Archive | February, 2014

Your Help with Legislation

26 Feb

The Virginia General Assembly session is not far from wrapping up, and there are a couple of bills still alive that have either good or some chance of passing.  The most pressing one in terms of potential action on your part is “Following too Close.”

“Following too Close” Still Alive

This involves a small change in current law that would make following too closely illegal regardless of what kind of vehicle is being followed.  Current law effectively makes it okay to tailgate a cyclist, or a person on a horse, for that matter.  The bill was tabled by the Senate Transportation Committee last week but they will reconsider it tomorrow.  Two senators from the Richmond area, Henry Marsh and John Watkins, originally voted to table the bill.  We need to convince them to change their minds on this.  The Virginia Bicycling Federation has a sample text that you can use in your message.  Click here to send a message if Marsh or Watkins is your senator.

3 Feet

The 3-foot passing bill, which would change the required space motorists should allow when passing from 2 to 3 feet (the standard adopted by most states with such laws), has made it through the relevant House subcommittee and will be heard by the main House Transportation Committee tomorrow.  If it makes it through that committee, it will go on to the full House for a vote (it has already passed the Senate).

Masks

HB542, the “mask” bill, has been passed by the House and seems likely to make it through the Senate.  If that happens, those of us who wear something over our faces when we ride in winter will not be vulnerable to being charged with a felony.

Dooring Dead for Now

Unfortunately the “dooring” bill is dead, apparently in part on the logic that it is not fair to hold someone responsible for paying attention to who or what might hit their door when they open it.

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Monument Avenue Collision

21 Feb

Most of you have probably heard about the collision at Monument Avenue and Mulberry Street yesterday morning.  A woman on a bicycle traveling west on Monument was hit by a car going south across Monument on Mulberry.

As seem to always be the case in such situations, the motorist said she looked but “did not see” the woman on the bicycle.  WTVR  says that the motorist claims that glare from the rising sun prevented her from seeing the cyclist.  While glare can be a problem, the police officer quoted in the WTVR report seems to jump to the conclusion that glare was the cause even though the investigation is only beginning:

“This is not the first accident as a result of sun glare,” said Sgt. David Selander with the Richmond Police.  “I guess the sun is rising perfectly to the East and drivers can’t see very well.”

The most recent reports suggest that the cyclist was not as badly hurt as originally appeared, but not many details have been provided about her condition.

Lessons?

An updated report on RVA News includes statements from John Lugbill and Max Hepp-Buchanan from Sports Backers:

“Our thoughts are with this bicyclist and her friends and family as she recovers,” said Jon Lugbill, Executive Director of the Sports Backers.

“While traffic collisions happen, poor street design has a played role here,” said Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Bike Walk RVA for the Sports Backers. “Cars parking too closely to the corners of the intersection have created inadequate sight-lines for anyone trying to make their way across Monument Avenue, regardless of their mode of travel. This condition is not unique to the intersection of Monument and Mulberry – it exists all over the Fan and Museum District. Something needs to be done to fix this situation.”

“The last thing we want is for this to happen again,” said Lugbill. “We can build a better environment for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists alike. It’s time for real bicycle infrastructure in Richmond that makes riding feel comfortable and that offers people a safe way to navigate the city.”

It’s worth noting that the Floyd Avenue Bicycle Boulevard will likely include curb bump-outs at intersections for precisely this reason.  In some meetings about the project I’ve heard some residents complain that this will reduce the number of parking spaces on Floyd.  The city has said it’s a goal is a zero net loss of parking spaces, but even if a few are lost, is that not an acceptable price to pay for reducing the chances of collisions and injury for everyone?

The Cost of “Efficiency”

As usual, the discussion (especially on RVA News) includes the full range of useful and misguided views about the safety of bicycling and the conduct of bicyclists and motorists.  I will not go through all of them here, but I do think it’s important to keep a balanced perspective about the safety of bicycling in Richmond.

It’s understandable that an incident like this triggers anxiety and sparks a lot of discussion about cyclists’ and motorists’ bad experiences.  It justifiably underscores that Richmond has a ways to go in becoming truly bicycle friendly.  But I worry that it exaggerates the danger.

There is a lot we can do to make bicycling and walking safer in Richmond, and we should; but the discussion makes it seem as though bicycling is uniquely dangerous, and the implicit comparison (and main alternative for most people) is driving a car.  The odd thing is that people being seriously injured or killed in car-car accidents hardly registers because it’s so common — more or less accepted an unavoidable price we pay for getting around.

My point is that in a case like this the main, most productive thing to discuss is not how safe or dangerous bicycling is, but where our collective priorities are with regard to the safety of all road users — and whether we might be willing to compromise a bit of our obsession with speed and time for the sake of saving lives.

Last Push — Contact Your Legislators!

17 Feb

The efforts of those dedicated souls who spend countless hours, year after year, at the General Assembly trying to get bicycle-friendly legislation passed are very close to paying off big time this year.

Bills along these lines have been introduced many times in the past only to die in committee.  This time there is a good chance we could get three important bike-friendly laws passed!  You can help make it happen by contacting your state senator and delegate.

Here’s the scoop from the VBF site:

SB 97, three foot passing: would require motorists to leave three feet of clearance while passing people on bikes — in line with the 22 other states plus DC that have a minimum passing distance.

SB 225, dooring:  “No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so.”  This would make it illegal to open a car door into the path of a cyclist.

HB 82, following too closely:  would make it illegal for motorists to tailgate non-motorized vehicles — including people on bikes — as well as other motor vehicles.

We can get these bills passed, but we need your help.  Please contact your legislators immediately, and ask them to support these bills.  To make this easy, our friends at WABA have provided a ready-made, automated email.  Go there now.

 

Snowflake Ride Postponed

15 Feb

It appears that the Richmond Cycling Corps’ Ground Force IT Snowflake Ride, originally scheduled for tomorrow, has been rescheduled for Sunday, March 2.  The Eventbrite page is here.

Brown’s Island Dam Walk Meeting

7 Feb

Brown's Island Walk

The public meeting to discuss designs for the Brown’s Island Dam Walk and the Chapel Island trail — originally scheduled for January 21 but snowed out — will be Tuesday, February 18 at 7 pm at the Virginia War Memorial.  Recent coverage of the project can be found here and here.  Documents and plans, if you’d like to take a look beforehand, are at the city Planning and Development Review office’s Riverfront Plan site.

Only the Beginning

This is a really exciting project — the first bridge across the James dedicated to pedestrians and bicyclists.  Let’s hope it signals the beginning of a trend to provide people on foot and bike with quality opportunities to get around the city and enjoy it.  By way of comparison, the city of Cleveland is one of a number of cities currently leaving us in the dust with regard to installing bike infrastructure.  According to Planetizen, the city has earmarked a million bucks to double its existing 47-miles of bike lanes by 2017.  How about if we try to get to where Cleveland is now by that date?

Taking on Safety

The increase in biking and walking for transportation — along with, unfortunately, continued cyclist and pedestrian deaths — is getting people interested in how to make streets safer for everyone, and not just through new infrastructure.  A recent story in the Times describes a growing network of New York families who, in collaboration with existing bike/ped groups, have taken on the safety of the city’s streets in the wake of losing a loved one hit by a car.

Although the overall trend over the decades has been a decrease in these deaths, 286 people killed by cars in New York per year still seems like too much to sacrifice for efficient driving.  It’s a striking testament to how much as a society we value car travel and speed over the safety of others that, due to state law and political opposition, it has not yet been possible to pass an ordinance reducing the speed limit on residential streets in New York City from 30 to 25 mph, much less the original proposal from advocates to reduce it to 20 mph.  The evidence is clear and has been around for a long time that the difference between 20 and 30 mph can easily be the difference between life and death for a pedestrian or cyclists.