Cyclists say new rumble strips unsafe

DelDOT admits bumpy bands were improperly installed
May 22, 2014
A bike route lane sign points the way to rumble strips along Route 9 that are improperly installed, leaving almost no lane for cyclists. State officials said the acceptable safe minimum width for shoulders and bike lanes is 4 feet. BY RON MACARTHUR

Some cyclists are about ready to rumble over new safety strips installed on Cape Region roads, saying the strips have made the roadways unsafe. Meanwhile state transportation officials are scrambling to find a way to remedy the problem.

Since March, more than 70 miles of rumble strips have been placed along Sussex County roadways, including strips on Route 24 and Route 9 and along the Route 1 corridor.

Mike Tyler, a bicycling advocate from Lewes, said the 16-inch strips in some sections of routes 9 and 24 make the bike lanes so narrow they are not safe to ride. “We hate them,” Tyler said. “They ought to be removed and put closer to the white line.”

This week, Delaware Department of Transportation officials admitted the contractor improperly installed strips along some sections of the two roads, resulting in shoulders and bike lanes less than 4 feet wide, the acceptable safe minimum width on state highways.

Mark Luszcz, DelDOT's chief traffic engineer, called the problem a glitch in the contract.

Luszcz said two possible remedies are under consideration: to patch or pave over a total of about 1 mile of rumble strips along the two roads. One of those sections is the eastbound lane of Route 9 in front of Lewes Landing, where the shoulder is less than 3 feet wide.

Luszcz said beginning in early June, contractor Safety Improvements LLC of Kennedyville, Md., will test a new patching product along a 200-foot section of road. “If that doesn't work, we will do the more expensive process of milling out and paving over the rumble strips,” Luszcz said. “We will fix them as soon as possible.”

When completed, the $1.3 million project will cover 310 miles; so far, rumble strips have been installed along 140 miles of roadway.

Tyler said cyclists were caught off guard by new rumble strips over the past few weeks. “I was dismayed that they even put them down,” he said. “I can't believe any forethought was given or review done about what is appropriate.”

DelDOT has a new safety initiative to place rumble strips along rural collector roads where statistics show crashes are most likely to occur. Luszcz said 50 percent of traffic fatalities are the result of motorists running off the road; rumble strips have proven to be an effective warning device to alert motorists they are drifting off a road.

Luszcz said DelDOT has plans to review its bike-friendly rumble strip policy, and changes in the future are possible.

In 2011, DelDOT adopted a bike-friendly rumble strip that is shallower than a normal rumble strip and leaves regular gaps to allow cyclists to get in and out of the shoulder without riding across the rumbles. This type of rumble strip was first installed along Route 1 from Dewey Beach to Fenwick Island. “I think it's been well received,” Luszcz said.

Strips placed along routes 9 and 24 were placed well away from the white lane line and are 16 inches wide.

That could change, Luszcz said. “We want to make the strips as narrow as possible; they probably don't need to be 16 inches. And we will look at putting the strips on the line or as close to it as possible,” Luszcz said.