Rumble strips: The wrong answer for Vashon

One of the things I love about Vashon Island is the easygoing sense of acceptance, or at least tolerance, and the way drivers slow down and give a wide berth to cyclists, dogs and runners. Have you come to expect the freedom to go about your business, relaxed and joyfully pursuing your own unique vision for yourself and the community where you live? Well, so had cyclists, but that has been taken away by the installation of rumble strips, those long stretches of grooved pavement that now mar our shoulders and the center line.

We cyclists applaud the state for Target Zero, an effort to reduce highway fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. We also applaud the county for taking action. But rumble strips are the wrong solution. Since last April, when a few brave souls threatened to lie down in front of the milling machine, the King County Department of Transportation has taken the time to develop its own new guidelines for rumble strips.

The problem is this plan goes against policies and guidelines developed by federal and state agencies as well as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Based on the research we’ve done, rumble strips on Vashon simply cannot offer the benefit for motorists that they do on freeways. It’s comparing apples to oranges. If automobile safety is a concern, there are other, more effective options that do not present dangers to non-motorized road users.

Rumble strips create hazardous conditions for the cyclist. This may seem like a trivial issue, until you are one of the runners, disabled persons, tricycle-riders, trailer-pullers or just plain walkers making your way along the shoulder. Then rumble strips become another hazard to navigate.

If you’re riding a road bike, which usually has thin, high-pressure tires, they are bone-jarring and hand- and mind-numbing and can throw you into the traffic. This is not speculation: Besides the many close calls, there have been at least two serious crashes leading to stitches and broken bones caused by this ill-considered decision to install rumble strips.

They also make Vashon less desirable to cyclists in from other parts of the region, hurting our economy; they discourage non-serious cyclists from hopping on their bike, a form of exercise known to combat obesity; and they make riding trickier for children — at a time when many parents, school officials and others are trying to encourage more active lifestyles.

Members of Vashon’s biking community have made the case that rumble strips don’t make sense. We care deeply about the safety of all road users but especially cyclists, as we are some of the most vulnerable. We have clearly stated our desires, needs and goals. We have reached out to many other road-users (and believe it or not, cyclists also drive automobiles!). The Vashon-Maury Island Community Council passed a resolution calling for an end to rumble strips and for implementation of a bike-friendly plan. The King County strategic plan supports this. (“Enhance bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as alternative transportation options.”)

But old ways die hard. Bike Vashon wants desperately to work together not only with our elected officials, but with the actual engineers doing the work, to arrive at outcomes that work for everyone. Maybe a bike ride some sunny afternoon is a good place to start. That’s community involvement, which the county has stated as one of its core goals. The county’s statement — which amounts to “thank you for your input; here’s how we’re going to finish doing what we started” — does not fulfill that promise.

Bike Vashon will continue to engage with the Vashon community, lawmakers and county administrators, among others, as they pursue the vision of a bike-friendly Island. Theirs is a vision of a healthy, vibrant community, where public spaces, including roadways, are owned by the people, and not the cars.

If this speaks to you in any way, check out www.BikeVashon.org, and join us in affirming our tax-paying rights to civic engagement, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


— Tim Baer is cyclist, father and Islander.


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