The world championships of cycling are coming to Richmond next year. With that in mind, state cycling advocates were hoping to prod the General Assembly into passing legislation they say will make Virginia safer for cyclists.
Unlike last year when every single cycling bill was unceremoniously killed, bike riders found some success in the last week of the legislative session with lawmakers passing a measure requiring drivers to give cyclists a wider berth while passing.
But they also suffered an unexpected loss at the hands of the Democrat-controlled Senate when the transportation committee killed a bill that would have made it illegal for cars to tailgate cyclists. The measure had already cleared the Republican-dominated House. Last year, Democrats supported a bill with nearly identical language, and Republicans killed it.
“Frankly, we’re confused; some of these people supported it in the past but didn’t this year,” said Champe Burnley, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation. “We don’t understand why they didn’t go along with it.”
Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Bath County Democrat and the chair of the Senate transportation committee, was among those who changed his position from yes last year to no this year. He said he was worried the measure would be difficult to enforce. Also changing their votes were Sen. Henry L. Marsh, a Richmond Democrat, and Sen. John Watkins, a Republican who represents parts of Richmond, Chesterfield and Powhatan.
There were murmurs on Capitol Square that partisan politics were at play. The legislation’s sponsor was Delegate Barbara Comstock, a Republican from Northern Virginia who is currently running for Congress.
The Democrats denied politics were a factor, but Comstock said it was “certainly a possibility. I don’t know. They voted for it, then they voted against it. They raised objections they hadn’t raised before.”
Meanwhile, the bill increasing the distance between passing cars and bicyclists from two feet to three feet is before Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The only no votes in the House came from Republicans.
A House transportation subcommittee killed a third cycling bill that would have required drivers to check for passing traffic and cyclists before opening a car door into a roadway to avoid “dooring” bike riders unable to move out of the way in time.
Burnley said he hopes that in coming sessions Republicans and Democrats will be able to move past partisanship on cycling issues. “It really shouldn’t be a party issue,” he said. “We need to get people away from the thought that this is about the Birkenstock crowd or the greenies. It’s about having livable communities -- places the movers and shakers in their 20s and 30s want to live. People need to open their eyes and realize that if we want the Richmonds and the Norfolks and the Roanokes to be players, we really need to make these changes.”