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Occupy the Highway

Ruts are visible in the grass where a Mini Van left the road on Vashon Hwy, on the north end of Vashon Island. Peter Ray Photo

I am not an ambulance chaser by any stretch of the imagination, so it was a bit odd and out of character when I found myself grabbing my camera and bike helmet to pedal up to the scene of a car crash on the main highway this past Saturday morning. In doing this, I was responding to a friend who had just called to say that there was a car in the ditch, and the running-off-the-road that had landed it there had happened within the hour. Even though my spin on two wheels took less than ten minutes of travel time, the scene had already been cleared of the crash by the time I reached the spot where muddy skid marks and torn up turf indicated a vehicular departure from the roadway. My arrival coincided with that of a Puget Sound Energy truck, and a conversation with its driver revealed what was not otherwise very obvious, that the driver had clipped the power pole by the side of the road on the way to what in most any other situation would have been considered greener pastures. Other than some broken car window glass in the bike lane and a detached missing cat poster, scratch or breakage evidence of any contact with the pole was not readily evident. Beyond general observation and back to our conversation, I learned from the PSE guy that there had been two people in the minivan and neither one had been injured.

What was hurt in all of this was the credibility of any argument pertaining to the safety benefit of rumble strips on our highway. Within an hour of my posting photos and basic accident information on the BikeVashon discussion list, reports came back of another car going off the road northbound out of town on the day before. As both of these accidents happened in daylight and in areas where rumble strips have already been etched into our bikeways to "prevent inattentive drivers from departing the roadway", a reasonable person might question the rationale behind just what has happened to what were once mostly unfettered bikeways, and all done in order to protect distracted car drivers from themselves. It was interesting, if not ironic, to note that one of the two people that spoke in favor of the rumble strips at a meeting with County officials at the library last Wednesday, claimed to have been a former Driver Ed teacher. Although it is ancient history for me, I remember being told innumerable times during my driving tutelage to pay attention at all times while behind the wheel. At that time, dreams of inattentive driving were only described in articles on sensor equipped highways in Popular Mechanics, or through fantasies played out in futuristic highway exhibits at the latest world’s fair.

All in all, the initial meeting with King County DOT officials was not that informative. What it felt most like to me was one of those prescription drug commercials- the ones that tell you the problem the drug is going to fix, and then underneath those warm and fuzzy shots of people going on with their happy lives, they proceed to tell you about all the side effects that could kill you while you’re "getting better". If you haven’t guessed it by now- I didn’t drink their Koolaid. What I’ve lived to tell is that you can indeed sample the KCDOT rumble roadshow for yourself. An Island wide meeting on the rumble strip "road safety" project has been scheduled for Monday, May 21st from 7 to 8:30pm at Chautauqua Elementary. You can come and voice concerns, ask questions, and otherwise be entertained by the machinations of the public-private partnership. I don’t know if they are providing refreshments, but if they do I’d stay away from the pitcher with the smiley face on it.

Two videos of our first meeting with the folks from KCDOT can be found here:

and here:

And as always, you can contact me here-