County calls a halt to rumble strip project

King County officials have decided to end the controversial rumble strip project on Vashon, a move they made after hearing from residents and elected officials who represent the Island that even a modified program could impair cyclist safety.

In mid-August, the county announced it would continue the project, narrowing its scope but not ending it altogether.

On Thursday, Harold Taniguchi, who heads the county's Department of Transportation, said he and his staff had reached a new decision. An additional four miles of rumble strips along the centerline won't be installed, he said, nor will the county add a few more stretches of grooved pavement along the shoulders.

"We're not going to continue with the original plan," he said.

County officials made the decision after they came out to Vashon two weeks ago to describe their modified plan, only to hear from residents "that there were still deep concerns," Taniguchi said. Islanders, he said, "told us we still don't get it."

The new plan contains some elements of their revised project. Responding to concerns about children's ability to navigate the grooved pavements, the county will remove shoulder rumble strips near Vashon's public schools. It will also add signs warning cyclists of the presence of rumble strips and install thermoplastic markings that make the strips more visible.

Taniguchi, saying it was a departmental decision, not a political one handed down by the County Executive's office, added that he believes their final plan makes sense. The northern half of the Island, where the most accidents occur, are where the rumble strips are now in place. "It's a great compromise," he said. "We have a stronger pilot project moving forward."

Cyclists, reached Thursday evening, said they were thrilled to hear the news.

"I think it's great that the county has responded to our voice. It's a good start. It helps to move us toward a more bicycle-friendly community," said Tim Baer, an Islander active in the newly formed group BikeVashon.

Charlie Backus, another cyclist, agreed. "I applaud Harold. Harold has done very well in this whole thing. Considering the financial pressure the Department of Transportation is under, they've been extremely responsive to us."

Steve Abel, who's also played a lead role in the effort and who knows County Executive Dow Constantine, said he believes Sen. Sharon Nelson and other elected officials had a hand in the decision-making process. Nelson, who worked for years for Constantine before heading to Olympia, sent letters to the Executive on the cyclists' behalf, Abel said. County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who represents Vashon, was also sympathetic to the cyclists.

"Sharon and Dow are close. And Joe and Dow are close. And both were working on our behalf," Abel said.

After the county announced in mid-August that it would continue with the project, Abel said,"We just very quietly talked to the politicians who represent us, and they listened and brought some influence to bear on the issue."

Nelson, reached Thursday evening, said she was pleased to hear the news. "This shows that the county will listen to their constituents," she said. "The group working on this did a good job of presenting their case."

Several cyclists have said the county's program violated the terms of the federal grant, which prohibits the installation of rumble strips if they "adversely affect the mobility and safety of cyclists, pedestrians or the disabled," Backus said. "We've been reminding them of that since the meeting in Chautauqua" in May.

Cyclists say the rumble strips have made the highway less safe. Cyclists can fall if they try to go over them, especially if they're moving fast and on bikes with thin, high-pressure tires. What's more, some have said, drivers are hesitant to give cyclists a wide berth, because they don't like crossing the centerline and hitting the jarring bumps.

Nelson said she was recently headed to the Tahlequah ferry, going 35 mph, when she saw a cyclist going faster — probably 40 mph. "You can't hit a rumble strip going that speed," she said.

Initially, Vashon's cycling community had also called on the county to repave those stretches of the shoulder where rumble strips are now in place. But on Thursday, they said, they realized the county road division's dire financial situation made that demand difficult.

"We understand that the county is under a lot of pressure financially," Baer said. "We never wanted to be some fringe group that had unreasonable demands."

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