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Bicyclists Push for Share-the-Road Laws

Arlington's senators and delegates were among those supporting bicyclists and bicycle safety legislation in Richmond for Bicycle Action Day on Tuesday.

By Katherine Johnson and Blake Belden
Capital News Service

Several state senators and delegates representing Arlington joined Virginia bicyclists Tuesday for a Bicycle Action Day in Richmond, an event designed to support state legislators who are introducing bills that aim to make roads and biking safer across the commonwealth.

Proposed legislation aims to make it illegal for a driver of a vehicle to follow a bicycle too closely, increase the acceptable passing distance so bicyclists don't get hit by car mirrors and implement other safety rules.

About 15 bicyclists — members of RideRichmond,  a nonprofit organization of bicycle enthusiasts, and their supporters – met on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus and biked to the General Assembly building to demonstrate support for legislation that would require drivers to give bicycles more room on the road.

“It’s our day to be supportive and loud,” RideRichmond bicyclist Brantley Tyndall said of the group's first action day.

He said the bicycle safety legislation would benefit everyone, not just bicyclists.

Tyndall said the bills are not specifically “pro-bike,” but instead “pro-all road users.”

“Many cyclists are also drivers. We’re not just a special interest group, and we’re not here to talk about an ‘us vs. them’ mentality … We believe cycling is a nonpartisan issue that simply makes sense,” RideRichmond co-founder Michael Gilbert added.

The group praised the work of Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, along with Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, and Del. Alfonso Lopez, D–Arlington, all of whom have bills that target specific issues bicyclists face in their daily rides or commutes.

“Saving lives on bicycles is the right thing to do,” Lopez said. “Last year, over 600 people in Virginia got hurt on a bicycle because of an accident, and 10 people died.”

In eight of the fatalities, he said, the cyclist was hit from behind.

Reeves proposed Senate Bill 1060, which would make it illegal for a driver to follow too closely to a cyclist. The passing distance would also be increased to 3 feet, as it is in 21 other states. Current Virginia law specifies 2 feet.

Reeves said an extra foot may not seem like a lot, but most cyclists are hit by a car’s mirror. On Tuesday, the Senate passed SB 1060 on a vote of 30-9. Sens. Barbara Favola and Janet Howell, Democrats from Arlington and Reston, respectively, were among those voting in favor of the bill. 

“I think it’s going to make Virginia more bicycle friendly,” Reeves said. “More and more people in our more urban areas are using bicycles to get around.”

Petersen is sponsoring Senate Bill 736, which would require car drivers and passengers to wait to open their doors until a cyclist or other car has passed.

Petersen said his bill received some ridicule, but drivers should be aware that “oftentimes a bike or another car can hit that car door and an accident can ensue.”

If the bill becomes law, a violation could lead to a $100 fine. Petersen’s bill passed the Senate 23-17 last week. It has been referred to the House Transportation Committee.

“Cyclists should be protected, and it’s better for all road users in general. It’s not all about cyclists,” Tyndall said.

Lopez has proposed a similar measure, House Bill 1950. It would prohibit the driver of a motor vehicle from following mo-peds, bikes and other non-motorized vehicles too closely. The House Transportation Committee voted 20-1 for the bill; it is now before the full House.

Champe Burnley, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, says there should be no debate over whether such legislation passes.

“Making it safe for a child to bike to school, safe for a mother to cycle to the market for a gallon of milk, safe for someone to leave the car at home to work on a bicycle is simply common-sense public policy,” he said.

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BluemontFred January 30, 2013 at 10:07 PM
Before passing share-the-road laws, bicyclists should learn to follow the current rules of the road and stop thinking that they own the road.
J Anderson January 31, 2013 at 01:08 AM
John....the following too closely law states "more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to the speed of both vehicles and the traffic on, and conditions of, the highway at the time." I think that covers your concern to some degree and frankly if you got hit in the rear then it's the car behind you that is at fault..... BluemontFred - You own a car not the road also. Drivers need to exercise the same - no turn on red when it says not to and full stop required, drive the speed limit, don't text, don't follow to closely etc etc etc but more importantly realize that the car always wins in car vs bike situations. If you think your desire to get someplace is more important than the cyclist's life...well I'm sorry. And before you launch into me - realize we are trying to police our own. In most cases it's the person doing the bad stuff, not the 'thing' they are riding / driving.
Peter January 31, 2013 at 05:02 AM
There is like ZERO enforcement already of traffic ordinances that relate to bicycles. Way too many bicyclists dressed in black clothing from head to toe and running traffic lights and stop signs. And soon everyone will have to contend with electric motor powered bicycles. Enough already. The General Assembly is looney tunes. Can't do anything to make life easier (like no excuse absentee voting) but sure can pass a laundry list of punitive laws every session, and it's bipartisan.
Peter January 31, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Agree with Peter. It's called 'progressive criminalization of human behavior' by every special interest group targeting people they don't happen to like. And the General Assembly goes right along, every session.. The one thing that SHOULD have been a slam dunk - election reform to make it easier for Virginians to vote - again went nowhere. How about the General Assembly focusing on 'specific issues motorists and pedestrians face from reckless bicyclists'? Can't do that, it might offend a vocal special interest group.
J Anderson January 31, 2013 at 07:54 PM
This argument gets old...it's all the cyclists that are at fault. The only thing I'd say is that it's sad we have to legislate stupidity .... but sadly we do. And the stupidity of one person often leads to the injury of another. The result is the stupidity/carelessness not being acknowledged nor is responsibility taken.....but instead - Not my Fault .... I didn't see them etc etc. Well, these laws are being enacted so the police can actually have something to cite the person who pulls the stupid stunt. And yes...cite the cyclists that blow the stop sign....but also cite the driver who speeds, turns right on red and texts. Those latter violations DO lead to injury/death and deserve greater enforcement IMHO.

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