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Posted In: Road Biking

2 of 3 bike-related bills die in General Assembly

March 10, 2014 9:58am

At the beginning of the General Assembly session, we posted a piece looking at the three major bicycle-related bills in front of the GA. One would have increased the minimum clearance between cars and bikes when passing to three feet. Another would have made “dooring,” opening one’s door into the path of an oncoming cyclist, punishable by a fine. And the third would have barred motorists from tailgating cyclists.

Seen any of these in Richmond? We haven't either.

Seen any of these in Richmond? We haven’t either.

Two of the three bills died in committee. Only the first — the three-foot clearance law — is headed to the governor for his signature. According to the Virginia Bicycling Federation:

Though Delegate Barbara Comstock (R – Fairfax/Loudon) wasn’t successful with HB82, requiring motorists to not follow cyclists too closely, she certainly made a valiant effort to get it through the Senate Transportation Committee — where a number of longtime supporters voted against the bill.  Considering that Virginia is the only state which doesn’t protect cyclists from being tailgated, this legislation merely corrected an embarrasing omission to the existing Code.  It seems larger forces (Politics!) may have influenced the outcome of what seems like a common sense bill.

Senator Chap Petersen (D – Fairfax) suffered a similar fate with his SB225 before the Senate Transportation Committee.

You might expect that opinion from a group called the Virginia Bicycling Federation. It’s their job to champion bicycle issue. But in this morning’s paper, the Times-Dispatch Editorial Page offers a similar assessment: The two bills that failed, it said, fell prey to pettiness.

Citing people on both sides of the issue, a report in The Washington Post attributes the fall of the dooring bill to rural resentment and suburban road rage. Not exactly high-minded principles, are they?

The Senate Transportation Committee, which has an 8-7 Democratic majority, passed by the tailgating measure. Chairman Creigh Deeds has supported the proposal in the past. He said he didn’t this year because “you always reserve the right to be smarter than you were the day before.”

That’s one explanation. Here’s another: This year the bill was carried by Del. Barbara Comstock, a Republican who is running for Congress — and Democrats didn’t want to give her another line to put on campaign brochures. So Virginia will remain the only state that does not protect bicyclists from tailgating. Who — besides Deeds — thinks Virginia is smarter on the issue than the rest of the country?

The T-D’s PolitiFact Virginia service also ran their “Truth-O-Meter” on Comstock’s statement that five Democratic state senators were for the bicycle tailgating bill “before they were against it.” They found Comstock’s statement to be true.

As the VBF writes on their siteUntil we make our roads and streets safe for all cyclists, we are facing an uphill battle to expect average citizens to choose to ride their bikes to work, school, for errands exercise or vacation.

About Andy Thompson

I was the Outdoors Columnist at the Times-Dispatch from 2007 to 2013, writing twice a week about mountain biking, fishing, hunting, paddling and much more. I live a 1/4 mile from the James River, close enough to see bald eagles soaring over my house on their way to find a meal. Pretty cool, eh?