FLORENCE — For safety reasons, the Natchez Trace Parkway and Federal Highway Administration are considering the addition of rumble strips or raised pavement markers to the center and edge lines of roughly 40 miles of the parkway that cuts through the northwest corner of the state.
Central District Law Enforcement Ranger John Hearne said in a news release the fatality rate from lane departure crashes, which means cars leaving the roadway, on the Parkway almost doubles the national average of 52%.
They're considering the addition of rumble strips or raised pavement markers to alert drivers if they drift too far off the roadway.
While he agrees this proposal would add another layer of safety for motorists, Florence cyclist Steve Patterson said it could potentially make riding the trace more dangerous for cyclists.
Patterson said he rides about 6,000 miles per year and has ridden on the parkway, which is a popular destination for cyclists nationwide.
"The trace has become a bucket list ride for most cyclists," Patterson said.
He said there are companies that provide cycling tours of the Natchez Trace.
Without a wide shoulder, adding rumble strips or raised markers to the road would force cyclists to ride further into the roadway, which could increase the chances of a collision with a motorist who might not give the rider enough room while passing.
Patterson said drivers are supposed to move into the opposite lane when passing a cyclist, the same as they would when passing another motor vehicle.
The Advocacy Team at Adventure Cycling, which encourages cycling activities, including "bicycle travelers," is encouraging members to comment on the proposal. The National Park Service is accepting comments on the proposal until Friday, Dec. 20.
According to an Advocacy Team email share by Florence cyclist Scott Morris, there are several reasons not to score the pavement or add raised pavement markers to the trace.
-- They can cause loss of control of a bicycle, causing injury to bicyclists or causing them to fall in the path of a moving motor vehicle.
-- They limit options for lane positioning and reduce the possibility of an emergency escape.
-- Center line rumble stripes can discourage motor vehicles from moving fully across the center line to pass a bicyclist safely.
-- Without at least 4-plus feet of separated shoulder space for cyclists, they do not protect cyclists from the possibility of being hit by a drowsy or distracted motorist.
-- They would detract from the cycling experience of the parkway by creating noise every time a motorist passes cyclists.
They also stated it would make the trace more dangerous for bicycling and would result in decreased bicycle visitation and tourism, which would hurt businesses in towns around the Parkway.
Morris said Shoals cyclist Wayne Williams was riding the trace recently and had a close call with a vehicle.
"The car knocked the mirror off his bike, but Wayne didn't crash and wasn't hurt," Morris said.
Morris agreed the pavement markers would cause cyclists to ride further into the roadway and further from the edge of the pavement.
Efforts to reach Williams on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
The public has suggested constructing a shoulder or bike lane to improve safety, but Parkway officials said that is not a feasible alternative due to significant environmental impacts to natural resources, prohibitive costs and adverse impacts to the protected design intent of the cultural landscape.
Patterson said the the addition of raised pavement markers on streets he used to bike on at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville cause him to ride further into traffic.
"It kind of puts you an extra foot out into the road," he said.
Anyone wishing to comment on the proposal can submit comments electronically through the National Park Service’s Planning, Environmental and Public Comment website at parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?. Written comments may be mailed to: Superintendent, 2680 Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo, MS 38804.