Big results at the 2021 General Assembly, part 1
By: Brantley Tyndall, Bike Walk RVA Director of Outreach
Since forming in 2012, we at Bike Walk RVA have invested our effort primarily in work to support biking and walking infrastructure. There is no substitute for dedicating space for active transportation and healthy recreation, and since built environment projects take years of effort to design, fund, and build, we put our weight there predominately.
Increasingly we are working around the edges of that infrastructure focus to improve the safety, comfort, and convenience of walking and biking, in part because sidewalks, bike lanes, and paved trails can take a long time to complete. And few will argue that we can make improvements to every street in all corners of our region at the same time, so there is work to do in the interim.
After a few years of low key side-kicking at the General Assembly followed by our first substantive foray into the legislative process last year, Sports Backers took a leading role in the 2021 session. We championed a Complete Streets-minded bill and heavily supported an ambitious bike bill lead by Virginia Bicycling Federation.
15mph Bill – Richmond Delegate Betsy Carr carried a bill that got its start last year as part of a different and larger package that was unsuccessful. This bill allows localities to lower speed limits in residential and business districts to lower than 25 but no lower than 15, giving our cities, towns, and counties the ability to optimize places where people walk for pedestrian safety and comfort.
Why the focus on speed? Every single fatal crash is a function of speed, which is impact energy. Speed-ing, which is exceeding the speed limit, is increasingly a cause of fatal crashes, going up 12.5% in 2020 despite a reduced number of crashes. That means speeding crashes got deadlier.
2019 saw an all time record of pedestrian fatalities in Virginia at 126. It was 123 in 2020, a minor reduction that is overshadowed by the drastic reduction in driving during the pandemic. It is more accurate to view that number as an increase per mile driven.
This bill, HB1903, passed the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by the Governor.
Bicyclist Safety Act – this three-part bill – carried by Delegate Chris Hurst (Blacksburg) and Senator Joe Morrissey (Petersburg/Henrico) – got a lot of energy during the session. It would: require drivers to change lanes to pass a bicyclist, allow bike riders to stay two abreast (i.e., not single up when approached from the rear), and allow bike riders to treat stop signs as yield signs (what some call the Idaho stop and has been called the Safety Stop).
Virginia Bicycling Federation and its many partners put together a comprehensive and handy FAQ about the legislation – it suffices to say that the bill elements would reduce crashes, prevent injuries, and save lives. We joined hundreds of advocates around the state to educate legislators on the benefits of the bill. Over the course of the session, the senate version was killed, and we rallied behind the House version for a second shot at it. It passed with two thirds of the elements intact, replacing the Safety Stop with a study of that practice to be conducted by Virginia State Police and its partnering bike organizations.
Said another way, a new requirement for drivers to change lanes to pass was approved by both houses of the General Assembly, as well as allowing bike riders to stay side-by-side! It awaits signature by the Governor.
None of this would have been possible if Delegates Carr and Hurst and Senator Morrissey hadn’t heard the call of bike/ped safety advocates to carry these bills, so big thanks to them for taking this on. And thanks to all of you for emailing and calling your elected officials. I know firsthand that several votes we got were because of constituents pleading their case.
This is part 1 of our General Assembly update. The next post will be about the budget and what, if anything, will go towards trails like the Fall Line, in partnership with the Virginia Trails Alliance, Rails to Trails Conservancy, Virginia Conservation Network, and more.
Please consider supporting our work at the General Assembly and around the region. With more support, we can do more.