By LAUREN McCLELLAN
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate Transportation committee recently approved a bill increasing the distance at which cars must pass bicycles from 2 feet to 3 feet.
Senate Bill 97, introduced by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, has been unsuccessfully introduced in the past by Reeves and a number of other Republican and Democratic legislators.
Previous opponents of the bill, including Sen. Charles W. Carrico, R-Galax, have cited enforceability issues as a reason for barring passage of the bill, saying that it is hard for drivers to know the difference between 2- and 3-foot distances while driving.
This bill would change the distance at which a car can pass electric personal assistive mobility devices (scooters and wheelchairs), mopeds and animal-drawn vehicles. Twenty-two other states and Washington, D.C. have similar laws that say drivers must pass bicycles with at least 3 feet of room.
The Virginia Bicycling Federation supports the bill and its members have been meeting with legislators to advocate for the bill’s passage.
“We had reps from the City of Virginia Beach speaking to the Senate Transportation Committee in support of SB97,” stated Scott Cramer, board member of the VBF from Norfolk. “When city officials, not just cyclists, want to be seen as bike-friendly, that’s a big step forward.”
To Cramer, the new bill would give cyclists another layer of protection from vehicles that have wide trailers or large mirrors. Cramer also thinks that the passage of this bill would help the relationship between Virginia cyclists and drivers.
“It will help Virginia’s standing as a bicycle-friendly state, since having a 3-foot pass law is a criterion from the League of American Bicyclists,” Cramer stated in an email. “It sends a message to citizens – drivers and cyclists – that cyclists’ space on the road should be respected.”
In 2013, the League of American Bicyclists rated Virginia the 16th most bike-friendly state. The league provided feedback with their ranking, stating that Virginia should consider enacting a 3-foot passing law.
In 2015, Richmond will host the Union Cycliste Internationale World Road Championships. Lee Kramer, marketing and communications director for the event’s Richmond organizing body, thinks SB 97 could benefit the entire commonwealth.
“We hope this event is not (only) about bike racing, but making the region more bike-friendly for recreation and transportation,” Kramer said. “Any legislation that further supports (this) is a good thing as far as we’re concerned.”