Friday, December 28, 2007

Discussions With Nebraska Dept of Roads

On my rainy day list of things to do was to email the Nebraska Dept of Roads and ask them how they determine which roads receive shoulders and which do not. So, early this week I did just that. I was impressed with not only receiving a response, but the number of people that got involved in the email process. On top of that, one of the regional engineers actually asked me MY opinion on the rumble strips on Hwy 20 and Hwy 81. More on that later.

The initial complaint with my inquiry was the fact that Hwy 12 has heavy semi truck, boat-pulling, and farm equipment traffic and has NO shoulder on it. The white line on the side of the road is literally the shoulder. Needless to say it can be very unnerving to be riding on the road and have traffic coming at you in both directions when there is no shoulder. While I didn't receive the answer I was hoping for, at least I started a dialog and got an honest answer.

In one of the last emails in our correspondence, I asked the engineer if she minded that I blogged about my experienced and was given permission. I'll leave the name out, but here is the email with great detailed explanation:


I can answer directly your question about which roads get shoulders in
Nebraska. We've recently retooled our standards to match more closely
national standards and our funding situation.

A standard lane width is 12', so most of our traveled way is 24' wide on
two-lane highways. When average daily traffic (ADT) projections for 20
years into the future show 2,000 vehicles/day the road qualifies for a 28'
top. This is essentially a 2' paved shoulder. We agree this makes a big
difference for agricultural traffic and wide loads. It is also more
comfortable for other drivers and does provide some benefit for bicyclists.

Even wider shoulders are considered when future ADT reaches 4,000
vehicles/day. When this threshold is reached, the new standard calls for
6' of paved shoulder if funds are available.

The section of Highway 12 between Obert and Ponca shows only a little over
1600 vehicles/day for 2026 on the busiest segment. We will not be
considering adding width to this part of Highway 12.

I do not want to give you false hope, but there is another possibility.
Sometimes when we resurface a road, we do add the additional 2' on each
side if the resurfacing method accommodates it at little extra expense. We
anticipate that the pavement will need resurfacing in about 8-10 years.
Perhaps there will be an opportunity for better accommodation of bicycles
by then.

In any case, we have taken note of your concern and will keep it on file
for project planning. Thank you for taking the time to let us know your

On another related subject, I would like to hear your opinion from a
cyclist's viewpoint on shoulder rumble strips. Perhaps you've seen them on
US-81 south of Highway 20 or on other highways?

My response back:

Thanks for your very detailed explanation on the shoulder situation. While disappointing for planning rides into Nebraska with our club and will probably limit any organized rides for us to the more experienced rider, it's still nice to know the situation. As you probably figured, I'm a strong voice for cycling advocacy. I'm not a hard to deal with person though, looking more for explanations like you gave versus being a thorn in anyone's side.

Rumble Strips: I avoid Hwy 81 like the plague. Far too much Semi traffic for my liking. I have ridden on Hwy 20 on the Bike Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN) and a couple of solo trips. As stated, I wear a mirror off my glasses so I tend to ride on the road hugging the white line where rumble strips are present. If there are cars coming both ways or the car behind me appears to not be moving over, I will go over the rumble strips although I prefer not to on a road bike. I understand the purpose of rumble strips on major highways so I don't have a beef with them. As a cyclist, I don't like the rumbles before stop signs that don't split into two sections so I can split them however.

All that being said, Hwy 50 between Vermillion and Yankton or Vermillion and Interstate 29 does not have rumble strips on the wide shoulder which is obviously nicer for us to stay considerably off the roadway and out of any (reasonable) harms way. It's been a long time since I've been on Hwy 50 West of Yankton so I can't remember if there are rumbles that way or not. Hwy 19 North out of Vermillion to Centerville (21 miles) has recently been redone with a wide shoulder and no rumbles as well.

I guess that I hadn't given much thought to the rumbles on Hwy 20 as I know they are there. Would it be better for me without them? Of course. I'm sure there are traffic studies that suggest they are a good thing for safety of motorists however. I know they are not a cyclists friend, but I have never heard considerable griping about them either.

Thanks again for all your time. If you need anything further from my side of the conversation, feel free to contact me anytime.

Wouldn't you know it, there was a response back once again!

Thank you for letting me know your opinion about these safety features.
Yes, they are proven to reduce crashes and fatalities on our roads so we
are expanding our use of them throughout the state. Interesting to hear
your perspective.

In Nebraska we install the rumbles in a continuous strip just off of the
driving lane (outside of the white line) leaving approximately 5.5' of
clear surface for bicycles away from traffic. This is on our 8' surfaced
shoulders. The new standard of 6' surfacing would provide 3.5' of clear
space. The continuous strip is broken at intersections, residential and
commercial driveways and it is not installed through towns. As a cyclist
myself, I consider it a benefit to have rumble bars between vehicles and
me. I would like to hear what you think of the Nebraska placement strategy
if you happen upon them in your travels. We will be installing them on
US-20 west of Osmond in the near future.

Good point on the intersection rumble bars. I suppose motorcyclists may
have the same complaint. I will relay the concern to our Traffic
Engineering Division so they are aware. Maybe we can eliminate or reduce
the number of locations where full-width strips are used.

Not only that, the engineer is a cyclist! I responded with the opportunity to join us whenever in the area which was graciously accepted. Even more amazing to me in all this was that not only was my questions answered, but I was asked for MY opinion on an issue. I do love living in the Midwest. People who listen: BRILLIANT!

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