On-street rumble strips for bike paths—removing barriers to active transportation in the Winter City

P1010087-250.jpgLast night I attended an open house held by the City of Winnipeg's consulting partner in their efforts to add more bike/walk/rollerblade infrastructure. One of the fascinating dimensions of doing so that had never really crossed my mind was winter, and snow removal.

For example: If the city builds double wide sidewalks that can accommodate bike traffic, it requires an investment in specifically sized snow-clearing equipment and time to run that equipment—which makes budgets untenable.

Similarly, if the city wanted to demarcate bike lines with curbs, those reflective nodules bolted into the pavement, or anything similar - well, the first snowplow of the season is going to scrape them off - that's why the city has relied on paint to date.

On a positive note, creative minds are at work to devise solutions that fit both our sprawling tax base and the need to keep cyclists safe. The best idea I heard was to use rumble strips—make the strip as wide as the painted line on the street, and drivers suddenly have a great haptic reminder when they invade the bike lane. And, rumble strips won't get scraped off by snowplows, won't wash away like paint, don't interfere with cross-traffic (like curbs), and still allow for parking.

Winter bike commuting is an arduous process, but there are groups at work to make it safer and easier—though not any warmer!

Photo Credit: Kevin Connors


This sound like a nice addition to other means to keep cyclist and bike paths in the mind of car drivers we share the road with.

Not sure this is a sufficient idea all year as these will get packed with ice and also the rumbling is much less at lower speeds.

My preferred idea in this direction was to have tainted asphalt. I've seen reddish bike paths in Amsterdam or other North European city years ago. Car drivers just could not not see them.

Discussing this with a Civil Engineer friend of mine who rides all year long here in Montreal and was also working on the Bicycle network for the city, he turned that idea down due to the cost of bringing the pebbles to town from much further away and the extra cost of smaller batches.

This idea might be worth pursuing here or in other cities.

Posted by: Francois on March 8, 2010 2:18 PM

I think the main objections to this would be the noise pollution (since many highway rumble strip sections have led to noise complaints by locals), and the fact that some rumble-strips have been known to cause hazards for bikers. But it seems that both these things MIGHT be negated by milled rumble strips:

If that site can be believed, it also has a section on how milled strips don't cause bike balance instability like others do...

But one this worth mentioning is that these strips would need to be at least as wide as a wheel, and not just the width of a painted line, which might crowd the bike lane anyhow...

Anyhow, LOVE the idea though! If only some vigilante Torontonian would just get skidsteer-certified and take it upon themselves...

Posted by: Pat Connolly on March 21, 2010 11:13 PM

After I read this piece, I looked up 'rumble strips' and found that most cyclists believe that the rumble strips would inhibit cyclists. They'd be OK for mountain bikes but not great for a racing bike.
In the centre of Puxi in Shanghai, it's a bit of a free-for-all for cyclists; however, some wider footpaths have removable barriers to provide a cycle lane. It works...but the tolerance is much higher in China and the traffic moves relatively slowly.

Posted by: Trish Arnott on March 24, 2010 5:05 PM

Thanks for the great discussion, everyone. I agree with the general theme that rumble strips have limitations - but I still think that they would be a great part of the mix!

Francois - I like the thought of tainted asphalt, but agree that visibility would be an issue - especially once the snow flies. (which of course comes with the ice-packing of rumble strips that you mentioned...)

Pat C - thanks for the link. A very interesting alternative that I'll look into further and pass along to the people working on this here.

Trish - I remember an article on a school of thought that bringing cyclists into closer contact with cars worked better for both - i.e.: slowing traffic had the best safety outcomes. Interesting to hear about the china example and perhaps the cultural differences.

Cheers everyone, and thanks!


Posted by: Rod Edwards on March 27, 2010 6:29 PM

Post A Comment

Please note that, while disagreement is fine, insults and abuse are not, and will result in the comment being deleted and a likely ban from commenting.

Yes No