JOHN DAY – Local cycling advocate Mike Cosgrove says tensions escalated to a flashpoint between drivers and cyclists this month, and he wants to heal the rift.
As a first step, he’s pushing for changes in how the state maintains highway shoulders and deploys rumble strips.
“Rumble strips are pushing cyclists into the traffic lanes,” he noted, “and that is infuriating drivers.”
He took his case for change to a regional transportation commission meeting last week, and was pleased to find some changes were already under consideration.
He said the Oregon Department of Transportation is moving up the schedule for removing rumble strips that were placed in error on shoulders of Highway 26 west of Mt. Vernon. He said the agency had been looking at doing the work sometime in the next couple of years, but has decided to do part of it this fall and the rest next spring.
That could remove a key hazard for cyclists.
Cosgrove understands ODOT’s reasoning for the rumble strips on highway shoulders; they help prevent drift-off-the-road wrecks. But on shoulders that are too narrow, they can cause other wrecks.
Rumble strips were a factor in recent local cycling accidents – two during the Bicycle Rides Northwest tour earlier this month, he said.
In one incident, the rider was pulling onto the shoulder to get out of the way of a truck when his bike caught the strip and was thrown to the side of the road. The man was bruised, but not seriously injured.
The other rider was not so lucky, Cosgrove said. That rider was following other cyclists when his wheel caught a rumble strip wrong, and he was catapulted onto the highway.
That cyclist broke his collarbone, pelvis, tail bone and seven ribs, and suffered a major concussion despite a good helmet.
If there was a silver lining, it was that there wasn’t any traffic at the time “because when he landed, his head was right by the yellow center line in traffic lanes,” Cosgrove said.
In addition, another cycling tour group opted out of riding the stretch from John Day through Dayville because of the hazards of the rumble strips. Those riders decided to “sag” instead, riding in vans to their next stop.
“When cyclists ride through Dayville, they stop and spend money,” noted Cosgrove. “When they sag, they just drive on through.”
Cosgrove said riders will always seek the smoothest pavement – not just for comfort but also for safety. Faced with rumble strips and degraded, gravel-coated shoulder surfaces, the cyclists will migrate to the traffic lanes – especially in rural areas where car traffic tends to be light, he said. He said better maintenance of the shoulders and placement of the strips would help keep riders safely to the side.
He’s not suggesting cyclists get a free ride, however.
Cosgrove would like to see a bicycle licensing program to help pay for cycle-related improvements and answer criticism from the driving community. He also said cycling groups would like to help sweep the shoulders, and there is precedent for allowing private groups to do that kind of work.
He also wants to expand the “Share the Road” program, to influence not just motorists’ behavior but cyclists’ as well.
Cosgrove said while many in the community welcome the cyclists, the response of some people has been troubling.
During the Bicycle Rides Northwest tour, he said, a young man in a pickup truck drove up and down past a group of riders, yelling and making profane gestures at them.
“I understand that cyclists can be a hassle out there, but it’s accelerating to a flashpoint, and the rumble strips are making it worse,” he said.
He hopes people will remember that cycling brings money into local businesses and the community.
He said one local football team earned $11,000 from last year’s Cycle Oregon event, and several other community groups profited, too.
“Cyclists are definitely making a variety of businesses some considerable profits,” he said. “I hope people will consider that.”