ST. GEORGE – Rumble strips recently added to state Route 18 have left cyclists concerned.
Rumble strips are impressions placed along the shoulder or center lane of the road that make a vehicle vibrate when driven over, and can be a wake-up for unassuming drivers. According to the Utah Department of Transportation’s website, the rumble strips are designed to “prevent crashes by alerting inattentive or drowsy drivers as they begin to drift off of the road.”
While the strips are designed for automotive safety, some Southern Utah cycling advocates say they aren’t necessarily friendly to road cyclists.
“(Rumble strips) can be very dangerous,” said Cimarron Chacon, president of the Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association. She is also working with the recently formed Washington County Bicycle Advisory Council in approaching UDOT with concerns arising from SR-18’s repaving.
“The recent resurfacing project has added two new problems,” said Craig Shanklin, president of WCBAC, in an email to St. George News.
Shanklin said a two-mile segment of SR-18 – between the upper entrance to Snow Canyon State Park, north to Diamond Valley – already had narrow shoulders. In some places he said the shoulder is less than 12 inches.
Rumble strips were added to the already narrow shoulder, which may force cyclists into traffic lanes. Strips were also added to the middle of the road, “making it difficult for motorists to easily slide over to give cyclists a bit more room as is the custom in bike-friendly Southern Utah,” Shanklin said.
Shanklin added that another problem caused by the repaving is the creation of what is called a “false shoulder.”
“A second problem was created by the generous overspray of the top coat, creating a ‘false shoulder,’” he said. “The thick tar was sprayed about a foot beyond the actual shoulder, creating the illusion of a wider shoulder than actually exists. If a cyclist hits the outer foot of the ‘shoulder’ they will break through this crust and find themselves in loose gravel not an asphalt shoulder.”
Chacon said the rumbles strips and false shoulder could cause potential injury to cyclists traveling southbound on SR-18. A rider could be traveling at speeds in excess of 30-40 mph when they hit either obstacle.
Chacon and Shanklin said they had met with UDOT representatives who have been very receptive to their concerns.
“It’s incredible how quickly and seriously UDOT is handling this,” Chacon said.
Dana Meier, a UDOT program engineer for Southern Utah, has been involved in the meetings and requested the WCBAC conduct a survey focusing on the perceived impact of the rumble strips and false shoulders along SR-18. For its part, Meier said UDOT sent had field engineer to the road to inspect potential problem areas.
Meier said the field engineer reported the rumble strips were “installed per specification” and their placement hadn’t gone against UDOT protocol.
As for the overspray that created the false shoulder, Meier said he agreed with the bicyclists. “It looks like there could be asphalt there,” he said.
However, Kevin Kitchen, a spokesman for UDOT, said the overspray would discolor under the sun over time and no longer present the illusion of a shoulder. “The problem tends to solve itself,” he said.
As for whether or not there would be any changes made to SR-18, Meier said it was unlikely unless it was proven the rumble strips and false shoulder presented a “significant danger.”
“UDOT has a zero-fatality goal,” Kitchen said. “Rumble strips are a big help in that goal.”
Chacon said that even if the rumble strips were filled in, they would still pose a possible threat to cyclists. Suggestions on improving cyclists’ safety along SR-18 have included warning signs, widening the shoulder, and a dedicated bike lane.
Meier said UDOT may be willing to partner with cycling advocacy groups in order to reach a common solution. However, anything proposed would have to meet requirements set forth by the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which UDOT adheres to.
Aside from the original impact survey being done by WCBAC, Chacon said another study was being done concerning the possible economic impacts to tourism and particular sporting events that utilize SR-18.
The highway is a part of what cyclists call the Gunlock Loop, or Veyo Loop, a 40-mile route course Shanklin said was possibly one of the best known cycling courses in the state. He also said it added to Southern Utah’s reputation as “a Mecca for cyclists.”
“This route is also used by the Huntsman World Senior Games, the Ironman competition and many other races and large cycling events such as the Tour de St. George,” Shanklin said. “We have been told these changes may also present a problem for runners in the St. George Marathon.”
It remains to be seen how the repaving of SR-18 may impact future sporting events and athletic-based tourism in the area.