As we near the end of the 2017 session, here is a list of transportation-related bills and where they’re at today. You can learn more about each bill and its progress at the Virginia General Assembly. Find out who your legislator is at Who’s My Legislator, and let him or her know how you feel about the proposed bills.
While I’m neutral on much of the proposed legislation, I have strong feelings about traffic safety. My views are not those of RIDE Solutions or the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission. Many thanks to the Virginia Bicycle Federation for much of the information. (I also serve as Secretary on the Virginia Bicycle Federation.)
The formula for maintenance funding influences what types of roads we build.
HB2023 Maintenance Funding for Road Diets (Villanueva)
This is the type of bill that I get excited about. Missouri and Virginia faced the same transportation funding crisis, but Virginia passed SmartScale, and Missouri has failed to pass one funding solution after another. However, Virginia’s funding formula inadvertently penalizes a popular safety measure: the Road Diet.
In the past decade, Road Diets have been all the rage as they can reduce serious crashes up to 49% without reducing traffic flow by converting a 4-lane road into a 2-lane road with a center turn lane.
Under Virginia law, each city and county receives state funding for road maintenance based on the number of travel lane-miles. Road Diets reduce the number of travel lanes from 4 to 2, but don’t change maintenance costs, so cities and counties must make up the difference. Thus, there is a financial disincentive in Virginia to implement this otherwise inexpensive safety strategy.
This bill has a charmed life. The bill’s patron, Del Villanueva, is also the chair of the House Transportation Committee, and he assigned it directly to the Transportation Committee. It passed with no opposition! Bills that pass committee with no opposition are added to a block. The House passes the entire block, rather than the individual bills. Anyone can pull a bill from that stack, but no one did, so HB2023 passed the House with the block.
For the past few years in Missouri, I’ve followed hopefully one attempt after another to ban texting-while-driving. Missouri is one of just 4 states that allows this. As smartphones become more sophisticated, distracted driving crashes soar. 14 states prohibit the use of handheld devices while driving. When driving in New Mexico last year, I saw a sign announcing this prohibition, so I pulled over to launch my navigation app! This year in Virginia, several bills attempt to address the issue.
SB860 Handheld Device Usage (Surovell) and HB2435 (Minchew)
Prohibits use of handheld devices while driving. I was able to attend the Senate Transportation Subcommittee 1 hearing of SB860 in Richmond (my first hearing in Virginia). I listened to one group after another speak in support. No one spoke in opposition. Then I watched in amazement as the subcommittee voted to pass it by indefinitely– along party lines. That is why it is so important for a bill to get bipartisan support! HB2435 was incorporated into HB1834.
HB1606 No Handheld Devices While in Work Zones (Villanueva)
Prohibits the use of handheld devices while driving in a work zone. Passed the House.
HB1834 Distracted Driving Infraction (Anderson) and SB1406 (Vogel/Black)
Law enforcement and judges are reluctant to charge someone with Reckless Driving, which comes with severe penalties, so distracted drivers are often simply not charged. This bill creates the infraction Distracted Driving, with less severe penalties than Reckless Driving. SB1406 bounced between committees before failing. HB1834 failed in subcommittee.
SB1339 Vulnerable User/ Due Care (Surovell) and HB1633 (Sullivan/LeMunyon)
Creates an infraction in the event that a vulnerable user is injured as a result of careless or distracted driving. HB1633 was tabled in the Criminal Courts Subcommittee as it was thought HB1834 would cover the same purpose. However, HB1834 failed in committee. Several senators including Sen. Sutterlein (from Roanoke) broke party lines in support of SB1339, which passed the Senate.
This set of bills was inspired by the family of a girl who was struck and killed by a driver with poor vision.
HB1504 Minimum Standards for Vision Tests (Fowler) and SB1229 (Dunnavant)
Increases the horizontal field of vision requirement and would necessitate replacing 634 testing machines in DMV offices at a cost of $2.2 million. HB1504 passed the House and after crossover has passed the Senate Transportation Committee. SB1229 has performed similarly well, passing the Senate and now the House Transportation Committee.
HB1514 Reporting Disabilities of Drivers (Fowler) and SB1024 (Dunnavant)
Exempts medical personnel from civil liability if they report persons who should not be driving to the DMV. HB1514 and SB1024 each passed House and Senate and are now bouncing around committees on the other side.
Sidewalks and Bike Lanes
HB2016 Drones on Sidewalks and SB1207 (DeSteph)
Addresses the operation of small, low-speed, driverless delivery vehicles on sidewalks and trails. People who walk and bike are watching this one cautiously, not sure yet whether they approve or not! I think they just some assurance that our sidewalks and trails aren’t congested with delivery drones! HB2016 passed the House. SB1207 passed the Senate and has passed the House Transportation Committee.
SB1338 Prohibit Passing in the Bike Lane (Surovell)
I didn’t quite understand what this bill was about until I passed through Charlottesville and saw some of the widest bike lanes I’d ever seen– nearly as wide as the main travel lane! Several cities in Virginia have wide bike lanes and motorists use them as passing lanes, putting the bicyclists the bike lanes are meant to protect at risk. This bill would prohibit the use of a bike lane as a passing lane. SB1338 passed the Senate.
HB2021 Trail Permitted on Unused Light Rail Right-of-Way (Villanueva)
Allows a trail to be built on the unused light rail right-of-way between Virginia Beach and Norfolk. The light rail project failed to get the necessary funds raised. While all bills seem to get a hearing in Virginia, not all bills get a vote, and the Transportation Committee hadn’t voted on HB2021 by crossover, so it is dead for this year.
And a couple of bills that don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories.
SB1223 Bicycling Under the Influence (Barker)
Makes it a Class 2 Misdemeanor to operate a bicycle while intoxicated. Failed to report out of committee.
SB1510 Trooper at Work Zone May Issue Ticket for Speeding (Carrico)
Allows a state trooper in a work zone to issue a speeding ticket using a handheld speed gun with a camera. Passed by indefinitely.
Rachel Ruhlen is a Transportation Planner with the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission.