Bicycle-passing measure rolls on

SB 97 would increase the distance at which a car can pass electric scooters, wheelchairs, mopeds and animal-drawn vehicles. Photo Illustration by Zoë Dehmer.

Lauren McClellan
Capital News Service

Zoë Dehmer
News Editor

When a car passed painting and printmaking major Warren Jones as he was riding his bike home from work one Thursday evening, he swerved so the two wouldn’t collide. Jones overcorrected, his wheel slid out from under him and down he fell. Jones didn’t suffer any injuries, but his bike was damaged.

The Virginia Senate Transportation committee recently approved a bill increasing the distance at which cars must pass bicycles, from two to three feet.

For many students like Jones, bicycling is their only mode of transportation, besides walking. Many students find riding alongside cars on the road to be potentially hazardous. In Jones’ case, the most costly damage he faces is replacing the bike parts broken in the crash.

“I know how to buy the parts to fix it, but money is always an issue. Stuff doesn’t come cheap,” Jones said.

SB 97, introduced by Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Fredericksburg) has been unsuccessfully introduced in the past by Reeves and a number of other Republican and Democratic legislators.

Previous opponents of the bill, including Sen. Charles W. Carrico (R-Galax) have cited enforceability issues as a reason for barring passage of the bill, saying that it is hard for drivers to know the difference between two and three-foot distances while driving.

The bill would change the distance at which a car can pass electric scooters and wheelchairs, mopeds and animal-drawn vehicles.

Twenty-two other states and Washington, D.C. have similar laws that say drivers must pass bicycles with at least three feet of room.

The Virginia Bicycling Federation supports the bill and its members have met with legislators to advocate for the bill’s passage.

“We had reps from the City of Virginia Beach speaking to the Senate Transportation Committee in support of SB 97,” said Scott Cramer, board member of the VBF from Norfolk, Va.  “When city officials, not just cyclists, want to be seen as bike-friendly, that’s a big step forward.”

To Cramer, the new bill would give cyclists another layer of protection from vehicles that have wide trailers or large mirrors.  Cramer also thinks that the passage of the bill would help the relationship between Virginia cyclists and drivers.

“It will help Virginia’s standing as a bicycle-friendly state, since having a three-foot pass law is a criterion from the League of American Bicyclists,” Cramer said in an email. “It sends a message to citizens, drivers and cyclists that cyclists’ space on the road should be respected.”

In 2013, the League of American Bicyclists rated Virginia the 16th most bike-friendly state.  The league provided feedback on the ranking, stating that Virginia should consider enacting a three-foot passing law.

In 2015, Richmond will host the Union Cycliste Internationale World Road Championships.  Lee Kramer, marketing and communications director for the event’s Richmond organizing body, thinks SB 97 could benefit the commonwealth.

“We hope this event is not (only) about bike racing, but making the region more bike-friendly for recreation and transportation,” Kramer said.  “Any legislation that further supports (this) is a good thing as far as we’re concerned.”

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