Virginia legislators have introduced bills that would make biking safer for both cyclists and drivers across the Commonwealth.
By Katherine Johnson and Blake Belden | Capital News Service
Brantley Tyndall, a Richmond bicyclist, used his only form of transportation to show up in support of Bicycle Action Day at the Capitol. This session, Virginia legislators have introduced several bills that advocates say would make biking safer across the commonwealth.
Tyndall says he relies on biking as his means of transportation, because it’s fast, cheap, fun and environmentally friendly and it keeps him healthy. While Tyndall himself hasn’t been involved in a bike accident, he knows several people who have.
“Cyclists should be protected, and it’s better for all road users in general. It’s not all about cyclists,” he said.
Tyndall is a board member of RideRichmond, a nonprofit organization of bicycle enthusiasts. This was the first Bicycle Action Day held by the group.
About 15 bicyclists–members of RideRichmond 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,” Tyndall said.
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.”
Michael Gilbert, co-founder of RideRichmond, agreed.
“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,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert praised the efforts of Sens. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, and Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, and Delegate Alfonso Lopez, D–Arlington, for their bicycle legislation.
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 “often times 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 last week passed the Senate, 23-17. It has been referred to the House Transportation Committee.
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.
“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.”
Lopez has proposed a similar measure, House Bill 1950. It would prohibit the driver of a motor vehicle from following mopeds, bikes and other non-motorized vehicles too closely. The House Transportation Committee voted 20-1 for the bill, but it has languished in the House.
“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.
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.