Update on Montana Rumble Strips: Still the Wrong Way but Some Hope for Change

June 18, 2015

In brief: We have more time to push for and negotiate changes in proposed rumble strip applications on the Northern Tier and TransAm in Montana – well over 1,000 people contacted Montana DOT and made a BIG difference – we will keep pressing for change and may need your help again in the near future. Visit the Call to Action page for more information and resources.

It’s been two months since our first alert about the Montana Department of Transportation’s (MDT) plans for ill-advised rumble strips on two key cross-country Adventure Cycling routes – the TransAmerica Trail and the Northern Tier – without regard to the safety of the thousands of bicyclists who ride these routes. Two previous blog posts (“Better Rumble Strip Policy” and “Rumble Strip Update”) referenced how dangerous these rumble strips will be for cyclists by not providing the minimum national standard of four feet of adjacent shoulder space to ride safely apart from high-speed 75-80 mph traffic.

We asked you to tell MDT to postpone these two rumble strip projects, and were impressed when we heard from MDT that they received well over 1,000 communications – WOW! Thank you to those who wrote, emailed, and tweeted -- our message would not have been heard without your voices telling MDT that cyclists matter. 

How has MDT responded to your comments?  

In mid-May, we visited with MDT’s director, Mike Tooley, while attending a transportation conference in Cheyenne, WY. Director Tooley told us that we would receive a letter and analysis on their rumble strip decision and that we should share it with our members and followers. We received those materials on May 28 (copies here). We were surprised by the disconnect between their analysis and decision to move forward on the rumbles – and sent back a letter on June 1 which precipitated several clarifications from Director Tooley. So where does this leave us?

The good news

Director Tooley told us that “it is highly unlikely that either of these projects will see actual construction activity sooner than 2017” – this was news to us, as we thought construction would occur this year or next. Director Tooley also indicated that there was the potential for more discussion and negotiation on the projects and the rumble strips. Staff from Adventure Cycling and Bike Walk Montana will be meeting with MDT staff on June 22nd to keep pressing our concerns. We will keep you posted and may ask for your help again to contact MDT and other top officials to postpone or cancel implementation of the rumble strips. MDT still thinks these rumble strips are needed but their analysis and policies are not conclusive.

The bad news

As you’ll see in Adventure Cycling’s response, there remain serious questions about applying rumbles on either segment. On the Northern Tier, applying rumbles without new shoulder space will force cyclists into a high speed (75-80 mph) travel lane – undercutting MDT’s own “Vision Zero” policy of reducing the risk of death or injury for all roadway users on Montana highways. On the TransAm, MDT’s own analysis shows that on the section proposed for rumble strips, there were only two roadway departure crashes in 10 years – and neither crash resulted in serious injury or fatalities.  Why are rumbles needed at all in this section? MDT has agreed to add a new three foot shoulder to this section, which is positive, but it still does not meet the national four foot standard for shoulders next to rumbles – and MDT hasn’t truly justified the need for rumbles on this stretch of road. They also haven’t analyzed the economic impact of deterring cyclists from using Montana’s highways.

Adventure Cycling strongly supports the use of rumble strips as long as they are accompanied by at least four feet of shoulder space as recommended by the Federal Highway Administration, for the safety of both cyclists and motorists. Our rumble strips best practices recommendations and rumble strip reports, studies, and policies can be found on the National Advocacy Projects page. 

Where do we go from here?

We will meet with MDT on June 22 to learn more about the project timelines and underlying analyses, and we will press these three points:

  1. Postpone rumble strip installation on these projects and any highway improvement projects with less than four feet of shoulder space;
  2. If MDT determines that crash data justify rumble strips, then they widen the shoulders to the four-foot national standard and ensure everyone’s safe and enjoyable usage of the road; and
  3. Finalize Montana’s state rumble strip guidance and make it public.

Visit the Call to Action page for more information, including copies of our correspondence with MDT, rumble strip best practices and reports, and how you can continue to help. 

The long term impact of rumble strips

Montana is an increasingly popular destination for cycling and a recent study measured an economic impact potential of more than $377 million from bicycle tourism. A rural Montana resident named Bill White remarked, “All the bike riders passing through were like gold going by in a river.” Creating unsafe roads for cyclists will only stifle this sustainable, growing active tourism market and negatively impact the ability of Montana’s many struggling rural towns to benefit from the bicycle boom.

On a related note, we recently heard from an Adventure Cycling tour leader that significant sections of our Atlantic Coast route have been rumble stripped in South Carolina and Georgia. Again, roads with narrow shoulders are now more dangerous for cycling.  Our routes and mapping department will now have to research safer alternative roads for a re-route, which as you can imagine, can be difficult and time consuming to find. Decisions to rumble strip a known, heavily-used bicycle route should include extensive data analysis to justify the decision, include bicycle representatives, and include plans for accommodating cyclists’ safely, such as shoulder construction. Rumble strips are expensive to remove and last for decades. If you hear of plans in your state to rumble strip a road that is part of an Adventure Cycling route, please contact advocacy@adventurecycling.org.

Thank you again for your support of bicycle travel and cyclists’ safety! You are making a difference!

Wrong Way Rumbles photo by Bill Schneider, Right Way photo by Doug Harris. 

This guest post was contributed by Saara Snow & Ginny Sullivan of Travel Initiatives.

GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Hamelman, Routes & Mapping Assistant Director, and appears once a month, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.


Brian October 10, 2015, 9:42 PM

4' of shoulder is idiotic. It's a waste orf resources and makes cycling less safe, and more miserable. The shoulder in first example given is absurd. That 1'-2" strip is more than enough room to cycle comfortably. I've ridden countless miles on road where the line were painted on the crumbling edge of the road - if i'd had 6" of clear I'd have been thrilled. 18" is ample. 2' is overkill. 4' is absurd. Go home and ride your stationary.

Brian October 10, 2015, 9:36 PM

I believe rumble strips are a good idea, and I believe roads must be made to accommodate cyclists - BUT - I do not believe roads should be made unnecessary wide in the misguided effort to accommodate bikes. I've bicycle toured tens of thousands of km's throughout N.A., and Europe, and any road with a 4' shoulder is hell. They are usually hot, noisy, polluted, dirty and poorly swept and lack shade. If I must take a heavily trafficked secondary highway, the configuration I want to see is this: Narrow car lanes / Painted line / Rumble strip / 2' of shoulder, properly maintained. That's it, not more. More pavement than that and the road becomes inhospitable to bikes. If a cyclist isn't comfortable navigating a 2' wide shoulder separated by a rumble strip and a line then they need to work on themselves. No road will be safe enough for them.

Wide roads mean faster aggressive traffic. Even if the perceived extra width is in the shoulder. Maintain overall road width and move the lines in and give the difference over to bikes.

In reality however, whenever possible, I prefer narrow tree-lined country roads - even if they are winding, indirect, hilly and twice as long. I avoid even secondary highways like a contagious virus.

Bill October 9, 2015, 10:02 PM

While I can understand the frustration of the 'road' cyclists regarding this issue, it is nothing short of laughable to think that the state of Montana is going to add 4 FEET of shoulder on BOTH sides of a highway for bicyclists.

Do you have even the remotest idea of the cost involved in that? Compare the number of bikes ridden through the area involved vs cars/trucks/busses/motorcycles and who knows what else, the bicycle is in the absolute minority.

This all reminds me of the whining that went on regarding the Route 66 routing in California. 'WAH the old highway is too rough for my credit-card thin skinny tired bicycle. Let us ride on the shoulder of I-40 with 70+ MPH traffic'. Anyone ever hear of wider tires for rough/broken highway surfaces?

Johnimo October 9, 2015, 2:33 AM

Rumble strips add to cycling safety. While it may be very difficult to ride on a narrow 12" shoulder, it's better to have the rumble strip than to ride without one. I believe the emphasis should be on widening the shoulders. Thanks for your efforts to widen the shoulders and improve cycling safety.

Shane October 9, 2015, 6:37 AM

Jonimo, might I ask what kind of rumble strips are you speaking of? I have never seen or ridden my bike on any that would/have made my ride more safe. What contributes to a safe ride is maintaining control of the bike. When a rider is compelled to ride over them at any speed, they give up some of their control whether they want to or not. This is especially hazardous if an approaching vehicle forces them onto the rumble strips.

Maybe you are suggesting its safer because of the noise the approaching vehicle will make on them and qqqq it would give the rider a second or two to bail off the bike before the impact, or at least to cringe.

Riding over obstacles is never safe even if you are a stunt rider.

Kevin September 9, 2015, 3:06 PM

I agree with Matthew. I think rumble strips are a bad idea. On 2-lane roads with little or no shoulder, I've seen rumble strips down the middle so then what happens is cars give less room when passing me because they don't want to drive over the rumble strips. Another issue is some of these rumble strips are pretty deep. I don't understand why a rumble strip needs to be ~1.5 to 2" deep. I was recently in UT going down a steep hill on a road with a shoulder that had deep rumble strips. I would have preferred to ride on the shoulder but there was so much road debris crap on the shoulder so chose to ride in the road to the left of the rumble strip. When a car passed me close (there were also deep rumble strips in the middle), I veered to the right and was then riding on the shoulder rumble strips. I could barely control the bike and almost crashed. It's really getting out of hand.

Matthew Friesen August 28, 2015, 10:19 AM

On roads with narrow shoulders the rumble strips should be placed on the white line going left on to the road. Personally I think that if a driver needs rumble strips to keep them alert or on the road, they either need a rest or different mode of transportation, maybe a bus or train. Rumble strips don't solve the problem, they only aggravate an already bad driver.

Shane August 24, 2015, 8:51 AM

WOW!! Lance, I question your understanding of bicycling in regards to the use of them for touring and something more than putzing about the streets in your secure housing development. Some of us, would rather ride than drive, and are concerned with the condition of the riding surface, be it old and in a state of disrepair or built in such a way as to make riding hazardous. As a former member of the Armed Forces, I had the privilege to ride my bike in many different countries from Australia to China. None of them build hazards to bicycles into their roadways.

Also, the taxes I pay fund the roads I ride and therefore I have a say in their construction just as you do, but you don't need to be a jerk to others just because you chose to and don't understand their chosen pursuits in life.

Lance June 30, 2015, 11:08 AM

I'd like to tell you all, as a bicycle rider myself, that your complaints about roads are stupid! The highway is built for vehicles that hold important value for travels and work, not bicycles! The rumble strip and side of the road is made for them not us. We ought not to be on the same road as the automobiles and tractor trailer combination vehicles, IT"S DANGEROUS! If you have to ride on the side of a busy road don't complain! You are the dumb ass who put himself out there where the weapons are. Please get real and work on building your own road just for bikes and stop trying to conform the world to your needs in a cheap way.

Peter Schmitz October 4, 2015, 2:13 PM

This is clearly a troll. There is no possible way that "Lance" is a bicycle rider, especially not on any distance riding. Whenever possible, bicyclists take non-busy roads for their own sanity and safety. This is simply not possible in vast parts of this country. And the idea that somehow we can build a vast network of bicycle routes in a "cheap way" is completely ludicrous. Get back in your car, Lance, and drive away.

Rick Stout August 11, 2015, 8:58 AM

What an idiotic comment. Conform the world to your needs in a cheap way? I am a bicyclist and a driver. I pay taxes to build roads and if we depend on bike only roads to get us where we want to go you will be paying for it. And there won't be many avenues available. Having a reasonable shoulder to ride on is by far the best and cheapest option. Maybe you are a bicyclist but we don't need people like you advocating for "real bicyclists". Thanks for not helping.

Sean Montgomery July 19, 2015, 1:57 PM

Its a shame that some folks are so limited... Things will change.

Robin July 17, 2015, 6:11 PM

Lol. The notion that roads are only for cars just doesn't make sense. It's a result of the pervasive car culture here in America. Go anywhere else in the world, and on the roads you'll find people on bikes, foot, horse-drawn wagons, etc. We need to think of bicycles less as just toys for kids and triathletes, and more as a viable form of transportation.

Bicycles are legally allowed on all U.S. roads, excluding most Interstate Highways and other limited-access highways. In some places, like rural Montana, the busy state highways are the only roads around, and they CAN be safe for bicycles as long as there's a decent shoulder. The problem of misplaced rumble strips is relatively easy to solve. It certainly would be WAY less expensive than building an all-new cross country bike path.

Log in to post a comment

Forgot Password?

Enter your email address and we'll send you an email that will allow you to reset it. If you no longer have access to the email address call our memberships department at (800) 755-2453 or email us at memberships@adventurecycling.org.

Not Registered? Create Account Now.