What’s with General Assembly Republicans? They’re willing to raise taxes to fund automobile and mass-transit projects but they’re not willing to support a bill that would make bicycling safer without costing the state a dime. The House version of a bill submitted by Sen. Chap Peterson, D-Fairfax, was defeated yesterday in a tie vote in the House Transportation Committee.
The bill, which would have required drivers and passengers to wait for a reasonable opportunity to open vehicle doors adjacent to moving traffic, was just too much for Republicans to swallow. Of the seven delegates voting for the bill, only one was Republican, while of the seven voting against, six were. Tie votes prevented the bill from passing, thus killing it.
It’s a small bill, hardly as consequential as the legislative proposals restructuring gasoline and sales taxes to raise billions of dollars for new transportation construction projects. But, symbolically, it speaks just as loud. By their actions, Republicans appear to embrace the traffic engineering mentality that the purpose of roads is to move vehicles as rapidly and efficiently as possible, even if it means sacrificing the idea of “complete streets” in which cars share roads with pedestrians and bicycles.
It is ironic that Republicans are comfortable with the idea of increasing funding for mass transit, as seen in their support of Governor Bob McDonnell’s transportation funding package, while refusing to support a measure that would help make mass transit economically viable. Successful transit requires several elements: One is mixed-use development; rail stations should serve a mix of residential, commercial and amenities. A second is higher density; the more people who live and work within a quarter mile of light and heavy rail stations, the more who are willing to walk to the station. A third is a walkable-bikable street environment. Bicycles increase transit ridership by making a station accessible from distances greater than a quarter mile. And unlike cars, they take up only a tiny amount of parking space.
Bottom line: If we want Virginians to ride the mass transit assets we plan to spend billions of dollars on, we need to make streets more hospitable to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Astoundingly, Republicans are willing to throw millions of dollars at mass transit without any understanding of the urban context it takes to make transit successful. It is this kind of nitwittery that makes it so difficult to vote for them. They are saved at the ballot box only by the foolishness of Democrats. God save us all.