Richmond’s traffic laws unrealistic for bicyclists

Shane Wade
Opinion Editor

Commonwealth Times’ Twitter

Illustration by Hannah Swann

Last week, I was stopped by a VCU police officer while biking to class. The officer kindly informed me that it was Virginia Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Week, gave me a brochure and vaguely mentioned potential citations for bicyclists that break traffic laws.

That stunned me; I stopped driving in Richmond in order to avoid tickets, especially after I amounted over $120 in parking tickets in a three-month span.

Sure, concerns about the cost of gas and the environment proved to be factors as well, but the worst thing to see after you get out of an exam is a yellow paper stuck to your windshield wipers.

I bike the streets of Richmond daily and have never seen a bicyclist wait more than 30 seconds at a red light. As soon as cars stop coming, we go. That seems to be the cyclist’s rules of the road.

But according to the state law, bicyclists may only proceed through stoplights after waiting two minutes or two complete cycles of the traffic light, whichever is shorter. I’m certain stoplights never exceed anything longer than one minute, but that’s almost beside the fact. Two minutes seems to be a fairly arbitrary number, and I cannot fathom why anyone would wait two complete cycles of the traffic light.

Bicycles are considered vehicles under the law, yet the law also dictates that bicyclists must ride to the right side of motorist traffic. If Richmond had bicycle lanes, this would make sense.

Unfortunately, the right side of the travel lane is filled with parked cars featuring doors that can be opened at any moment. Telling bicyclists to stay to the right, instead of allowing them to operate as motor vehicles and taking up the whole lane, is more dangerous than protective.

I bike for the freedom – freedom from parking tickets, freedom from the confinement of a car, freedom to get to my graduate class on MCV from Monroe in 10 minutes. But the laws that govern bicyclists in Richmond are inane and unrealistic. If you think bicyclists in Richmond feel they have a sense of entitlement, it’s because we do. We’re entitled to a safer city with common-sense laws.

Don’t misunderstand me; I applaud the efforts by law enforcement to try to make Richmond a safer, cyclist-friendly city. But I don’t feel like the current laws are realistic. These are restrictive laws that negate the idea that people use common sense when crossing a street. The current laws are not a proactive solution to our safety problem but simply a reaction.

If I had my way, I’d declare the entirety of the Monroe Park campus a car-free zone. No more pedestrians or bicyclists running into cars. No more afternoon traffic jams in front of the Commons. No need for crossing guards.

Sure, drivers would have to find an alternate route around the campus, but they’d probably save themselves some time and Tylenol. They wouldn’t have to worry about a rogue cyclist darting out of nowhere or the texting pedestrian walking in front of them while crossing the street. Campus would undoubtedly be safer, and more students would feel safer commuting to classes through alternative modes of transportation.

The brochure I was given says that in 2010, 88 people died walking or cycling on Virginia roadways. While it doesn’t say if they were hit by cars, I’m willing to bet that cars were a major factor in their deaths.

Bicyclists don’t deserve free reign, but the city of Richmond needs to understand that Richmond, and the VCU-area in particular, is part of a changing environment. We ride bicycles, mopeds, skateboards, longboards and scooters. They pose a real hazard on the roadways, but don’t blame the victims; drivers are the problem.

1 Comment

  1. Not a VCU student, but visiting Richmond frequently this seems to be the case. UVA enacts a policy where the main road running through campus has gates that only buses and service vehicles can open from 8-4. Even then, I’ve seen many a close call between buses and bikes, and have seen a few intra-bus accidents. Point is, even though laws will help, they will never eliminate human error and therefore never eliminate accidents. But we still should create laws to help as much as we can. Nice article.

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