Delegate Chris Hurst’s (D-Montgomery) Bicycling Safety Act passed the Senate on Wednesday. The Senate version of the bill focuses on increasing passing safety. It requires drivers to move over a lane if there isn’t room to pass bicyclists by three feet, and it also allows two bicyclists to ride side-by side in a lane. It also creates a study of the potential effects of a “Safety Stop,” a traffic law that would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yields under certain conditions.
In the House Transportation Motor Vehicles subcommittee, Hurst said that the pandemic has triggered a 120 percent increase in bike sales. He said, “What we want to do is address safety implications that have been going on before the pandemic and into the future. In Virginia, about a dozen people die while riding a bike in traffic every single year, and hundreds are injured, nearly a thousand.”
Originally, instead of just creating a study, HB 2262 would have included a safety stop provision. That version passed the House with broad bipartisan support 75 to 24. But senators worried about the bill. Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) introduced the amendment to merely study the Safety Stop while retaining the other provisions of the bill.
“I appreciate that it’s eliminated treating stop signs as yield signs which I think is absolutely ludicrous,” Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) said on Wednesday. Norment also disagreed with wording in the legislation that would allow bicyclists riding side-by-side to impede traffic until it was safe to pass. Norment said that he lives near the Virginia Capital Trail, and many bicyclists ride through his neighborhood side-by-side. “I just think that is a terrible policy mistake,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) asked if the requirement to pass in a separate lane applied where there is a double-yellow line. Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) explained that it is already legal to cross a double-yellow line to pass a bicyclist.
The Senate’s version passed 21 to 18, with bipartisan support and opposition; both Saslaw and Norment voted against the bill. The bill now returns to the House for approval before heading to the governor’s desk.
The Virginia Bicycling Federation cites statistics that 45 percent of fatal bicyclist crashes occur when a vehicle is passing. They explain that Virginia’s current three-foot passing requirement is difficult for drivers to judge in practice.
“Changing lanes to pass, like how one would pass another car, is easy to understand, educate, practice, and enforce, and is easier for the driver and safer and more comfortable for the bicyclist,” a Virginia Bicycle Federation (VBF) FAQ states.
The VBF also argues that allowing bicyclists to ride two abreast is safer because it lets cars pass them more quickly and discourages passing too closely.
The VBF points to data from other states with safety stop laws, noting that the laws correlate with fewer bike crashes and injuries. VBF President Brantley Tyndall said that even though the safety stop clause was removed from HB 2262, the bill was still a big moment. “While it may feel like a loss on the Safety Stop, we were able to get essentially two new bills through on the first try,” he wrote in an update. “Shooting for three bill elements was a bit of a heavy lift and at moments felt like we were risking progress, but it gave us room to negotiate and to use the best comparable data from around the country.”
In the subcommittee, Hurst said, “I’m probably one of the least likely people to patron this bill. As someone who formerly has looked at with disdain cyclists in front of me while I’ve been on those rural roads, and I’m not a cyclist myself, in fact I hate bicycling.”
Hurst also added, “I do believe that we need to instill new driving behavior and trying to instill that in drivers which is that to the furthest extent possible we want people passing cyclists with as much room as is practicable and that there is no where that you are going that you need to get there so fast that you can’t pass a cyclist safely.”
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