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Smooth Cycling over the Scioto River

It’s been more than six months since the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) updated its guidance for rumble stripes. While the original draft didn’t even mention bicyclists, the new guidance was helpful for addressing our needs. The League and Adventure Cycling are currently preparing an update to our rumble strip policy report, including a matrix of state policies and how they compare to the FHWA guidance. In the meantime, one Ohio advocate is making progress with the state Department of Transportation.

For bicyclists in Ohio, riding along the scenic Scioto River truly is a pleasure. Getting across the river is a bit more of a challenge, as there are only a few bridges in this area north of Columbus. Tricia Kovacs, with the Ohio Bicycle Federation, has been riding in this area for years and was dismayed when the State Route 42 bridge had rumble stripes installed. Luckily, some emails and a meeting later, she is hopeful that state engineers are starting to understand her and other cyclists’ concerns.

Credit: Ohio Bicycle Federation

Why is the bridge important for bicyclists?

Tricia Kovacs: I lead the Woodstock Bicycle Tour, hosted by Columbus Outdoor Pursuits, and we’ve been using this bridge and road for a long time. This is the only way for bicyclists to cross the river unless you’re looking to go pretty far out of your way. Even then the next available road is a state route, so you could end up in the same situation with rumble stripes on a bridge. Besides every road being open for bicyclists, a lot of us like to ride in this area because it’s really beautiful.

What was the message you took to the ODOT traffic engineering administrator?

We had been corresponding via email up until this week, when we had our first in-person meeting. He told me that ODOT has been reaching out to motorcyclists on other road issues, and wanted to ensure they are working with bicyclists as well.

We came prepared to discuss the differences between the FHWA guidance and Ohio’s current policy. This included a lot of photos we’ve taken in Ohio of rumble stripes on roads with narrow shoulders, which really seemed to make an impression. We also discussed different types of bicycles (e.g. tandem, trike) and how the current rumble stripe gaps may not be long enough for these users. Lastly, we expressed our disappointment that every state road meeting their criteria of shoulder width and speed limit is going to be rumble striped when they are repaved.

What was his response?

I think we’ll find some positive ground on the exclusion of bridges from rumble striping in Ohio. He did commit to looking further at requiring a four-foot shoulder (instead of the current two feet). Given the positive conversation, I’m hopeful on that issue. We also got a commitment that he’ll share road resurfacing plans with us in the future so we’re not playing “catch up” and can provide input before a project begins. This will be a great opportunity for OBF to create more relationships at the state DOT on this and other issues.

What are some lessons you learned that are helpful for other advocates?

Our group still has a position of “no rumble stripes”, but we’re starting to learn when and how to work with ODOT to ensure the best possible accommodation for bicyclists (e.g. wider shoulders, gaps in the stripes, narrower and shallower stripes). ODOT also needs to ensure its policy is complying with the new FHWA guidance, which is there for a reason, and as a tool for advocates.

The devil is in the details. Bicycling advocates need to get involved in the application of a state’s rumble stripe policy. We first started working on the issue in 2010, when we lobbied to be sure that the TOSRV bike route (in its 51st year), the cross state bike routes and the Adventure Cycling routes were not rumble striped. Since then, we have had to continuously contact our MPOs, district engineers, and others to represent the needs of bicyclists (especially in rural areas). It’s also a good idea to let the upper management know when their district engineers are receptive to cyclists’ needs and to thank them for their efforts.

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