June Advocacy Roundup

 

Discussing details of intersection design at Spring St. and Covesville Rd

Discussing details of intersection design at Spring St. and Covesville Rd

Here’s the latest version of “what we’ve been up to lately.” Read straight through or skip ahead to updates from Maryland, Virginia, or DC.

If there’s a specific project that you don’t see here, check our March and April roundups.


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Greater Washington Region

Metro SafeTrack — Try it by bike!

Brief Explanation: WABA has been working closely with WMATA, the District Department of Transportation, and other local agencies to provide comprehensive alternative bike routes, temporary street safety accommodations, bike convoys and bike buddies to help folks around the region try their commute by bike during SafeTrack safety surges.

Current Status: The first safety surge, East Falls Church to Ballston, began June 4th and will continue through June 16th. The surges will continue rolling through the year.

Action to Take: Volunteer with WABA during SafeTrack by signing up here. We need bike buddies, convoy leaders, and more— now, and as the year unfolds.

National Park Service Paved Trails Plan

Brief Explanation: In April, the National Park Service released a draft of a study for creating a seamless trail network for the Washington Region. It includes 120 capital and programmatic recommendations, many of which are excellent.

Current Status: WABA and supporters submitted formal comments and more than 1,000 supportive petition signatures. The comment period has closed.  We anticipate the study to be finalized and released by fall 2016.


Virginia

Protected Bike Lanes on Memorial Bridge

Brief Explanation: The National Park Service is in the process of rehabilitating the Arlington Memorial bridge. The partial closure and rehabilitation of the bridge represents a huge opportunity to rethink how the bridge operates in the context of the city’s transportation network. WABA has asked that NPS be forward-thinking about the design, and include protected bike lanes across the bridge and better connections to the memorials on either side of the bridge.

Current Status: WABA and supporters raised these issues three years ago. Unfortunately, the Park Service has not listened and continues to move forward with an Environmental Assessment structured to protecte the status quo.

Custis Trail Improvements

Brief Explanation: The widening of I-66 inside the beltway will likely result in increased car traffic in Arlington from jurisdictions west, posing challenges for the bicycle and smart-growth-oriented county. As a partial mitigation of the highway expansion, Virgina should reconstruct and upgrade the Custis Trail from the Beltway to the Potomac River, including shortening and flattening circuitous sections and removing all trail grades in excess of five percent.

Current Status: WABA sent a letter to the Arlington County Board requesting that they ask the Virginia Department of Transportation to undertake these trail improvements as part of the highway expansion project. Download and view the letter here.


Maryland

Silver Spring Circle Protected Bike Lane Project

Brief Explanation: WABA’s Montgomery County Action Committee hosted a walk-along tour of the planned Spring Street and Cedar Street protected bike lanes in downtown Silver Spring.  Representatives from Montgomery Department of Transportation joined to speak about the project planning process.

Current Status: Construction is expected to start this summer.

Action to Take: Get involved with the Montgomery County Action Committee! Meetings are the 4th Monday of each month at 7pm in the Civic Center in Silver Spring. More details here.

Updates to Park Rules and Regulations

Brief Explanation: The Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) is updating the rules and regulations governing the region’s parks. These rules are of particular interest to the bicycling community insofar as they govern the hours trails are open, speed limits on trails, the use of electronic bicycles on trails, and the right of way at trail crossings.

Current Status: WABA submitted letters to the Prince George’s and Montgomery County Planning Boards. The rules will be updated and finalized later this year. Download a copy of our letter here.

Big Funding Win for Bicyling in the Montgomery County Budget

Brief Explanation: Montgomery County Council unanimously approved the County’s 2017 Operating budget and six-year Capital Improvements Program. The budget maintains funding for a number of long- term trail and bikeway priorities AND increases funding for the Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Area Program by 150%! This was an initiative of Councilmember Hans Riemer, supported by WABA advocates.

Current Status: With this additional funding, Montgomery County Department of Transportation can do more great street safety projects at a faster rate, including careful study, planning and implementation of the network of protected bike lanes that will constitute the Silver Spring Circle.

Metropolitan Branch Trail—Several Steps Closer to Completion

Brief Explanation: Montgomery County Department of Transportation held a public hearing prior to beginning construction of the .6 mile portion of the MBT that crosses the Montgomery College Campus on Fenton Street and King Street and along the CSXT Railroad to Ripley Street. WABA participated in that meeting and also provided testimony to the Montgomery County Planning Board in support of the next phases of the project, which include contruction of a bicycle/pedestrian bridge connection over Georgia Avenue. You can read our testimony here.

Current Status: On May 19th, the Montgomery County Planning Board approved the plans for the next two phases of trail construction in the county. The next construction phase of this project will start later this summer, extending the trail up to King Street.


Washington D.C.

Contributory Negligence

Brief Explanation: The Judiciary Committee voted 3-0 to move the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016 out of committee and recommended it for consideration by the full Council.

Current Status: The bill will be considered by the Committee of the Whole, possibly as soon as June 21st. The insurance industry has been busy trying to rally Councilmembers to vote against the bill, or to pressure Councilmember McDuffie to pull the bill prior to a vote, by making all manner of outrageously inaccurate claims. (For a taste, check out WABA’s Executive Director Greg Billing debating the merits of the bill with DC Insurance Federation Executive Director Wayne McOwen on this episode of the Kojo Nnamdi show).

Action to Take: Contact your Councilmembers and ask them to support the bill.

Benning Road Streetcar Project

Brief Explanation: Work continues on plans to extend the H St – Benning streetcar across the Anacostia River to the Benning Road Metro and towards Georgetown. In May, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) hosted two public meetings to take comments on Environmental Assessments for both plans. If implemented well, these projects present important opportunities to expand bicycle access in the Benning Rd and K St. corridors. Without attention to key details, though, they pose serious threats to safety and access.

Current Status: The comment period has closed, but there will be further opportunity for comments when the final EA is released, estimated to be in the fall of 2016.

Bike Lanes Closures on L St

Brief Explanation: The protected bike lane on L St NW recently went form being the spine of a low-stress bike network to a dangerous mixing zone with automobiles and heavy trucks— the result of a permit issued by DDOT to Carr Properties, the company redeveloping the old Washington Post building.

Current Status: The current traffic pattern will be in place for more than two years, unless we manage to break through DDOT’s conviction that this consitutes a safe accommodation for bicyclists equivalent to a protected bike lane.

Action to Take: Unfortunately, options for recourse are limited at this point. We recommend contacting the Mayor and your Councilmembers.

Training for 911 Dispatchers

Brief Explanation: As part of a larger collaborative effort spearheaded by WABA to ensure that our city’s expanding network of trails are fully integrated into emergency services, WABA and DDOT’s trail teams held early morning trainings for all 911 dispatchers on how to respond to emergency calls from the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Dispatchers went through a refresher on the trail as we covered how to help callers spot the mile markers, reviewed the many trail intersections in the 911 database, and more broadly, provided context for the trail.

Current Status: Our next step is to lead a walking tour of the trail for dispatchers, per their request.

Traffic/Trail Counts During Rock Creek Park Road Closures

Brief Explanation: For many years, conversations about how Rock Creek Park could be operated so that it does more for non-motorized transportation have gone nowhere, in part because of disputes over the assumed impact any changes would have on traffic elsewhere in the District. This year, we have the opportunity to scientifically measure the traffic impact that will result from a series of road closures along Beach Drive during the road reconstruction. WABA sent a letter to the Mayor requesting that DDOT and National Park Service commit to a detailed traffic count from diversions of these road closures. Read our letter here.

Current Status: WABA staff will meet with DDOT and National Park Service officials this month to discuss the proposal.

Make bicycling better in YOUR neighborhood!

WABA is working to bring advocates together in our local jurisdictions to further our mission of a more bikeable region. The Action Committees empower residents with the tools, training and support needed to win campaigns for better biking infrastructure, policies, and programs.

We’re fine tuning the way this monthly(ish) update works, so if you have thoughts on how to make this information more useful, send a note to communications@waba.org.

Why is the L Street protected bike lane closed?

On the eve of Bike to Work Day, the protected bike lane on L Street NW went from being the spine of a low-stress bike network to a dangerous mixing zone with automobiles and heavy trucks.

Carr Properties, the company redeveloping the old Washington Post building, made the switch from demolition phase of their traffic control plan to the construction phase.

What you see now on the 1500 block of L St is what we will have for more than two years, unless we manage to break through DDOTs conviction that this constitutes a safe accommodation for bicyclists equal to a protected bike lane.

Background:

On March 18th, WABA sent a formal letter to DDOT to point out that the traffic control plan for the Carr Properties permit as issued was not compliant with the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013 or accompanying safe accommodation regulations. We proposed three compliant traffic control plan (TCP) alternatives that would have maintained the protected bike lane.  DDOT met with us to explain in detail the reasons they did not think any of our suggestions were feasible. They issued an official written response with this letter

At the root of agency’s argument is something called Level of Service, which is a measurement of how freely cars move on roads and through intersections. DDOT has made clear that the agency prioritized Level of Service metrics when deciding to skip over the safest options for accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians. DDOT’s letter states: “traffic analysis performed during the TCP review process indicated that taking another lane of travel would have resulted in failing levels of service at the intersections of both 16th and L street and 17th and L street NW.”  (Emphasis added). Using a Level of Service analysis in this context is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the safe accommodations law and regulations.

It’s also worth noting that “failing levels of service” is not as catastrophic as it might sound. An F grade at an intersection means that… it takes a little longer to drive through the intersection.

So what exactly is a Level of Service Analysis?

Level of Service (“LOS”) is a performance metric for streets and roads that uses a scale of A-F to describe the amount of congestion a roadway or intersection experiences. It was originally used to rate interstate freeways during the highway boom of the 1950s and 60s.  At a certain point, traffic engineers began applying this standard to the rest of our street network. The problem with this is that most streets do not exist solely to move traffic through an area (like a highway), but rather, to serve homes, businesses, schools, churches, parks, and the people who live alongside them. Yet, in the pursuit of high LOS rankings, traffic engineers widen streets, remove parking, limit crosswalks, and deploy other strategies that make streets less safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, and less inviting in general.

Eliminating traffic congestion is not legally mandated; it is a self-imposed requirement that has become entrenched in the traffic engineering canon. A laser-focus on LOS street design for the hours of peak use encourages the overbuilding of streets for the remaining 22 hours of the day. In this case, LOS analysis has been used to justify non-compliance with the requirement to provide accommodations that replicate the safety level of the existing bicycle route.

What did DDOT get wrong here?

Under the Safe Accommodation regulations, DDOT is required to provide a protected bike lane adjacent to the motor vehicle lane as long as one motor vehicle lane can be maintained in the same direction of travel. The regulations are clear that safety accommodations for bicyclists should be afforded according to a prioritized scheme:

The method for providing the safe accommodation for bicyclists shall be prioritized as follows:

(1)       Closing a parking lane and keeping the adjacent bicycle lane open;

(2)       Shifting the bicycle lane to a location on the same roadway to by-pass the work zone, and if necessary, shifting and narrowing the adjacent motor vehicle traffic lanes; provided the adjacent motor vehicle travel lanes shall be maintained at no less than ten feet (10 ft.) wide;

(3)       Closing the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane to provide space for a bicycle lane; provided that a minimum of one (1) motor vehicle travel lane shall remain in the same direction of travel;

(4)       Merging the bicycle lane and the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane into a shared travel lane adjacent to the work zone, installing sharrow lane markings in the shared travel lane and installing work zone signage directing bicyclists to merge into the shared travel lane; provided the shared travel lane shall be maintained at no less than thirteen feet (13 ft.) wide; and

(5)       As a last resort, detouring bicyclists onto an adjacent roadway, in which case the detour route shall replicate, as closely as practicable, the level of safety found on the bicycle route being blocked.

There is no provision in the regulations for considering Level of Service. The safest practicable option must be selected from the list in the order provided. Currently, two lanes of traffic are open on L Street, which means that option three would be the correct selection for a safe accommodation for bicyclists on L street under the regulations.

Complete Streets and Vision Zero

DDOT adopted an internal Complete Streets policy in 2010. In all likelihood, DC Council will codify a Complete Streets policy before summer recess if/when they pass the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act Amendment of 2016 (B21-335). (More on this in an upcoming post). The concept of a Complete Streets policy is that all modes should be safely accommodated in the design of our regional streets and transit network.

In order to actually change the status quo and create streets for people, the Complete Streets policy elevates the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, users of mass transit, people with disabilities, and the elderly over the convenience of motorists and freight providers.

The Complete Streets policy recognizes that certain streets have “modal priorities.” This was one of the justifications for not installing bike lanes on K street, which was determined to have a transit modal priority. L St and M St were selected for protected bike lanes in part because they are alternative parallel routes to K street. With the installation of world-class protected bike lanes on L and M Streets, and considering their significance in the transportation network for crossing the city by bike, it seems clear that on these streets, bicycle traffic should be considered the modal priority.

Moreover and most importantly, DC is a city pledged to Vision Zero—the initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injury on our roadways by 2024. DDOT is the agency charged with leadership over this initiative. Prioritizing Level of Service for vehicles over the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians—even on streets to which bicyclists have already been diverted— on what constitutes an essential section of the protected bicycle network— flies in the face of the goals of Vision Zero, Complete Streets, and the Move DC plan.

Unfortunately, options for recourse are limited at this point. We recommend contacting the Mayor and your Councilmembers.

What about safe accommodations at other construction sites throughout the District?

When a contractor or developer applies for a permit to occupy public space during construction activities, they are required to submit a traffic control plan to DDOT for approval. Construction projects impacting our streets, bike lanes and sidewalks will generally fall into three categories:

1. The permit complies with the requirements of safe accommodations law and regulations, and the contractor is properly following the permit.

Remedy: Patience. This won’t last forever.

2.  DDOT has approved a legally compliant traffic control permit, but the contractor is not in compliance with the requirements of the permit as-issued.

Remedy: Contact the Public Space Regulation Administration at DDOT (202-442-4670) and report a suspected permit violation.  Take photos if you can, and be prepared to provide a street address or intersection, as well as what makes the accommodation (or lack thereof) dangerous. The public space team will send staff to inspect the construction area and may issue a stop work order until the contractor complies with the traffic control plan.

If you have time to do a little research, many approved traffic control plans are now available online at tops.ddot.dc.gov (the system can be cumbersome, so for quick requests the phone is probably your best option).  There is a “Search Permits and Applications” link at the bottom right hand corner of the landing page.  From the jump page select “Occupancy” and then submit search criteria (tracking or permit number if known is the best way—permit numbers are printed on the Emergency No Parking signs).  While not all approved Traffic Control Permits are viewable, the ones related to construction staging zones are. These are the ones most likely to include changes to sidewalks and bike lanes.

3. Contractors have been issued a legally deficient permit by DDOT.

Remedy: This is trickier, but the end result must be that DDOT amends the permit to comply with the law. WABA will be working with DDOT officials to create a guidance manual to give permitting and engineering staff at DDOT the tools they need to properly evaluate traffic control plans in permit applications for compliance with the safe accommodations requirements for bicycles.

As we all know, DC is a rapidly growing city and there are construction projects everywhere. This is all the more reason it is essential that DDOT get these permits—and their enforcement— right.

 

Meet Bryon, our new Vision Zero Campaign Coordinator

Bryon Burgin

Hi there!

My name is Bryon Burgin and I am the new Vision Zero Campaign Coordinator.

I recently relocated to the DC area from my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri after completing  my J.D. and M.A. in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development from Saint Louis University. I received my B.A. in Political Science from the University of Missouri. As a former bike shop manager and life-long cyclist, I welcome every chance to engage with you to promote bike ridership, trails, policy, law, transportation planning and creative ways to develop more connected, safe, diverse and sustainable neighborhoods for all.

My interest in Vision Zero is very simple: no one should ever die using our roads. Vision Zero  is an all-hands-on-deck approach to transportation safety. To prevent fatalities and serious injuries to travelers of our transportation system, we will pursue commitments from policymakers, traffic engineers, law enforcement officials, local businesses and road users from all backgrounds to end road fatalities and serious injury within a decade. I look forward to utilizing my past community development experiences with Habitat for Humanity to build support in our local communities. We need to formulate new attitudes and behaviors towards street safety and generate a true regional commitment to Vision Zero.

Together, we can change how our region values bike safety for generations to come. Please feel free to contact me at Bryon.Burgin@waba.org to learn more about WABA’s work to secure a regional commitment to Vision Zero. We can’t do this without you!

Multi-modal Memorial Bridge?

In the spring of 2013 the National Park Service initiated the public process to rehabilitate the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The partial closure and rehabilitation of the bridge represents a huge opportunity to rethink how the bridge operates in the context of the city’s transportation network.  Unfortunately, instead of seizing this opportunity, the Park Service defined the scope of the project extremely narrowly— focusing on arcane questions about upgrades to the “bascule spans” (the parts of the bridge that make it work as a drawbridge).

Does anyone actually care about what structure engineering methods NPS uses to rehabilitate bascule spans? Probably not. What we do care about is the fact that millions of visitors and commuters cross Arlington Memorial Bridge annually by foot, bike, and car. As bicycle and pedestrian travel rapidly increases region-wide, it’s time to rethink how all transportation modes on the bridge are accommodated.

The bridge is 90 feet wide with six car travel lanes and two 15-foot sidewalks. The speed limit for vehicles on the bridge is 30 miles per hour, with drivers often dangerously exceeding the legal limit. During busy tourist seasons, the sidewalks are full of visitors walking between the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. Sidewalk congestion is complicated by bicyclists and pedestrians sharing limited space.  

The opportunity:

During construction, the bridge will be partially closed. Two years ago, after an initial study on regional traffic patterns, traffic engineers determined that a closure of one of the three lanes in each direction would only minimally impact traffic on other bridges that cross the Potomac River.  This has been borne out by experience: since late last fall, the Memorial bridge has been operating with a total of four travel lanes, without any resulting traffic armageddon.

The third vehicle lane in both directions should be permanently repurposed as a single protected travel lane for bicycle traffic. This would provide dedicated space for pedestrians on the sidewalk, and a safe, unobstructed passage across the bridge for bicyclists.  

The bridge rehabilitation is a chance for NPS to be forward-thinking about design. The National Mall is planning to build a visitor center at the Vietnam War Memorial, which will likely increase travel between the Vietnam War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, as it is a short walk or ride between the two, and serviced on both sides of the bridge by Capital Bikeshare stations. There are also plans to redesign the Lincoln Circle (aka: the bike/ped no-man’s land between the Lincoln Memorial and the Memorial bridge on the D.C. side).

The viewshed in both directions along the bridge is highly valued and should be honored. Through this process, the Park Service could and should be considering designs for dedicated space for bicyclists that fits the aesthetic of the bridge, like low decorative planters or concrete curbs.

WABA and supporters raised these issues nearly three years ago.

Unfortunately, the Park Service has not listened, and continues to move forward with an Environmental Assessment structured to protect the status quo. There is another comment period closing on Monday, May 16th. Take a moment to submit comments telling NPS you want this project to address not just the bridge’s structure, but how the bridge functions in city life, by creating dedicated protected bike lanes and safe connections for walking and biking to and from the bridge.

Submit comments on the project site website using this link.

The MBT One Step Closer to Completion

Last night, the Met Branch Trail got one step closer to completion.

Before beginning construction on the 0.6 mile portion of the Met Branch Trail in Silver Spring, Maryland – the section across from the Montgomery College Campus on Fenton Street and King Street and along the CSXT Railroad to Ripley Street- Montgomery County was required to hold a public hearing, so area residents gathered on a misty Wednesday evening to learn more about the trail design and submit their feedback. When this segment is finished, the 1.1 mile Maryland portion of the Met Branch will be complete.

One highlight of the design is the 14-foot wide bridge that will allow trail users to cross Georgia Avenue far above the busy corridor. This above-grade crossing is an absolute necessity from a safety perspective, and Montgomery County sets the right precedent by ensuring that the bridge is an non-negotiable absolute.

One trail supporter analyzed the design as “95% Awesome.” The five percent in question? The access around the B&O Train Station. Because of concerns from the station’s owner, Maryland Preservation Inc. (MPI), the trail deviates from a direct route along the rail corridor and zig-zags on the edge of the property instead.

This zig-zag alignment seems manageable, and we thank the county for patience in working with MPI, and providing them multiple alignment options in an effort to move the project forward. From the trail user’s perspective, it’s not perfect, and certainly a straighter shot would be preferred, but the proposed alignment represents a compromise for which the county deserves a “thank you.”

We were reminded by a few supporters that this trail will transform how we interact with our surroundings. Jeff Kohn recalled a bike ride he took with his young son to Bethesda, and he reports not being able to identify a safe way to get there. “I wouldn’t try that again, I didn’t feel safe,” he said. “But once the trail is done, I’ll ride it frequently.”

Many in the room could relate to Michelle Terry’s experience of fear for her own well-being on Fenton Street, having to share the road with fast traffic and large trucks. Her front tire was clipped by a car, and while she wasn’t physically hurt, it scared her enough to keep her off her bike for a few days. And as a regular bike commuter, that means a lot. She’s awaiting the trail because it means a safer commute. “Building the trail isn’t just about recreation. It’s about public safety,” she said.

The construction bid will go out soon for Phase I, and construction is estimated to begin June 2016, with an estimated completion date of August 2016. Phase II will begin November 2017, the section west of Selim Road, which includes the bridge over Georgia Ave., will begin in November 2018 and phase completion is estimated for November 2019.

The record remains open until May 24 at 7 p.m. If you’d like to submit your comments to the record, email Gaila Lescinskiene at gaila.lescinskiene@montgomerycountymd.gov.

What’s Next for the Contributory Negligence Bill?

Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee voted 3-0 to move the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act out of committee and recommended it for consideration by the full D.C. Council.

The version of the bill that came to markup had two minor but substantive changes from the one that was introduced last January. First, it now includes a definition of “non-motorized user” to mean “an individual using a skateboard, non-motorized scooter, Segway, tricycle, and other similar non-powered transportation devices.” These vulnerable road users are now explicitly  covered by the bill, in addition to bicyclists and pedestrians.

Secondly, the bill expressly retains the last clear chance doctrine, something that is already available under the law in the District. Reserving it will likely result in greater protection for bicyclists, because in circumstances where the bicyclist is contributorily negligent, for example, where the bicyclist’s negligence exceeds 50% of the harm, the bicyclist still has the last clear chance doctrine at his or her disposal, which would allow the bicyclist to recover— even if the bicyclist was contributorily negligent— when the motorist had the last clear chance to avoid the collision. In our view, it cuts in favor of bicyclists. We support both changes to the bill.

What’s Next?

We’re not done yet! The bill will now be considered by the full DC Council when it meets as the Committee of the Whole sometime before summer recess. It needs seven votes to pass the Council, and the Mayor’s signature to become law. The bill’s sponsors are Councilmembers Cheh, Grosso, Evans, Bonds, and Allen; Councilmember Alexander is a co-sponsor.

We are closer than we’ve ever been to fixing this obvious problem in the law—something we’ve been told couldn’t be done. Our opponents didn’t think could be done, and they’re still working to keep the legislation from becoming law.  Between now and the final vote, we’ll need to do everything we can to make sure we have sufficient support on the full Council. Keep your eyes out for action alerts about opportunities for further public comment and testimony as they arise. We’ll need everyone’s involvement to get this across the finish line.

Dooring Bill is Now Law in Virginia!

dooring

The Virginia General Assembly closed its 2016 legislative session on March 12th with some welcome news for bicyclists across the state and the Washington region. Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of Virginia residents, advocates, and legislators, SB 117, the “dooring” bill, passed both the Virginia House and Senate. On April 1, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed the bill into law.

SB 117 requires drivers to wait for a reasonable opportunity to open vehicle doors on the side adjacent to moving traffic. A violation constitutes a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of not more than $50. Getting “doored” is an all too common cause of crashes between bikes and cars, often resulting in severe injury to the bicyclist.

After many years of advocacy and many iterations of this bill, Virginia finally joins the District of Columbia, Maryland and 39 other states in placing responsibility with the driver to avoid dooring another road user. While codifying a new traffic infraction may not seem significant at first glance, it means a great deal to a bicyclist dealing with the aftermath of a dooring crash. Until now, a driver could blindly throw open their door into the path of a bicyclist, cause a crash, and drive away without citation or any legal responsibility. The law now correctly puts fault where it is due, and should help some bicyclists recover damages, even despite Virginia’s outdated contributory negligence standard.

Without question, this is a massive win! A special thank you goes to our partners at the Virginia Bicycling Federation for their tireless advocacy efforts on this legislative initiative.

Preventing Dooring

This law is very good news for anyone who gets doored in Virginia, but every road user has a role to play in preventing dooring crashes. Here are a few tips.

Drivers & Passengers

  • Before opening your door, check behind you. Use your mirror and turn your body to look before opening a car door, especially when inside the car.
  • Open car doors slowly.
  • Adopt this habit; Release the latch of the driver side door with your right hand. This practice forces you to look behind you before opening the door.
  • Remind passengers to check it’s clear to open their car door before they exit.

Bicyclists

  • Avoid riding in the “door zone.”  Car doors can extend 4-5 feet from a car and open quickly. Leave 3-5 feet between you and parked cars. On narrow streets, many bike lanes are placed in the “door zone,” so hug the left side of the lane.
  • Stay alert: Keep your eyes up, scan for activity ahead of you, and be on the lookout for drivers and passengers inside cars.
  • Be predictable and visible: Ride in a straight line and ride where drivers expect bicyclists to be. Use a front light when riding at night.
  • Learn and practice crash avoidance maneuvers: Take a City Cycling Class with WABA.

Other Legislation

Another bill, SB 669 was continued in the House Transportation Committee to 2017. SB 669 would have removed a disincentive for cities and towns to replace traffic lanes with bike lanes. Currently, highway maintenance funding is calculated based on the number of lane miles the city or town maintains. Under this bill, municipalities would not have their maintenance funding reduced if motor vehicle lane miles are converted to bicycle-only lanes. This would have helped municipalities wishing to engage in traffic calming, road diets, and other street safety projects.

This bill made significant headway, passing in the Senate, but never made it out of the House Transportation Committee. continued to 2017. This means that this bill will be back on the calendar for the 2017 legislative session.