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2 cyclist safety bills are advancing in the state Senate

A person wearing a suit and mask speaks into a microphone. A placard in front reads, "SEN. DEEDS"
Crixell Matthews
VPM News
Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County) attends a committee meeting in 2022.

SB 1293 and SB 847 are out of the Transportation Committee, but will they make it to the House?

A bill by Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds (D–Charlottesville) that would allow cyclists to use their own discretion at stop signs and stop lights is still alive. Specifically, SB 1293 says bikers would be allowed to yield at stop signs and treat stoplights like stop signs.

Deeds said he introduced a similar component in a 2021 session bill, but that part was stricken.

But speaking between committee meetings Tuesday, the senator said his current proposal’s future is uncertain.

“The bill right now got out of committee, and this isn't a good sign,” said Deeds. “It got out of committee on a partisan vote — Democrats for, Republicans against. It's on the floor right now. It'll be voted on this week.”

Deeds said once it gets out of committee, it has to be read constitutionally — a statehouse requirement — and stay on the agenda calendar for three days.

“I'm hopeful we'll get it out of the Senate. And we'll have a discussion within the House about and see where we are,” Deeds said.

Virginia Bicycling Federation Director Brantley Tyndall said several other states have implemented what’s called the “Safety Stop.” And he wants to make sure drivers understand what the bill means.

“None of these allow a bicyclist to just run out in front of you. And bicyclists don't want to do that in the first place because it would hurt a lot to get hit,” he said. “So, they just allow bicycles to have a little more efficiency moving through the traffic network.”

Richmond resident Chris Thorpe is a semi-pro ultra-endurance bike racer who regularly rides around the city. He said cyclists can see more of the landscape when riding a bike, especially at intersections.

“For many intersections, you're on a vehicle with unlimited visibility, you can look around, and you can see for a while if someone's coming,” Thorpe said.

But like many cyclists, Thorpe also said he’ll regularly roll right through stop signs or stop lights if it’s safe to do so.

“If I can see there's another car in the intersection, I will fully stop and wait,” said Thorpe. “Because the most dangerous thing of being on a bike is that most crashes are when [a cyclist is] hit by a car from behind. So, keeping that momentum really does keep you safe.”

If passed by the House, the bill would leave it up to localities to decide if the “Safety Stop” is allowed on their roads.

Senate Bill 847’s goal is to also allow cyclists more discretion when approaching intersections with crosswalk signals. It’s another bill the Virginia Bicyclist Federation is supporting.

“It allows bicyclists to proceed on a walk signal. And really, it's that simple, a bike can proceed on a walk,” said Tyndall.

Tyndall said the current law only allows cyclists to proceed on a walk signal if they’re on the sidewalk and using a crosswalk, or if they’re on a shared use path and using a crosswalk.

“But you can't do it from the bike lane. And you can't do it from the travel lane,” said Tyndall.

He said at these crosswalks, pedestrians get a head start into the intersection before the red-light changes to a green light, which is safer,

“They get better visibility, fewer conflicts with [cars doing] right turns on red and other things like that,” Tyndall said. “And there's no additional conflict by letting bike riders go at the same time that pedestrians go.”

Senate Bill 847 was referred to the Finance and Appropriations committee for further discussion.

This story is powered by the 2023 People's Agenda.

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