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Rumble Strips Got You Grumbling & Tools for Road Advocacy

We all like to ride on rural roads, but these areas are often rife with bad road designs of all types: Rumble strips (gasp!), no shoulders (gasp!!), or worse — chip seal. I recently presented at the National Bike Summit alongside a few professional advocates and planners, and this topic attracted the big audience and engagement I knew it would. Rural road design is a complicated beast because our rural areas are often where we have the least amount of infrastructure funding and the most Run off the Road (ROR) crashes where DOT’s love to place Rumble Strips (RS) — and our biggest bike enthusiasts scorn those with a passion.

This session had the following co-presenters:

Rural Roads panel

Steve and Dan presented on the highly useful Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funded Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks Guide. This resource should be used by any advocate or state agency staff member working with Rumble Strips. It is a design and infrastructure guide for municipal, county and state planners and engineers, but it’s also helpful for community leaders or professionals advocating to these local or state agencies.

The Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks Guide has a few helpful features. It describes three designs best suited for low volume, low speed rural roads. The first, a Yield Roadway (See Chapter 2–3), is a two-way, multimodal street with no center or shoulder line painted, which serves to encourage multimodal use, and it has no lines painted on the road! It is cost effective and simple. The second, the Bicycle Boulevard (See Chapter 2–9), has traffic calming features that prioritize bike traffic, but they still allow vehicular traffic while slowing them down. The third design, Advisory Shoulders (See Chapter 2–17), is truly innovative with a 10–18 foot two-way, center travel lane, flanked with dashed lines on both sides, and a shoulder space for bicyclists and the occasional pedestrian. Then there are visually separated facilities we are more familiar with, such as bike lanes and paved shoulders, and of course physically separated facilities, such as Shared Use Paths, Sidepaths, Sidewalks and Separated Bike Lanes.

I presented from my experience with the PCC advocating with the South Carolina Department of Transporation (SCDOT) and their push to install RS, when most of our roads have one- to two- foot shoulders, and SCDOT’s approved bike map is from 1974. The PCC initially responded to the first wave of RS by SCDOT, by acquiring the list of future projects and previewing them through six to ten bike club listservs to find out which roads were most popular and necessary to prioritize on our list of “NOs” to SCDOT. This exhaustive process was again repeated six months later, and after much back and forth, few of our “priority” routes were removed from their list. Because safety, they said — that is why. Our SCDOT spends less per linear lane mile on its roads compared to all other states, so the onus of adding shoulders for safe bike travel had become a local problem. After regrouping, we then worked successfully to improve SCDOT’s RS design – using FHWA guidance to make them shallower, narrower (four to eight inches), and including a skip pattern. Our last and still future advocacy initiative is to get SCDOT to exclude certain routes from RS with relatively low ROR crashes that are still popular bicycling routes, by purchasing recreational cycling data to quickly create a state priority bike route map. And finally, we currently are partnering with a dozen other organizations in a campaign that includes a policy with a three year SCDOT repaving schedule, so local governments have at least two years to find the money to add shoulders, before the state comes through with a repaving truck.

Lea then presented on the learning experience Caltrans suffered when the agency placed chip seal on the beautiful 25+ mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. This big, chunky aggregate is commonly placed on low volume, rural roads because it is cheaper though not in the long term. The bicyclists in this area, in coordination with advocates responded with an intensive petition campaign, and they eventually convinced Caltrans to do a study to determine how to fix the chip seal, which they did, and this remains the only study done to date. A big victory for Bike SLO.

Saara gave a full run down of Adventure Cycling’s recommended Rumble Strip policy. Her presentation was absolutely fantastic, because we used Adventure Cycling’s recommendations to improve design in SC. She also reviewed model policies in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which recommend RS only be applied in areas with relatively high ROR crash rates and low bicycling use. 

A final lesson learned is to leverage and strengthen connections between state and local advocacy organizations and clubs because you’ll need them when these crises in bikeability happen. But these “bumps in the road” can only be overcome by a tight knit group of enthusiastic, engaged, informed and articulate advocates willing to keep at it for the long haul.

Amy Johnson Ely is Executive Director of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition

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