Rumble strips: Let’s listen and compromise

If you took the most pristine wetland in Vashon, built a coal-burning asbestos plant on it, then hired inmates from Guantanamo Bay to work there, it still wouldn’t be as controversial as rumble strips. I’ve never been one to miss out on a good maelstrom, so I thought I’d jump into the fray.

In November 2009 I was in the middle of a cross-country bicycle trip when some guy in a car began changing his radio station and drifted onto the highway’s shoulder. He plowed into the back of me at 50 mph. I bounced off his windshield, flew over his roof, and if I could have stuck the landing, I would have been OK. As it was, I did a belly flop on the asphalt, which sent me to the ER with cracked ribs and broken bones in my face.

Two things would have prevented that accident — a rumble strip or a better song on the radio.

Elsewhere on the same trip I came across more than a few highways with narrow shoulders filled virtually side-to-side with rumble strips that forced me to ride in traffic. Traveling this way became a learning experience — in that I learned a few new swear words from angry drivers.

Even in the most bicycle-friendly environments, the cyclist and motorist all too often have an antagonistic relationship, with each group holding passionate opinions. This was evident recently as the rumble strip road crew was stopped dead in its tracks after a protester threatened to block its way — Vashon’s version of Tiananmen Square (although it was actually an email to County Executive Dow Constantine that halted the project).

As a driver, nothing boils my blood faster than the hubris of a cyclist who obeys traffic laws only when convenient. Some operate a bicycle in a manner they would never dream of doing in a car, yet they demand all the rights and courtesies accorded a motorist.

As a cyclist, I long ago grew weary of the argument that bikers don’t deserve a voice regarding the roadways as they don’t pay for them. This simply is not the case. The lion’s share of the oft-cited gasoline tax pays for freeways and major highways, which cyclists cannot use. Typical county and local roads are maintained in large part by sales and property taxes, which every cyclist pays. In fact, given the relative wear and tear a car has on pavement verses a bicycle, the argument can be made that anyone riding a bike is shouldering a greater burden of roadway upkeep.

Certainly drivers have every right to the safest roads possible, but the cyclist, as a legal user and financial steward of the roads he or she travels, also has every right to voice grievances when the fair use and enjoyment of this public asset is threatened.

Personally, I have seen what the absence as well as the inappropriate use of a rumble strips can do, and I would be in favor of the judicious installation of this safety feature. With King County’s open house scheduled for next week, I am sure there will be many personal stories both for and against rumble strips. My hope is that each camp will listen in good faith to the opposition and see both sides as legitimate stakeholders in this issue.

If lucky, we may end up with something more implausible than a wetlands asbestos plant — a compromise that both motorists and cyclists find equitable.


— Chris Austin is the circulation manager at The Beachcomber.


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