Greater Greater Washington

Virginia General Assembly rolls up its sleeves

Virginia's 2014 General Assembly is officially in session. As usual, there are plenty of proposed bills that could affect urban areas. Here are some of the key ones to follow.


Virginia flag image from Shutterstock.com.

Bills that look promising:

  • SB97, requiring car drivers to leave three feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist.
  • HB761, allowing local governments to hire transit fare inspectors and to collect fines from fare violators. This will be necessary for any future streetcars that use a proof of payment fare structure.
  • HB626, changing the formula used to distribute transportation funds around the state, eliminating a provision that took $500 million off the top and allocated it to highways.
  • SB320, sponsored by Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington), allowing jurisdictions in Northern Virginia to implement plastic bag fees.
  • HB212, prohibiting drivers from holding pets while driving.
  • HB482, making failing to wear a seatbelt a primary offense, allowing police to stop and ticket people for that alone.
Bills that look troubling:
  • HB2, limiting transportation funding going to the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads construction districts to only projects that reduce highway congestion. Safety projects, maintenance projects, many transit and bike/ped projects, and just about everything else would be excluded.
  • HB40, HB41, HB425, HB635, and several others that all seek to reduce Northern Virginia's authority to build its own transportation projects, especially transit.
  • HB426, requiring VDOT to widen I-66 in Arlington.
  • HB281, restricting Northern Virginia from partnering with DC or Maryland on transportation projects, unless the costs are born exactly equally.
  • HB160, giving courts authority to reduce charges currently defined as "reckless driving" to merely "speeding."
  • HB792, requiring Northern Virginia communities to rewrite their zoning ordinances to restrict the number of housing units smaller than 500 square feet.
  • HB908, defining Uber as a "contract passenger carrier" rather than a taxicab, effectively removing any ability of localities to regulate it.
Other bills of interest:
  • HB870, providing a tax credit to companies that build their own infrastructure, including new roads.
  • SB505, a huge bill enacting a broad range of incentives for the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel.
  • HB560, allowing VDOT to grant Right of Way (ROW) permits to certain types of private companies, instead of only to public utilities.
  • HB691, creating a "Prince William Metrorail Improvement District," to begin the process to extend Metro into Prince William County.
  • SB156, requiring that either toll rates for E-ZPass users and non-E-ZPass users be set the same, or requiring the operator of a toll road to pay the annual fee for all E-ZPass users living within 50 miles of a toll road. This bill comes from Senator John Miller of the Hampton Roads area, where they are debating controversial proposals to let private operators collect tolls in exchange for rebuilding tunnels. But if the law passes it would also include much of Northern Virginia.
  • SB1, from Adam Ebbin again, that would repeal a higher tax on hybrid-electric cars. The tax was originally imposed to make up for such cars contributing less to the gas tax. Ebbin questions whether taxing more efficient vehicles is the best way to solve that issue.
  • HB122, defining three-wheeled mini cars that kind of look like hardcore golf carts with bigger engines as "autocycles" and regulating them in various ways. It's not a coincidence that this bill comes from Edward T. Scott, delegate from the very district that's home to the first autocycle manufacturing plant in the US.
  • HB475, legalizing pedestrians stepping into the roadway to solicit charitable contributions.
  • HB255, requiring red light cameras to have yellow light phases lasting at least three seconds.
It's going to be an exciting year, with numerous bills to root both for and against. There are also a lot of bills about the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and how Virginia will allocate the money from last year's transportation funding deal. We'll talk about those next week.
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Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Falls Church.  

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HB160, giving courts authority to reduce charges currently defined as "reckless driving" to merely "speeding."

Having been there and had to fight it, I have to say I dont find this troubling at all.
Should driving 81mph in a 70mph zone be against the law, yes. Should it be punished with a $3,000 fine, 1 year in prison, and a conviction that will prevent you from getting work for the next 7 years, no.

Speeding is speeding, reckless driving is something different.

by Richard on Jan 17, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

This is a really helpful breakdown of the bills. It would be really great to have an update every few days/weeks on whether any of these have passed. (I'm worried about all the ones targeting transportation funding for NoVa)

by Glebe on Jan 17, 2014 12:31 pm • linkreport

Uber is a taxi service. I wonder how much money did Uber pay in bribes to pass HB908 and remain beyond and above all local regulations and taxes.

This is just ludicrous. Regulate Uber same as all other taxi companies. Enough is enough. Uber is destroying the fabric
of local transportaton for the sake of its own corporate profit. Regulate Uber now or there will be noone to regulate and a simple ride will cost passengers hundreds of dollars. Yeap, that actually does happen already.

by Dean on Jan 17, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

I assume the PW Metrorail bill is to get the Blue Line to Woodbridge? That seems to be what the local powers that be are getting behind. With Loudoun and PW potentially in the WMATA mix now, I wonder if Howard/Frederick/Charles/AA are going to ever get in the mix on the MD side?

by BTA on Jan 17, 2014 1:03 pm • linkreport

•SB97, requiring car drivers to leave three feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist.

honest question, not trying to bait: what is the sensibility behind the three feet rule? why not four? or three? Is there a metric behind it.

As a driver and a bicyclist, I always try to pass bikes as far over as possible because I know how harrowing it can be. I don't mind dipping over the line when its safe to do so. Where I will point to an issue with the guideline is when the occasional biker rides 5 feet from the edge of the road, making it not only legally impossible to pass him, but physically impractical.

We should have some sort of metro-like guidelines for shared lanes: Bikers keep right; cars keep left. Simplifies lane sharing and expectations

by Honestquestion on Jan 17, 2014 1:22 pm • linkreport

We should have some sort of metro-like guidelines for shared lanes: Bikers keep right; cars keep left. Simplifies lane sharing and expectations

We do, slower traffic should keep right and allow faster traffic to pass on the left when possible and safe.

The problem arises when some of that traffic does not follow the above does not follow the above rule.
Either the car driver gets impatient and passes when it is not safe or the bicyclist gets angry at everyone passing and tries to take up the whole lane even when passing would be possible and safe.

by Richard on Jan 17, 2014 1:29 pm • linkreport

There is a difference between providing a guidance "pass with care" and providing a number "you must have at least 3 feet".

The former could allow a driver who hits a cyclist to argue out a policeman or judge that they were passing with care and hitting the cyclist was unavoidable. The latter autmatically says that obviously if you were in contact with someone you were in violation of the law and that gives cyclists/police an advantage.

Now, Va. already had a 2 foot minimum but 3 is the standard in almost every other state that defines a minimum distance. I'm about 5'11" That means if a car passes within 2 feet of me I can easily reach out and touch it. 3 feet puts it out of my arm range and that feels much more comfortable. And this is just a minimum and is always conditional. Nothing prohibits one from giving more than 3 feet.

by Canaan on Jan 17, 2014 1:41 pm • linkreport

That and a requirement for cyclists to ride as far to the right as practicable encourages closer passing. Which is why many people encourage cyclists to take the lane if they're riding without a bike lane.

by Canaan on Jan 17, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

Lots of tinkering with the vaunted "transportation compromise" that passed last year. The legislation is barely six months old and special interests are already trying to scrap parts of it. I would like to ask Sen. Ebbin what should replace the hybrid fee. Hybrids already receive substantial personal property tax breaks that more than offset the modest fee.

by Paul on Jan 17, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

Here's hoping the plastic bag fee bill dies in committee.

@BTA: Personally, I think it's the Yellow Line that should be extended to Woodbridge. Hopefully if a bill like that a.) passes or b.) is at least properly written, it will link up with the Route 1 transit study and provide for some kind of corridor down from Huntington. Blue needs extending, too, but I'd do it differently.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Jan 17, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

The former could allow a driver who hits a cyclist to argue out a policeman or judge that they were passing with care and hitting the cyclist was unavoidable. The latter autmatically says that obviously if you were in contact with someone you were in violation of the law and that gives cyclists/police an advantage.

Most of the blame goes on the passing driver/cyclist. Similarly if there were 2 cars, and one was passing the other, there is no minimum 3 ft distance within which the passing car has to keep while overtaking.

It really should come down to competent police and judges, sadly those are in short supply/never around when you need them. A 3ft minimum distance law might help the incompetent, hopefully it will.

by Richard on Jan 17, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

I'm agnotistic on Yellow vs Blue but Blue looks much easier to implement given existing ROW and arguably may have more direct impact on 395 traffic which is the main concern I think.

by BTA on Jan 17, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

@ Richard:Should driving 81mph in a 70mph zone be against the law, yes. Should it be punished with a $3,000 fine, 1 year in prison, and a conviction that will prevent you from getting work for the next 7 years, no.

The problem is that under VA going over 80 is standard reckless driving. That made sense before ex-gov McDonald increased the speed limit to 70 in large parts of the state and 80 became closer to the speed limit.

Speeding is speeding, reckless driving is something different.

That depends. Going 81 in a 25 mph zone is quite reckless.

HB2, limiting transportation funding going to the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads construction districts to only projects that reduce highway congestion. Safety projects, maintenance projects, many transit and bike/ped projects, and just about everything else would be excluded.

That is just BS. Either it goes for the whole state, or not.

HB281, restricting Northern Virginia from partnering with DC or Maryland on transportation projects, unless the costs are born exactly equally.

Nonsense.

by Jasper on Jan 17, 2014 2:40 pm • linkreport

A lot of bills trying to strip the powers of the CTB, NVTA and de-fund the transportation bill, are being put forward by anti-spending GOP politicians like Marshall and Hugo who are trying to win over some populist support from the anti-BCP NIMBYs out in their districts.

The problem with their opposition to this road is they have a scorched-earth mentality and don't care who (or what) they bring down with it.

by Joe on Jan 17, 2014 2:46 pm • linkreport

@BTA: Short-term, Blue might be easier to implement. Long-term, I think it's Yellow that will be key, at least when it comes to Woodbridge.

Ah, who'm I kidding? Nobody wants to think long-term about this stuff.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Jan 17, 2014 2:56 pm • linkreport

Hybrids already receive substantial personal property tax breaks that more than offset the modest fee.

The Commonwealth provides no extra or special personal property tax breaks for hybrids. Although, some localities do provide such a break. Loudoun used to but no longer does.

Similarly if there were 2 cars, and one was passing the other, there is no minimum 3 ft distance within which the passing car has to keep while overtaking.

Yeah, but cars pass each other in separate lanes. I'd be fine with saying the 3 feet rule only applies when a car is passing a cyclist in the same lane. If the driver and cyclist are in separate lanes, no need for the 3 feet rule.

by Falls Church on Jan 17, 2014 3:32 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
"Should driving 81mph in a 70mph zone be against the law, yes. Should it be punished with a $3,000 fine, 1 year in prison, and a conviction that will prevent you from getting work for the next 7 years, no."
The problem is that under VA going over 80 is standard reckless driving. That made sense before ex-gov McDonald increased the speed limit to 70 in large parts of the state and 80 became closer to the speed limit.

"Speeding is speeding, reckless driving is something different."

That depends. Going 81 in a 25 mph zone is quite reckless.
81 in a 25 is probably reckless, it depends on what conditions exist that caused them to deem a 25mph zone was appropriate. My point is that speed alone is not enough to be considered driving recklessly as depending on circumstances you might not be endangering anyone. Depending on other circumstances going well under the speed limit might still be reckless, for instance at night in a horrid snowstorm while driving a high CG, 2wd truck with bald tires.

by Richard on Jan 17, 2014 4:48 pm • linkreport

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that going 81 in a 25 is always reckless. I'm pretty sure VDOT or whoever didn't throw up a 25mph sign just to screw with you. I'd hate to think that speed limits are set arbitrarily. I understand that 81 isn't reckless in a 70mph zone, however.... Maybe they should just define 20mph over the speed limit as reckless driving and leave it at that.

The anti-NOVA, anti-Hampton Roads bills are ridiculous, and bordering on animus.

by Steven H on Jan 17, 2014 6:23 pm • linkreport

From what ive read they are looking into extending both. Blueline would use the rail line right of way till wodbridge then turn west to potomec mills the yellow is planned to go down route on to teoegrpah road. If you ask me its quite dumb to not just have the yellow go a mile or two more and connect to the blueline at the csx bridge area. It would allow there to be a semi loop sort of and wouldnt require you to travel to king street then back south if your going to lorton telegraph or fort belvoir. Ive been working of a pdf like proposal for these to send to the key people anyone know who submitted that bill?

by zombiexm on Jan 18, 2014 12:13 am • linkreport

@ Richard:81 in a 25 is probably reckless, it depends on what conditions exist

No. 81 in a 25 is always reckless. Period.
Now, if you want to go to extreme examples, then you can probably come up with a case in which the recklessness is the lesser evil. And that's why judges have leeway. Nevertheless, 81 in a 25 is reckless.

by Jasper on Jan 19, 2014 10:41 pm • linkreport

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