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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