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Rumble strips on highway a concern for bicyclists

A safety feature on area highways is causing bicyclists some concerns, even though they are among the intended groups being protected.

Rumble strips were placed along Highway 71 north of Park Rapids this past summer and now grace the shoulders and centerline strip of the newly renovated Highway 34 between Park Rapids and Walker.

According to Department of Transportation traffic engineer Bill Pirkl, the 4-foot wide paved shoulders now have an 8-inch wide rumble strip 2 inches off the fog line.

That leaves a good 3 feet of bicycling room on the shoulder and warns motorists they are encroaching on that area.

But on Aug. 16 a St. Louis woman was critically injured when she lost control of her bike on the rumble strips north of Park Rapids on Highway 71. Dana Anderson, 57, was airlifted to North Memorial Hospital's trauma unit in Robbinsdale.

The Enterprise was unable to get an updated condition report on her. She was last listed in "very critical" condition with a head injury.

Her bicycle helmet split open during impact with the pavement, the State Patrol said.

Anderson and her husband were traveling on Highway 71 to Itasca State Park on that morning. They had ridden from Brainerd.

"Rumble strips are installed as a safety measure to warn distracted drivers when they are coming too close to the edge," said DOT spokesperson Karen Bedeau.

"Bill said that in the last 5 years, we've had 13 'run off the road' crashes on this stretch of highway."

The upcoming Headwaters 100 bicycle ride "will include a segment on Highway 71, a designated and signed bicycle route, as well as on several county roads and the Heartland Trail," said organizer Vic Olson.

"Whether riding on a dedicated bike trail, road or highway, bicyclists have to be cautious about any dangers, whether it be a tree branch across the trail or traffic on a highway."

And Olson pointed out rumble strips are not new to the state. Many other highways have imprinted them on the shoulder as a safety precaution, he adds.

It is simply one more thing to pay attention to, Olson said.

"Bicyclists who aren't comfortable riding on Highway 71 on the 75-mile and 100-mile route should take the 45-mile routes, but still being aware of vehicular traffic at all times," he said.

The event is Sept. 24 and attracts hundreds of cyclists.

(Sarah Smith writes for the Park Rapids Enterprise)