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Small steps can help bicycling in Virginia

The Virginia legislature is gearing up for its annual session. Each year is an opportunity for the legislature to fix some of the ways state law fails to provide even some of the most basic protections for cyclists, protections which exist in most other states.

Photo by 50mm_Streettog on Flickr.

For example, Virginia has no law requiring drivers to "exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian or the operator of a human-powered vehicle," and is one of only 4 states without this rule. Even though police in most jurisdictions with the rule rarely ticket or investigate drivers who hit pedestrians and cyclists, it should be a no-brainer to at least make it illegal to recklessly hit someone.

Likewise, Virginia has a rule against "tailgating" other motor vehicles, but not cyclists. Both proposals failed last year, with Delegate Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) casting a deciding vote against them. Constituents should urge her to support these bills, which are really the very least Virginia could do to protect vulnerable road users.

"Dooring" bill isn't quirky, it's essential

Senator "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax) has introduced a "dooring" bill to make Virginia law match Maryland, DC and many other states. In those places, it's a driver's or car passenger's responsibility to make sure when they open a door, it's not right in the path of a cyclist or other "moving traffic" (but really, it's cyclists). In Virginia, there's no requirement to be careful when opening a door, which means that if someone doors a cyclist, police can cite the cyclist for hitting the door instead.

Unfortunately, a Post article on "quirky proposals" in the legislative session highlights this one, even in the first paragraph. Reporter Errin Haines mentions this bill in more detail shortly after quoting Speaker William Howell talking about how he keeps a file of "the stupidest bills."

It's perhaps understandable that one might not immediately know the reason for the bill by reading the legislative summary, but this is actually an important issue that the legislature needs to take seriously.

If Route 1 has to be too wide, leave room for cyclists, too

WABA is also asking Virginians to submit comments on the Route 1 widening in southern Fairfax. Alex Eidson explained many of the problems with the proposal from an urban design standpoint, but as long as they're going ahead, the new road could at least safely accommodate bicyclists.

As Allen Muchnick explains, the original EIS for the road, which is basically the only way to bike through the Fort Belvoir area, had 15-foot curb lanes, enough for cars and bikes to share the space side by side. However, the Federal Highway Administration reduced this to only 14 feet.

Bike advocates would like to restore 15 feet, and stripe the lane as a 10-foot regular lane and a 5-foot bike lane. You can send comments using this WABA form.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Interesting, but I thought steps (even small ones) are a hassle to cyclists.

by Babs on Jan 4, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

Oh, Virginia. When will you grow up and realize you're not a small colony anymore that can be reigned in a few weeks a year. You're grown up now, with eight million people now. That's as many as in independent countries as Switzerland or Israel. Instead of talking about reelecting one person, can we please get a professional legislature? You know, like those real countries? You are not only an agricultural commonwealth anymore where only large property owners have a say. Many people are now working in the most advanced side of science and technology. Thomas Jefferson would be so proud of them. And they don't only live in the northern and eastern corner of the state, but also in the Richmond, Charlottesville, Blacksburg and Harrisonburg.

by Jasper on Jan 4, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

That's silly, everyone knows peds and bikes need to stay out of cars way. I mean hello people in cars are more important and always have priority, it's common knowledge.

by Alan B. on Jan 4, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

Ah, I see they're dealing with the serious stuff immediately... Sigh... Facepalm...

So what's the chance legislators that are very pro-life could not care less about the safety and lives of pedestrians and bikers?

by Jasper on Jan 4, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

If I'm inside the beltway, I'd rather be biking in Virginia that just about anywhere in Maryland, and even most places in DC.

by Kolohe on Jan 4, 2013 3:40 pm • linkreport


if inside the beltway means Arlington and City of Alex, sure.

Inside the beltway Fairfax? Like Annandale, or Baileys Crossroads? I would strongly disagree.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 4, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

"So what's the chance legislators that are very pro-life could not care less about the safety and lives of pedestrians and bikers?"

fetuses didnt chooose to be there. Cyclists are being irresponsible by riding on the road, where they endanger themselves, and make me TWO MINUTES later for where I NEED to be, dammit, can't you see what a pain driving already is, Im frazzled, get off my road dammit, go ride on a sidepath, if that dont work, get a car and ride with me like ANY sane human being, dammit to hell and back (did you see that truck just cut me off!!!) and not like some elitist holier than though enviro hipster ......

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 4, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

Somehow whenever I cycle in Arlington, I seem to be able to complete most of my route on a nice cycle trail, whereas in DC and Montgomery co, you've got the Capital Crescent Trail and that's basically it.

by renegade09 on Jan 4, 2013 5:55 pm • linkreport


I tend to agree somewhat, Arlington is quite nice to bike in, the rest of Virginia, not so much.

by Kyle-W on Jan 5, 2013 8:51 am • linkreport

A Walker in the City is upset because he posted this over on City Data asking for support and was met with opposition from folks who have had bad experiences with cyclist scofflaws and don't want new and rather vague laws on the books in our state.

I know that's hard for most GGW readers to fathom, but we're more interested in keeping the state in the top 10 states for business than currying favor with hobbyist cyclists who think it's ironic to call themselves "hipsters."

by Laughin' on Jan 5, 2013 6:30 pm • linkreport

we're more interested in keeping the state in the top 10 states for business than currying favor with hobbyist cyclists

Did you know what kind of places in VA do the best job of creating jobs and promoting commerce? It's the same places that are (or are attempting to) make themselves decent places to get around by bike. So, let's try and replicate the success of places like Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Tysons, and Reston in the rest of the state.

folks who have had bad experiences with cyclist scofflaws and don't want new and rather vague laws on the books in our state.

These laws have withstood the test of time in 46 other states. There's no evidence that they're too vague.

by Falls Church on Jan 5, 2013 9:43 pm • linkreport

@ Laughin:we're more interested in keeping the state in the top 10 states for business

Please, entertain me, and explain how all those abortion laws help Virginia stay in the top 10 states for business. Please, entertain me, and explain how allowing the governor to get reelected is going to help Virginia stay in the top 10 states for business. And please, entertain me, and explain how the current politicians reversing course on virtually all policy is going to help Virginia stay in the top 10 states for business where it got under the leadership of its current US senators.

by Jasper on Jan 5, 2013 10:24 pm • linkreport

whats City data?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 6, 2013 10:31 am • linkreport

Alan b... [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] First of all, how can you assume that people in cars are more important.. Why? Because they are more bigger? All this proposition asks is that before a driver exits their vehicle... just check your blind spot for any on coming vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, unicycles... WHATEVER.. I live in an urban area, and people open their doors without checking and often strike on coming cars. If anything this should just be common sense. There is no reason that the safety of ANYONE is not worth the nano second it takes to check your blind spot before exiting your vehicle.. AT LEAST IN AN URBAN SETTING..

This is coming from a daily driver, and a cyclist

by Zach on Jan 7, 2013 3:45 am • linkreport

I've biked in MD, DC and VA. I much prefer VA over the other two because of the extensive trails system. C'mon, W&OD, MVT, 4MR, etc. It's ironic too given Maryland's stated preference for all things environmental. Then again, the ICC has no free toll for HOV vehicles, yet VA does. Sometimes I think purple states are much more realistic than dark blue or dark red states. It seems to produce the best outcomes.

I'll contact Comstock as I both bike, live in VA, and am, *gasp*, a Republican. I suspect that there was more to the story than just killing a bill given it passed the state senate with a bipartisan majority (28-12). Probably an amendment threat or something to that effect. Either way, I would still like the law in it's most basic form given I've had people tailgating me in the bike-friendly nova.

by T1 on Jan 7, 2013 10:31 am • linkreport

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