeded to get an earful.

“I’m concerned we’ll have fatalities of cyclists,” Yve Susskind told Taniguchi. Noting that she’s an experienced cyclist, she said that she’s had “six incidents where I felt unsafe” since the rumble strips were installed along Vashon Highway’s center lane and shoulders in mid-April.

“I’m an experienced rider — I’ve been riding for 30 years — and I had to take the lane and ride into traffic,” Susskind said.

Steve Sussman, another cyclist, said his recumbent trike no longer fits along stretches of the highway because of the rumble strips along the outside edges of the road.

Another Islander, March Twisdale, held up a white board sporting a detailed diagram she had made about the rumble strips, pointing out that only drivers who are texting while driving, too tired to stay awake or driving drunk might be protected by the grooves and ridges.

In other words, she told Taniguchi, “We’re putting them in place to protect criminals.”

A few people at the meeting voiced support for the strips. David McCoy, a longtime Islander, said he used to work as a volunteer firefighter and responded to several horrific accidents during the 1970s.

“A lot of these could have been prevented by rumble strips,” he said.

But for the most part, the crowd of around 70 voiced opposition to the project, which was halted mid-stream on April 18 after Islanders began a furious email campaign to county officials.

Several times during the gathering, Taniguchi said the county made a big mistake in not holding a meeting with Islanders before the project began.

“We took a significant misstep,” he said. “Whatever we do, we’ll communicate with you.”

But when pressed on how the decision will be made, Taniguchi sounded both frank and frustrated. The county, he said, believes the rumble strips help to address real safety concerns. At the same time, he said, he realized many cyclists are unhappy.

“This is particularly challenging for us,” he said.

The decision will be made at the highest levels of the county, he said, adding that it’s completely unclear at this point what the county will do.

“I really don’t know how this is going to play out,” he said.

As he was talking, a petition was circulating the room. The undersigned, it said, feel that the new rumble strips “adversely affect our safety and mobility.”

 

 

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