New bike bill hopes to make streets safer for cyclists

New bike bill hopes to make streets safer for cyclists
A bicyclist carries groceries home in Richmond Va., March 18, 2020. (Source: Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury)

Last year cyclists in the commonwealth scored a big win in the General Assembly as part of a coalition backing a hands-free law to prevent distracted driving. This year the state’s bike lobby is backing a bill they say will make Virginia one of the safest states in the nation for bicycles.

The Bicycle Safety Act (HB2262 / SB1263) would require drivers to fully change lanes to pass people biking, allow cyclists to ride two abreast in a lane, and permit people on bicycles to treat stop signs as yield signs.  The Senate version advanced out of the Transportation committee Thursday on an 11-4 vote.

For year, in cities like Richmond and elsewhere, there’s been a steady push for more cycling infrastructure, including bike lanes and bike share programs. But across the country the pandemic has sparked as much as  a 50 percent increase in the number of people who regularly ride a bike in some cities. The search for safe ways to exercise combined with a reluctance to ride mass transit, has contributed to the nationwide bike boom. Meanwhile, the commonwealth’s tally of annual cyclist deaths has hovered in the low double digits for nearly a decade, but with more riders now on the road, advocates and some local officials say it’s time to advance a new round of bike safety measures.

“This legislation is definitely needed to clarify the relationship between cars and bikes on our roads,” said Richmond City Councilmember Andreas Addison. “As the proliferation of cycling infrastructure moves forward, more people are riding bikes, so we need to make sure drivers know how to operate with cyclists’ safety in mind.”

One year ago Addison introduced a package of 28 city ordinances and resolutions — dubbed Streets for All — designed to tackle Richmond’s multimodal shortcomings. Due to the Dillon Rule which limits the ability of localities to exercise powers the state has not expressly granted them, many pieces of his package could only move forward as resolutions. “Most of them have passed because they were just a message of council’s support for these matters,” Addison said. “There are limitations between what the city can do on its own and what the state has to allow us to do.”

All three provisions in this year’s Bicycle Safety Act are outstanding items from Addison’s Streets for All package, which is how the bill made it onto Richmond’s 2021 legislative wish list for the General Assembly.

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