Several dozen people — mostly cyclists — showed up at a Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission Meeting bicycle advisory committee workshop on rumble strips. Most spoke out strongly against the Caltrans proposal to mill rumble strips into the centerline and along the shoulders of 10 miles of Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz to Davenport, California.
The workshop began with Caltrans District 5 Transportation Engineer Dario Senor explaining the safety benefits of rumble strips and why Caltrans is considering them for portions of Highway 1 in Santa Cruz County. Caltrans guidelines automatically flagged Highway 1 after a number of “run-off-the-road” (ROR) fatalities occurred, with several additional injury crashes when inattentive drivers leave the roadway and plunge into the ocean below or into the cliffs and trees adjacent to the northbound side. Numerous head on collisions also occur when drivers cross the centerline. (Personal note: One of my high school classmates died the summer after graduation when he drove his car off of Highway 1 in 1984.)
View Planned rumble strips Santa Cruz County Highway 1 in a larger map
To emphasize his safety message, Senor told the crowd that April is Distracted Driver Awareness Month, which resulted in laughter from the crowd. Senor was obviously puzzled and asked, “I don’t get it. Did somebody tell a joke?” which results in more laughter. Cyclists are, of course, very aware of the problem of distracted driving.
Well known cycling author Jim Langley then spoke up with his strong opposition to rumble strips of any kind. Langley equates rumble strips with throwing gravel and thumb tacks in the path of cyclists. He points out that Highway 1 is a world renowned cycling destination for locals, tourists and pro cyclists, noting especially the Amgen Tour of California that often routes this cycling race along the California coast, bringing world class professional athletes to the area. “Imagine if Tiger Woods was playing at Pebble Beach” said Langley, “and Caltrans rototilled the greens for safety reasons.”
California Association of Bicycle Organizations (CABO) District 5 Area Director Leo Jed pointed out the safety problems experienced by cyclists nationwide after installation of rumble strips. Caltrans says they’ll install only where the shoulder is greater than 5 feet, but Leo points out effective shoulder width is reduced from debris, vegetation, rock falls, drifting sand, etc. Jed asked Caltrans to consider alternatives such as thermoplastic raised profile rumble strips. Senor responded that that there is a moratorium on the use of thermoplastic strips, unfortunately, apparently because of some kind legal patent issue.
Another advisory committee member asked Caltrans to spend their money elsewhere. “You have a limited budget, right? Why not spend it someplace where the cyclists won’t get up in arms about the project like we are here.” There was laughter from the crowd after that commentary.
In response to all of the cyclist objections to rumble strips, Caltrans engineer Senor began to get defensive and asked everyone to “Please take your bike hat off for a minute and consider the safety benefits for all road users.” That advice was not well received by the crowd, who became a little more openly hostile toward the plan.
The SCCRTC bike advisory committee passed a resolution to express their deep reservations about the rumble strips to Caltrans. As an advisory committee, this motion carries no legal weight, but their opposition is on record with Caltrans now.
Caltrans is at the very very beginning of the rumble strip process, and the issue is not yet decided. Input from the public and from advisory bodies such as the SCCRTC bike advisory committee are a part of Caltran’s decision making, in addition to the usual engineering standards they follow.
Thank you to Greg McPheeters for additional background and details.