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law now correctly puts fault where it is due, and should help some bicyclists recover damages, even despite Virginia’s outdated contributory negligence standard.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.

March Advocacy Roundup


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Read straight through or skip ahead to updates from Maryland, Virginia, or DC.

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All across the region great people are working to fix our streets to make biking safe and popular. They meet each month to share ideas and work together for better places to bike. Whether you’re looking for a fun group, a new cause, or a wonky policy discussion, our Action Committees have it covered.

See what we’re doing in your community and join us for the next meeting.

MARYLAND

State Legislation

Brief explanation: The Maryland General Assembly considered three bike-related bills this session: to make the three foot passing law apply on all roads, repeal the mandatory use of on-street bicycle infrastructure, and reinstate punitive damages for victims and surviving family members of drunk drivers.

Current status: An amended version of the three foot passing law made it out of the Environment and Transportation Committee this week. The amendment mandates that when a driver is passing another road user in accordance with one of the exceptions to the three feet law, s/he must slow and pass without endangering any other road users. Ending the narrow lane exception would be better, but this is an improvement to the current law. The amendment is being voted on by the House of Delegates this week.

Silver Spring Protected Bike Lane Network

Brief explanation: Montgomery County is planning a protected bike lane network in downtown Silver Spring.

Current status: Thanks in large part to WABA member’s advocacy and the leadership of Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen, Tom Hucker and Hans Riemer, the project recently passed it’s biggest hurdle, funding, with a 3-0 Transportation & the Environment Committee vote in favor of increasing the budget for the program by 1.5 million dollars.

Action to take: Get involved with the Montgomery County Action Committee for timely action alerts and updates.

Montgomery County Master Plan Rewrite

Brief explanation: Montgomery County is refreshing its Bike Master Plan ten years early to reflect new trends, apply new standards, and set the county on an aggressive path towards a low stress network that more residents can use and enjoy.

Current status: Staff have released Master Plans for White Flint and Shady Grove Life Sciences.

Action to take: Contribute to the interactive map of bicycling areas of concern: mcatlas.org/cyclingconcerns/

Montgomery County Endorses Vision Zero

Brief explanation: Montgomery County Council publicly announced a commitment to the Vision Zero campaign to reduce traffic deaths in Montgomery County to zero by a date certain.

Current status: Waiting for release of a county-wide action plan, promised for fall.

Action to take: Write your County Councilmembers and thank them for their commitment; ask them to set a date certain for producing an action plan with concrete timelines. montgomerycountymd.gov/council/members/


VIRGINIA

State Legislative Actions

Brief explanation: The bill (SB117) making dooring a ticketable offense passed the Virginia House (70Y-25N). The highway maintenance bill (SB669), after being recommended for approval by Committee on an 18 to 1 vote, died on the House floor. House Appropriations Committee Chair Delegate Chris Jones made a motion to refer the measure back to the Transportation Committee, whose work has already been completed for the year. More than a thousand supporters across Virginia emailed their legislators asking them to support safer laws and infrastructure for bicycling.

Current status: The dooring bill is awaiting Governor Mcauliffe’s signature by April 11.

Arlington Action Committee—Bike Friendly Ballston

Brief explanation: On February 20th, thirty bicycling advocates stood in support as we presented to the County Board our proposal for building a protected bike lane on N Quincy St through Ballston. With almost 600 petition signatures, 11 businesses, 2 neighboring Civic Associations and the Ballston Business Improvement District in support, the Board directed staff to develop designs to accomplish the goal.

Current status: Arlington County staff are developing plans for a protected bike lane on N Quincy.

Action to take: If you have not already, sign the petition and join the Action Committee to keep this project moving.


DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

2015 Bike Infrastructure Roundup

In 2014, the District Department of Transportation (“DDOT”) installed nearly ten miles of new bike lanes, including more than a mile and a half of protected bike lanes. It was a record-setting year. In contrast, in 2015, the agency installed just 4.42 miles of new bike lanes. Only 0.14 miles of those are protected bike lanes. Whether compared to the actual progress made in 2014 or DDOT’s two year Move DC Action Plan goal of 7.5 miles per year, 2015 was not an impressive year for new bike lanes. There is no doubt that bike lane projects on DC’s streets are getting harder. After building more than 70 miles of bike lanes, we have exhausted much of the low hanging fruit, but our peer cities are setting records and we know with the right level of commitment from the city, DC can too.

Eastern Downtown Protected Bike Lanes

Brief explanation: DDOT proposed building protected bike lanes on either 6th or 9th Street NW from Florida Avenue to downtown. This is a much-needed safety infrastructure project that will fill in a substantial gap in the protected bike network in the heart of DC.

Current status: The public comment period closed March 15. WABA generated thousands of supportive comments, and turned out over a hundred people to the public meeting for the project; forty supporters testified in favor. Eleven local businesses and several local churches also submitted letters of support for the project.

Read our write up of the most recent community meeting.

Vision Zero

Brief explanation: Mayor Bowser and DDOT Director Dormsjo have both committed to Vision Zero to bring traffic deaths in the District to Zero by 2024.

Current status: The Mayor released the District’s Action Plan for achieving Vision Zero and DDOT proposed regulations to implement portions of the action plan, including creating new traffic infractions and increasing fines and penalties for breaking safety laws.

Bike Bills before the DC Council

Brief explanation: Three pieces of legislation before the DC Council include a host of bicycle safety improvements, including street design policies, crash reporting, open data, bicycle / pedestrian prioritization areas, and aggressive measures to curb life-threatening behavior—like distracted, impaired, and aggressive driving.

Current status: The bills are in the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, likely being combined into one bill, to be considered by the full Council later this spring.

Contributory Negligence

Brief explanation: The doctrine of contributory negligence is a legal dinosaur that harms bicyclists who’ve been hurt in a crash by making it easy for insurance companies to deny claims to recover damages for bike repairs and hospital bills. A bill before the Judiciary Committee would change this antiquated law so that if a bicyclist was less than 50% at fault, she would not be barred from recovery.

Current status: The bill is languishing in the Judiciary Committee. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, has made it clear through 14 months of inaction that this is not a legislative priority. There has been no move to bring the bill to a vote so it can be considered by the full Council. The bill enjoys wide support in both the Judiciary Committee and the broader Council, and would almost certainly pass, given the chance.

Action to take: Email or call Councilmember McDuffie’s office and let them know you want to see this bill (B21-0004) brought to a vote. Councilmember McDuffie’s office: (202) 724-8028.

Rock Creek Park Trail

Brief explanation: The Rock Creek Park Trail is in terrible shape. In February 2014, 2500+ area residents signed a petition demanding that the National Park Service and DDOT get in gear to repave, redesign, and fix the long-crumbling Rock Creek Park Trail.

Current status: This outpouring of public comments got the project moving. The final Environmental Assessment was released in June 2014 and design work began. The project has been put out for bid and we just might see construction start this spring on some sections of the trail.

Safe Accommodations During Construction

Brief explanation: Three years ago, the DC Council unanimously passed the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act to prohibit DDOT from granting permits to developers to block sidewalks and bike lanes without providing safe accommodation to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Despite this law, DDOT recently granted a permit to Carr Properties, a developer that is demolishing the old Washington Post building at 1100 15th St. NW and constructing a new building on the property, to close the adjacent sidewalk and protected bike lane on L Street NW between 15th and 16th streets for at least 27 months.

As a result of this permit, bicyclists riding in a protected bike lane will be forced to mix suddenly into a dangerous and fast-moving car lane without any safe accommodation.

Current status: WABA is preparing a formal letter to DDOT explaining why the configuration violates the law and providing suggestions for how to comply.


 

 

Bike Legislation in Virginia in the 2016 Session

Buffered Bike Lane Arlington

 

As Virginia cruises through its short legislative session, two bike-relevant bills under consideration need your support.  Northern Virginia is a powerhouse and a leader on bicycle issues, but county and city governments don’t have control over all of the aspects of the NoVa bike network, so some changes have to happen at the state level. It only takes a minute to send a letter to your representatives, and it makes a big difference when they hear from you.

take action

Here are the bills that need your support:

SB 117: Dooring— This bill makes opening a vehicle door into the path of an oncoming bicycle a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of up to $50.  As too many of us know, dooring can cause severe injury to bicyclists.  Currently, there is no penalty in VA for passengers and drivers who put cyclists at risk in this manner. The lack of a ticketable infraction makes it harder for the victim of dooring to recover damages from insurance companies for his/her injuries. The creation of this traffic infraction would change that.

SB 669: Converting traffic lanes to bicycle lanes will not reduce highway maintenance funds— This bill would remove 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 will not have their maintenance funding reduced if motor vehicle lane miles are converted to bicycle-only lanes. This is great for municipalities wishing to engage in traffic calming, road diets, and other street safety projects.

take action

Virginia’s Dooring Bill To Be Heard in the House Tomorrow

dooringTomorrow, SB 736 will be heard in the full transportation committee of Virginia’s House of Representatives. SB 736 would make it illegal in Virginia to “open the door of a motor vehicle on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so.” A violation would constitute a traffic infraction punishable by a fine no more than $100.

We’ve written about the dooring bill here previously and have urged you, if you’re a Virginia resident, to take action to support it. Thanks in part to your dedicated and vocal support, SB 736 passed the House’s transportation subcommittee, where it was voted for by delegates Richard Anderson and J. Randall Minchew.

We appreciate any additional support you can give to SB 736 in advance of its hearing tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. Constituents of delegates Anderson and Minchew should express thanks for their support of the bill in subcommittee, and constituents of Thomas Rust and Barbara Comstock should reiterate that their support is needed for this bill, which would make dooring illegal.

Contact information for Virginia delegates can be found here.