Each year, the Virginia Bicycle Federation monitors and advocates for or against bills that might affect bicycling and walking in Virginia, bills that could make it safer and easier or more dangerous and difficult to bicycle and walk. RIDE Solutions reports on the bills that the Virginia Bicycle Federation is watching. This article is for informational purposes; RIDE Solutions neither endorses nor opposes proposed legislation. You can find more information and track bills at http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/
As surprised as I was to see the Bicyclist Safety Act (SB1263, HB2262) easily pass Senate Transportation Committee (11-4), House Transportation Motor Vehicle Subcommittee (8-2), AND the House Transportation Committee (16-5), I was taken aback that after all that success it failed on the Senate floor – with some of the same people who voted FOR it in committee now voting AGAINST it (16-22).
All was not lost as it then passed in the House with a wide margin (75-24). Crossover is February 5 and it will then go back to the Senate where it is scheduled to be heard again in the Transportation Committee next week.
The main objection of Senators who voted against it is the provision that bicyclists must yield at stop signs. The Bicyclist Safety Act has three provisions: Change lanes to pass, bicyclists may ride two abreast, and bicyclists must yield the right-of-way at stop signs. Yielding at stop signs is safer and more practical for bicyclists than a full stop. Most bicyclists yield, rather than coming to a full stop, at stop signs now, so this would bring the law into alignment with common practice. In other states, the data show that this law does not compromise bicyclist safety and may improve it. This law has been abused by law enforcement in Virginia, with one organized ride resulting in 52 citations issued for failing to stop at a stop sign. There is also concern that it could be used to target minority bicyclists.
This has been a bipartisan bill with predominantly Democrat support but receiving a lot of Republican votes as well. When it failed on the Senate floor, the nay votes came from both Democrats and Republicans. This has been an interesting story to watch.
HB1903, which removes the requirement of a speed study before lowering speed limits in residential and business districts, has effortlessly flown through the House, reporting out unanimously from subcommittee and committee and not quite unanimously from the House. This bill might seem a little obscure, but removing this requirement makes it easier for localities to reduce speed limits which improves traffic safety for everyone, pedestrians and bicyclists as well as motorists. A speed study merely describes how fast people travel, and tells nothing about how safe that speed is. Last year, the City of Roanoke reduced speed limits in school zones from 25 mph to 15 mph (after performing the required speed study). While the City had the courage to make this change in school zones, other localities may hesitate either because of the requirement of conducting the speed study or fear of opposition that may cite the speed study as justifying a higher speed limit.