It seems like such a long time ago (December 17, 2008 - last year!) when the Toronto Star reported that the City is considering adding rumble strips to the Lawrence Ave. bike lanes when they are installed. My apologies for taking so long to post something on I Bike T.O. about it...
Anyway, I'm glad that folks at the City are looking at new ideas and considering different types of infrastructure that haven't been tried yet in Toronto. I'm sure Toronto's bikeway planners are constantly bombarded with suggestions that in reality might not be so easy to implement (Bollards! Grade-separation! Velotubes! Car-free everything! One-way exceptions!), but this rumble-strip idea should actually be a pretty simple one.
However, before we get all excited, I think we need to take a look at a few things about this idea.
What problem(s) does this solve?
According to the article, the purpose of rumble strips is to warn motorists that they are veering towards the bike lane, due to inattention (good jabs at cell-phone talkers and coffee-sippers!), thereby preventing the dreaded "hit from behind" type of collision.
What problems does it NOT solve?
Probably the most common complaint you hear about bike lanes is that they are always full of parked or stopped cars. Rumble strips would not stop motorists from stopping or parking in bike lanes. They also would not stop motorists from using the bike lane as a passing lane, or aggressively "buzzing" cyclists.
What problems does it create?
At first glance, rumble strips may appear to give cyclists a more defined space, and you may think we would end up with more space to ride. But the bumps that may keep some motorists from driving in the bike lane do even more to restrict the movement of bicycles. Suddenly there will be less room for cyclists to ride and pass each other, more difficulty dodging debris, and extremely narrowed lanes when it snows. Rumble strips could also pose a threat to cyclists when we have to cross them when passing or turning. If you hit them at the wrong angle, you could get thrown from your bike. Cargo bikes, tricycles, and other vehicles that have more than a single wheel track will run into additional space constraints and obstacle avoidance problems.
How can risks be minimized?
If rumble strips are installed, there are a few design choices that may help minimize the risks while still retaining their perceived benefits. First, the bike lanes should be very wide so that cyclists have as much space as possible for operating their vehicles and for passing each other. Frequent gaps in the rumble strips would also provide opportunities for cyclists to change lanes, pass, and avoid certain obstacles. The actual depth of the rumble strips could also be minimized so that motorists would hear the noise when they drift over them, while cyclists would not get jarred too strongly. Cyclists need to see the rumble strips in order to avoid them, so some kind of additional marking should be used to improve visibility in dark, wet, and snowy conditions.
I'm glad the City is considering new types of cycling infrastructure, but I hope they weigh the benefits and drawbacks of rumble strips very carefully. If they are ever installed, they must be designed properly too.
I think for typical city bike lanes, I would generally be opposed to the installation of rumble strips. However, in some situations on rural roads, arterials roads with long stretches with no intersections, and other limited cases, I think it might be worth trying.
What are your thoughts on this?
Here are some addition link with information and commentary about rumble strips and their effect on cyclists. More can be found with a Google search, of course: