By Jason Hoppin, Santa Cruz Sentinel
DAVENPORT – Local cyclists are drawing a line in the sand over a plan to gouge 10 miles of vibration-inducing safety strips along a stretch of Highway 1 known the world over as a cycling destination.
Caltrans is planning the so-called rumble strips between Shaffer Road just north of Santa Cruz and Swanton Road, near Davenport. The strips are aimed at cutting back on car crashes that have claimed numerous lives in recent years, but bicyclists see them as a wheel-busting hazard that could lead to even more problems.
“What we’re concerned with is Caltrans’ solution creates a whole set of problems for cyclists, specifically on this roadway,” said Leo Jed, a local cycling advocate who sits on the board of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations. “This is a nationally known roadway for cyclists.”
The issue is gathering broad attention in cycling circles. The stretch of road between Davenport and Santa Cruz is not only popular with recreation bikers, but part of the route for the Amgen Tour of California, the Ride to End AIDS, the upcoming Green Fondo and numerous other organized events. In March, industry magazine Velo News named Santa Cruz one of the top cycling destinations in the world.
In fact, the project has drawn so much attention that a Monday workshop of the Bicycle Committee of the county Regional Transportation Commission, where Caltrans will present its ideas on the project and take input, is being moved to the Museum of Art and History.
“We’re expecting a large turnout,” RTC senior transportation planner Cory Caletti said.
According to Caltrans and California Highway Patrol data, there have been 10 fatalities along that stretch of road since 2004, most recently an October 2010 crash that killed two when a southbound driver drifted across the center line. The northbound driver’s 10-month-old son survived.
During a 5-year stretch from 2004 to 2009, there were 77 non-fatal accidents there, 37 percent of which involved cars drifting off the right shoulder of the road.
“Our goal is to make that a safer roadway,” Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones said.
But from bicyclists’ perspective, the agency may be making it worse. They say adding rumble strips to a shoulder that can already include debris from agricultural trucks, rock falls, drifting sand, parked cars and other obstacles will only make things worse.
“It’s just creating this totally unnecessary hazard for cyclists,” said Micah Posner of People Power, who said he would be willing to support centerline rumble strips if Caltrans left the shoulders alone.
Rumble strips, typically made by milling out small trenches in the asphalt, have been shown to reduce traffic accidents. Drivers get a jolt if their tires roll over them.
But there is increased sensitivity to the strips’ impact on bicyclists, who have just as much right to the roadway as motorists. Recent revisions to Federal
Highway Administration guidelines make clear that rumble strips are not recommended where there is less than 4 feet of shoulder, and that the strips should have gaps allowing bicyclists to traverse the strip.
Jones said Caltrans has already decided against installing strips where there is less than 5 feet of shoulder. But Caltrans is still being inundated by concerned bicyclists, some of whom have even written to Gov. Jerry Brown.
“Our plans are still to go forward with limited rumble strips on the shoulder,” Jones said, saying he believes they protect bicyclists as well. “We think that’s, on our end, a win-win.”
Though they are more frequently found on rural roads where inattentive (or tired) drivers can drift off the road, rumble strips are in place along a number of roadways throughout the state. Highway 84 in San Mateo County, which is popular with cyclists, has centerline strips in parts, with more planned.
Local cyclists say they are sensitive to motorists’ safety, but add that they are extremely vulnerable on the roads. Even centerline strips could induce drivers to avoid giving cyclists a wide berth, they say.
But they acknowledge that getting Caltrans, which often faces criticism about focusing on automotive transportation to the exclusion of other ways of getting around, to change its mind is going to be an uphill battle.
“It will take a fairly significant outcry to get Caltrans to change their mind,” Jed said.