April 27, 2010
We have been receiving reports from around the country of the indiscriminate application of rumble strips or stripes to secondary roads, often prime cycling roads in the countryside. For example, a popular connecting road between Memphis and the Natchez Trace had been "rumbled." With only a two foot shoulder, it made it nearly impossible for cyclists to navigate the road without going into a high-speed travel lane.
Sparked by these reports, we lept into action. Ginny and our awesome work/study student, Mike Webster, searched for information with the help of dozens of Adventure Cycling members, state Department of Transportation (DOT) officials, and members of groups in the Alliance for Biking & Walking. We also joined with the Alliance and the League of American Bicyclists in writing to Victor Mendez, the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) (which oversees this issue at the national level) with an urgent request for a meeting and that FHWA send an immediate message to state DOTs to follow best practices in deciding when and how to use rumble stripes/strips.
Last Friday, while I was in Washington, DC, we were able to secure a meeting with Joe Toole, FHWA's lead administrator for safety, and David Nicol, the head of the Office of Safety Design. (I was joined by Jeff Miller of the Alliance, Walt Finch of the League, and Caron Whitaker of America Bikes.) We emphasized that we were not opposed to rumble strips when properly applied but that the evidence was demonstrating that states and counties were forgetting about the importance of cyclists' safe use of secondary roads -- and the clear guidance provided by many states and the FHWA on how to apply rumbles in a way that respects the needs of all users. The indiscriminate use of rumbles also contradicts the recent directive of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that bicycling and walking should be considered as "equal modes" of transportation to motorized vehicles.
Joe and David were cordial, had clearly done their research, and had given a lot of thought to the subject. They promised to follow up with Administrator Mendez and with us, and thought they could provide some form of information to agencies about the proper use and application of rumbles. They also let us know that they are doing an in-depth update of their technical guidance on rumbles, due out later this summer, and asked for our input.
We will certainly provide that input but, with construction season entering full swing, we need to get state DOTs and other agencies to take a deep breath and make sure they're rumbling the right roads in the right way. Already, Arkansas has stepped back from rumbling many miles of roads, after protests from cyclists. They are re-evaluating the situation and limiting rumbles to roads with shoulders that are 4 feet or wider.
What are we doing? We are continuing to update the matrix (your input is welcome), following up with FHWA, and working with advocates and agency officials at the state level.
What can you do? Stay tuned, and if you live in a state mentioned in the matrix as problematic, contact your state DOT and let them know your concern about the use of rumbles on roads that are important to cyclists. We will continue to provide more contacts and information as this story unfolds -- and please keep us posted on what you know at infoATadventurecyclingDOTorg.
JIM SAYER is the executive director of Adventure Cycling Association.