By JASON HOPPIN — Santa Cruz Sentinel
SANTA CRUZ – More than 60 people turned out Monday night to air concerns about a proposal to put 10 miles of rumble strips along a scenic span of Highway 1, an idea that has sparked a furor among many local cyclists.
Held at the Museum of Art and History, the sometimes testy meeting was a chance to hear details of the plan firsthand from Caltrans officials. Hoping to improve traffic safety along a picturesque but sometimes deadly stretch of asphalt, Caltrans is proposing the vibration-inducing strips to keep drivers from drifting off the road.
But most spoke out against the idea, saying rumble strips are potentially dangerous to cyclists and impact an internationally known cycling route that serves well-known events such as the Ride to End AIDS and the upcoming Amgen Tour of California.
“It’s like Tiger Woods deciding to play at Pasatiempo and Caltrans deciding to roto-till the greens,” said local cyclist Jim Langley, a member of the Community Traffic Safety Coalition.
Few spoke out in favor the strips, which are planned for both shoulders and the centerline between Shaffer Road and Swanton Road. The meeting was convened by the bicycle committee of the Regional Transportation Commission, which received a flood of letters opposing the project.
Caltrans proposed the strips to address a series of crashes. Since 2004, there have been 10 fatalities along that stretch of road, most recently a 2010 double-fatality where a 10-month-old survived the accident but his mother was killed.
Many of the accidents involved situations where the motorist left their lane, including 37 percent in which the vehicle departed the right side of the road. During that time, no run-off-the-road accidents involved cyclists.
Caltrans traffic engineer Dario Senor walked the crowd through a series of figures and tables showing the location and severity of accidents along Highway 1.
Such proposals are generally triggered when Caltrans finds three or more fatalities along a stretch of road due to motorists leaving their lanes.
“We’ve identified a need for the project and we’re still trying to identify what the project is. That’s why we’re here today,” said Senor, adding that there is no timeline for the project’s completion.
Senor said Caltrans favors rumbles strips because they have reduced traffic accidents. He also disputed what emerged as a point of contention Monday: whether rumble strips are dangerous to cyclists.
“If you are in that shoulder, that car comes veering over, that rumble strip could help you,” Senor said, adding that Caltrans has committed to ensuring at least five feet of shoulder where strips are to be located.
Regardless of the evidence, said Micah Posner, executive director of People Power, bicyclists share a perception that rumble strips are unsafe and Caltrans should heed those concerns.
“You had 90 letters against them. Where are the concerned drivers who said they really want them?” Posner said.