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VA Bicycle Safety Act Approved by Senate With Some Changes

Person on bikes
A person bikes beside the James River in Rockett's Landing. (Photo: Alex Scribner/VPM News)

The Virginia Senate narrowly approved a set of new bicycle safety laws Wednesday after killing a similar bill earlier in the session.

The Bicycle Safety Act, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst (D-Blacksburg), passed the Senate in a 21-18 vote. The bill would force drivers to move into the other lane when passing a cyclist if they are unable to provide three feet of space. It would also allow two cyclists to ride side-by-side, making them easier to overtake.

In a recent committee meeting, Hurst said he wasn’t proposing the bill because he wanted to give some sort of special treatment to cyclists, but because these reforms would make the roads safer for everyone.

“I’m not a cyclist,” Hurst said. “I get just as aggravated as the next person sitting behind a cyclist waiting for it to be safe to pass, but we want to do what’s safe and we want to do what’s right. As a driver, I’d be more than happy to comply with my part of the provisions of this bill.”

In 2019, there were 651 collisions involving a bicycle in Virginia, according to the state Highway Safety Office. Of those 651 collisions, 128 bicycle riders were seriously injured and 13 were killed.

A third component of the bill, which would have allowed for cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, was removed. The change was offered by Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) after an identical bill from Sen. Joe Morrisey (D-Richmond) failed to garner enough support. That component was a key sticking point for some lawmakers who voted against the bill.

Allowing cyclists to yield instead of stop at a four-way intersection can actually reduce injuries and fatal crashes. In Idaho, where it’s been legal since 1982, a study found that the measure reduced cyclist injuries by 14.5%. Using data from Delaware State Police, Bike Delaware found that injury crashes at stop sign-controlled intersections went down by 23% following passage of similar laws.

Under the amended bill, the state will convene a workgroup of law enforcement and other stakeholders to answer the question of whether to allow cyclists to yield at some intersections. The workgroup will have to submit a report to the House and Senate Committees on Transportation by Dec. 1.

Brantley Tyndall, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, was a fierce advocate for the Bicycle Safety Act. After reviewing existing data on the measure, he hopes the work group will recommend lawmakers pass the stop sign changes next year.

“I think Virginia State Police and other individual legislators probably feel like, ‘Okay, data from Delaware is good, but what does that mean for Virginia and let’s think about it a little bit,’” he said. “I can’t really fault them for that viewpoint.”

Now that the bill has been approved by the Senate, it’ll need to go back to the House for a final vote on the changes.