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Road safety advocates hopeful on General Assembly tackling traffic injuries, fatalities

A faded crosswalk with cars rushing by
Connor Scribner
VPM News
Traffic-safety advocates are hoping to get legislation passed allowing localities to set speed limits by zone. The Richmond Police Department has said speed was the number one factor in several fatal crashes in the city.

There were almost a thousand traffic fatalities in the state during 2022, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation, including more than 140 pedestrian deaths.

The Richmond Police Department also said speed was the “No. 1 factor” for the almost 30 fatal crashes in the city last year, according toABC 8 News in December.

During the upcoming General Assembly session, transportation lobbyists are helping lawmakers craft bills to drive these numbers down.

The Virginia Bicycling Federation is a statewide advocacy group that works with lawmakers to create legislation for safer roads, especially for localities where crashes are high.

One of the bills Virginia Bicycling Federation is hoping to get passed this session is an update to a bill that was passed in 2021by Del. Betsy Carr (D-Richmond). That bill allowed cities to lower speed limits to 15 miles per hour in residential and business districts.

“The No. 1 predictor of whether a crash will be fatal is speed,” said VBF Director Brantley Tyndall. “And speed management needs to be at the forefront of how our transportation officials save our lives in our shared transportation environment.”

“These are areas where people walk commonly and are more subjected to conflicts or collisions with drivers. Lowering speed limits in these areas can really save lives,” Tyndall said. But “there's a significant cost barrier to localities implementing it because of how many signs it would have to install.”

Carr’s updated bill — which is still in its drafting phase — would allow localities to set maximum speed limits by zone or citywide, which would reduce the number of new signs needed.

“The way localities would implement these lowered overall speed limits is by having signs that say this zone or this city has a speed limit,” Tyndall said, “instead of having multiple signs on every block, in every neighborhood that is applied for on a street-by-street basis.”

‘The Idaho stop’

Another bill that VBF is championing would allow “safety stops” for cyclists, giving them the chance to treat stop signs as yield signs.

“[The term] has been previously called the ‘Idaho stop’ and is now legal in 10 states across the country,” Tyndall said. “Five of those have legalized the process in the past two years. So, it's gaining a lot of steam nationally.”

Tyndall said after Delaware passed its bill, dubbed the “Delaware Yield,” a study showed the practice led to a reduction in crashes of 23% for bicyclists at stop signs.

“Bicyclists operate a lot differently than the drivers of cars, and we are limited by speed,” Tyndall said. “The reason that safety stop leads to improved safety outcomes for bicyclists is they can control the intersection better.”

He added that cyclists also have much better visibility at intersections than drivers do because there is nothing blocking their visions like the A-frame of car structures.

The safety stop bill is being drafted, according to Tyndall. However, VBF is also watching several other bills in the upcoming General Assembly session, including how to direct funds from budget surpluses toward infrastructure to improve pedestrian and bicycling safety.

VPM News wants to hear your responses to one question: What do you want to learn about the most during the 2023 General Assembly session?

Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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