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law now correctly puts fault where it is due, and should help some bicyclists recover damages, even despite Virginia’s outdated contributory negligence standard.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

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

I-66 Trail Could Be a Reality But Your Help is Needed 

Written by Sonya Breehey. Sonya is an active member of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling.

custis trail

The Custis Trail is one of Northern Virginia’s most popular trails. Let’s extend it to past the Beltway and beyond. Photo Credit: MV Jantzen

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) recently unveiled concept plans for an extension of the Custis Trail along I-66 outside the Beltway in Fairfax and Prince William Counties. Hundreds of Fairfax County trail users contacted VDOT asking for the trail extension as part of the I-66 project. While it is exciting to see the trail one step closer to reality, VDOT still has not included the trail as part of the I-66 project.  VDOT is asking for additional feedback on how the parallel trail will benefit you, your commute, and your neighborhood.

i66 trail at dunn loring

Proposed Custis Trail extension along I-66 in Dunn Loring. Source: VDOT (PDF)

The Custis Trail is one of the most successful bike trails in Northern Virginia, providing a popular recreation destination and critical bike-commuting route for thousands of commuters each year. In 2014, over 500,000 people rode a bike or walked along the Custis Trail. A similar trail outside the Beltway would be a major benefit to bicyclists in Northern Virginia.

A recent study showed that 25% of Fairfax County residents live within a mile of the proposed I-66 trail or within 1/2 mile of either the Fairfax Co Parkway or W&OD Trails, both of which would be connected by an extended Custis Trail.

I66 Trail Benefit Area

25% of Fairfax County residents would live within a mile of the proposed I-66 Trail or within 1/2 mile of the Fairfax Co. Parkway or W&OD Trails.

While there are right-of-way concerns and some backyards may be impacted, similar challenges were faced when building the Custis Trail. VDOT should seek to reduce the impacts by fitting as much of the trail within the existing project right-of-way and minimize impacts to neighbors.

Now is the time to take the long view.  Providing safe accessible connections for people to bike and walk to transit, and along and across I-66, will offer residents and commuters transportation options that enable us to shift more trips to biking and walking.

If you want the I-66 trail to be a reality, here is how you can help.

Speak Up at an Upcoming I-66 Public Hearings

Attend one of the I-66 Public Hearings and tell VDOT you support bicycle improvements, especially extending the Custis Trail, as part of the I-66 improvement project. Hearings are scheduled from 5:30 to 9:00 pm.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015
VDOT Northern Virginia District Office
4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030

Thursday, May 28, 2015
Oakton High School – Cafeteria
2900 Sutton Road, Vienna, VA 22181

Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Battlefield High School – Cafeteria
15000 Graduation Drive, Haymarket, VA 20169

Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Bull Run Elementary School – Cafeteria
15301 Lee Highway, Centreville, VA 20121

Send a Message to VDOT

Written comments may be submitted through June 18th by mail to Ms. Susan Shaw, Megaprojects Director, at the VDOT District Office address above, or by email to Transform66@VDOT.Virginia.gov.  Reference “Transform 66 Outside the Beltway” in the subject line.  Copy your public representatives on your email to make sure everyone gets your message for better bicycling! Don’t wait until June 18th, send your comments now.

Involve Your Neighborhood Association

Contact your neighborhood association to let them know how improving bicycling as part of the I-66 project will help your neighborhood, and urge them to get involved.

Visit FABB’s I-66 page for more information about efforts to include bicycling in the I-66 project.

Stop By and Help us Remind Bicyclists to Stop in Old Town

If you’re biking through Old Town this afternoon, join our Suburban Bike Ambassadors for our final day of our #StopCampaign. For the month of October they’ve organized events in Alexandria to remind road users, especially bicyclists, to stop at stop signs.

We’ve paired up with local advocates, the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the Alexandria Spokeswomen to help spread the word.

This is our last day! Join us from 4:30pm to 6:30pm at the intersection of King St. and Union St. (here). We’ll bring the signs, you bring the positive reinforcement!

Afterward we encourage you to celebrate with us and the Alexandria Spokeswomen at their fall bike advocacy happy hour at Union Street Public House. Click here for more information.

NPS Begins Arlington Memorial Circle Planning

memorial-circle

Navigating the Arlington Memorial Circle is a major obstacle for area bicyclists. The Mount Vernon Trail, Route 110 Trail and Arlington Memorial Bridge (the direct connection to the National Mall) converge at the circle. Trail users are forced to dash across high speed traffic at grade to cross the many highways, parkways and the traffic circle. There were a number of serious crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists in 2010 and 2011, leading NPS to make some short-term safety fixes to trail crossing.

Now, the George Washington Memorial Parkway is starting a Transportation Plan and Environmental Assessment to study the long-term and major fixes need to vastly improve safety and the park experience for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers. The planning process will take almost two years to complete with a final decision document not expected until the summer of 2016.

There are a number of opportunities in September to learn more about the planning process. National Park Service is also accepting comments until September 30th during this initial phase. Visit the National Park Service Park Planning website to learn more about how to get involved.

A First Step Toward Better Bike Lanes in MD and VA

Two way protected bike lane illustration from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

This week, WABA sent letters to local departments of transportation requesting consideration and adoption of the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide. The NACTO guide presents state-of-the-practice solutions that create safe, enjoyable complete streets for current and new bicyclists.

The NACTO guide provides county traffic engineers with additional designs for innovative bicycling facilities that use several techniques to encourage new bicyclists, primarily by separating bike lanes from car traffic. The guide also has recommendations for designing on-road facilities such as buffered bike lanes, protected bike lanes (cycle tracks), bike boxes, contraflow bike lane and other facilities.  Adoption of the NACTO guide by local DOTs clears one of the many obstacles to building protected bike lanes.

Why protected bike lanes?

Protected bike lanes keep current bicyclists safer while encouraging new people to use bicycles for transportation. WABA is working to increase the miles of protected bike lanes throughout the region. Learn about our advocacy priority and our local campaign to build a protected bike lanes in Bethesda. More local campaigns are coming soon.

We sent letters to the Directors of Transportation for Fairfax County, Prince Georges’ County, Montgomery County and the City of Alexandria*.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Arlington County have already endorsed the guide and are currently implementing protected bike lanes. We will publish the written responses we receive from the departments to the blog.

Read the full letter requesting adoption of NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

* Update: The City of Alexandria has also endorsed the NACTO guide.