An Ignorant Vote on a Good Bicycle Bill

Bicycle parking at a Bogota, Colombia, transit station.

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.


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24 responses to “An Ignorant Vote on a Good Bicycle Bill”

  1. For the record:

    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.

    is giving the two Republicans who spoke against it (Dels. Cox and Garrett) too much credit. It was simple spite and vindictiveness, with Cox going on about all of the cyclists he’s encountered who don’t live up to his traffic standards* and Garrett trotting out a fantasy scenario about his kid getting a ticket they he already knew to be impossible.

    *I’m *sure* all of his trucks obey the letter of the law.

  2. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    This peevish behavior that gratifies one’s most base and selfish emotions now seems the rule rather than the exception among our politicians. Particularly among those who sit in legislative bodies.

    Likely such boorish behavior is a manifestation of their unwillingness to confront and overcome real problems. Instead, our politicians use society’s problems as props. Either for vicarious emotional displays, or as tools by which to demagog for their own selfish political advantage.

    Hence, there’s no intention to solve the problem, only to keep it alive and festering for their own personal advantage. Thus, for example, our lawmakers throw huge sums of public moneys at problems not to solve them, but to undermine any chance for their solution.

    We’re rapidly becoming a Banana Republic writ large.

  3. I had a direct experience with this many years ago. As I made my way down Constitution Avenue on my way to class (late, so moving at a good clip), the driver of a parked MGB opened his door right in front of me. The door and the bike ended up lying in the road in a heap. The momentum carried me over the door head first, but miraculously there was enough energy to propel me into a forward roll that let me land on my knees and not my head. I was a bit banged up, but not injured seriously. It would have been wonderful YouTube stuff had it not been the early 1970s).

    I still ride bicycles a lot. I’ve had a number of very close calls with cars. The real problem is that drivers are not sensitized to think about the presence of bikes. I suspect that current law would hold a car driver responsible if he opens a door into an oncoming bicyclist. However, it was small and petty of the General Assembly not to go forward with Chap’s bill. Nonetheless, I think that bicycles are gaining ground impressively as a viable transport device and this is all to the good. the more the better. And the more of us there are, the more alert drivers will become.

  4. I sorta felt like it was an attempt to select out one particular behavior in a bit of a punitive way.

    It would have been better to amend a current law – like “failure to yield” or some other existing law – just include “dooring” as an addition to an enumerated list of similar offenses – relating to careless actions.

    by making it a separate law – it was in my view a bit too “in your face” type legislation.

    The biking community seems to prefer these kind of challenges – pushy and provocative rather than low key and persuasive.

    it was a failure of form over function….

    bills that tend to polarize, even if they win, are troublesome and often end up counterproductive over the longer run.

    I’ll admit from the get go that bikes get short shrift all up and down the continuum but at the same time..I think progress that “sticks” is not done “in your face” style.

  5. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Punitive and in your face?

    What’s punitive and in your face about a $100 fine for opening a car door in the face of oncoming traffic so as to threaten other lawful users of the road with death, brain damage and/or paralysis by reason of a spinal injury?

    Who but the most callous of jerks would vote against such a bill?

  6. because there are a wide variety of careless acts that are not individual laws but rather subordinate parts of general law.

    this law elevated one particular kind of careless act to it’s own stand-alone crime.

    for instance, what do you do if a car pulls out in front of a bike without looking?

    it’s without a doubt a careless act that probably ought to be a chargeable offense – but do we need a separate stand-alone law for each illegal careless act?

    how many more laws like this will be attempted if this one were to pass? Would we then get a list from the bike community of various “crimes” against bikers?

    If a pedestrian gets hits in a crosswalk – is the crime a failure to yield or is it a specific crime for that particular kind of act?

    So I’d rather to see more general laws – like – failure to yield – for any/all vehicle mishaps.

    I DO support ENABLING the victim to sue for wanton and careless acts so I do support a law that does make it a Prima Facie crime.

    We have too many friggin laws… and I point out the irony of those who say we have a too big, too intrusive govt, that over-regulates and needs bureaucrats to service the regs…

    this is an example of that in my view.

    It’s well intentioned but as I said, I don’t think we need a new, separate law – just add this to an existing law that deals with careless behaviors and acts that harm others – and make it easy for the victim to sue on that basis.

    people forget – you can be sued for a wrongful act even if there is no law prohibiting it – it’s separate law and if you commit that act and are found at fault – you can have a judgement levied against you and/or your insurance company and in the end – you do not escape from being held accountable for “dooring’ no more than for any other act where you cause harm to others from a careless act.

    we have too many fricken laws and too many people complaining about too many regulations… and this is how this happens.

  7. I would prefer one law entitled: ” Careless or negligent operation of vehicle” that applied to all interactions between vehicles, other vehicles, pedestrians and related.

    “dooring” could be a specific mention but so could …say running a car through the front of a 7-11 or tailgating a motorcycle, or hitting a baby stroller in a cross-walk, etc.

    In other words deal with the wanton/careless act itself not just select out certain kinds of victims to have their own specific laws.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      What claptrap. Under your line of thinking, we should do away with stop lights, stop signs, no right or left turn signals, or speed limits.

      Plus this law makes no mention of bikes at all.

      1. nope. I think the proposed law – got promoted and got interpreted by the opposition as a law for bikes.. whether it said so in the text or not.

        And that gets you nowhere if the opposition thinks your motivation is specific to bikes….

        and that’s my point.

        we have too many laws and regulations already Reed. You make that point all the time in other areas, right?

        THIS is HOW that happens. Good intentions… that clutter up basic things…

        A “due care” law should apply to all situations – not just “dooring”.

        basically all you need in the law – is something that allows the victim to seek compensation for the act and the market – insurance and civil law will take care of the rest.

        why does this need to be made into a criminal act in addition?

        1. Larry, unless there is a law specific to the situation, the police are reluctant to enforce. That’s why Loudoun County successfully got Favola to carry a law that creates redundant enforcement possibilities (against cyclists, natch) at trail/road crossings. They *could* cite for entering a crosswalk in disregard of approaching traffic, but it wasn’t specific enough for them.

          Similarly, there are stories from across the Commonwealth about police refusing to cite a driver for dooring a cyclist. Now, that’s same driver would have been cited had he pulled into traffic and hit a car (or even a cyclist. In theory.) But opening a door? Sorry, say the police, it’s just not clear enough.

          And you’ve still not addressed the fact that we’ve already tried to introduce a due care law (which would, in theory, create the world you’re seeking), but it was shot down. Why? Because it might benefit cyclists.

          The issue isn’t one of redundant regulation, or seeking special protections. It’s a cultural cue, where punching the hippie cyclists is fun for people like Cox and Garrett.

          1. I do understand how we got there but I still think it’s the wrong approach because it has the appearance of being special purpose for bikes rather than a more general approach.

            when you do that – you actually empower those who oppose bikes to use that spoken rationale as a justification ….for opposition – and yes.. it IS ignorant… but it also is not that much a surprise and that’s why I call that kind of proposal as “in your face” because the proponents know that there are people who will oppose it if it is framed in that manner.

            there is – an bit of an ongoing war between bikers and those who dislike bikes on roads.

            the participants know who they are.

            when one side plops a proposed law in the hopper – the other side knows what it is about and they mobilize – as expected.

            I just think this approach to legislation is counter-productive – and yes it’s practiced by a large number of folks but it still leads to polarization of the issues rather than trying to find some middle ground that people can unite on.

            there has got to be some middle ground on this and what I expect is those who say they want progress – to find it – and to have it go forward – without much if any controversy.

            it’s a high bar – yes but I’m sick of legislation from any quarter that has obvious thorns on it… it’s just counter-productive.

            Assert your cause. Work for it but don’t put stuff in the legislative hopper than just causes churn… we got enough of that already.

            I think Chap P tried to do right with the “dooring” and also with the navigation issue (and I do paddle) but both bills were just too overt for my taste and I was not at all surprised when the other side knocked the wheels out.

          2. In other words, Larry, you would like cycling advocate to find a magic unicorn? Because there’s nothing in your face or aggressive about the _very_ basic safety measures that Virginia cycling advocates have been looking for. We’re not trying to take money away from freeways, we’re not pushing the Idaho Stop, and we’re not pushing for congestions pricing. Just another foot, don’t swing your door into us, and please don’t ride our rear wheel with your bumper. Please, tell me where the reasonable “middle ground” is on, that? Six inches, don’t swing it too hard, and it’s okay if you ride the wheel so long as it’s at less than 20mph?

            Please, explain it to me.

  8. You mean something like a Due Care law, Larry?

  9. here’s the code section:

    you look at it and tell me if this proposal “fits” that part of the code.

    I stand by my comment. I support biking. I support bike trails for real transportation – not just recreation.

    I acknowledge that bikes and biking get poor treatment – across the board.

    but I STILL think THIS kind of approach – is provocative, spurs polarization and basically invites negative responses.

    and I say this again.

    we sometimes have the very SAME PEOPLE saying that we already have too many regulations and bureaucracy except they think we need one more for their cause.

  10. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Well, my first cause is protecting people’s health from the inadvertence, negligence, or gross negligence of others.

    And, if I properly interpret the subtext of the above dialogue, there may well be a growing incidence of malicious endangerment of others, a criminal activity, taking place on Virginia’s roads. If so, there’s is yet another cause to get this legislation brought to the foreground, and passed.

    In any case, all of this gets back to the point of my first comment (response #2) to Jim’s Article. Yet another bad omen. This is not a happy time.

  11. DJRippert Avatar

    I’ve had to play “dodge door” with my F-150 to keep from taking a door off a car and possibly killing the driver. This was a good law. Our General Assembly sucks.

  12. re: middle ground

    don’t make it about “dooring” as was the case

    it was portrayed that way by supporters and, in turn, reported that way in the media. It did not take a rocket scientist on the other side to figure out what it was really about no matter the stated title.

    I just this kind of approach is confrontational and invites divisiveness and in the end it actually mobilizes opposition…

    if it would have worked, then good.. bikes deserve that law.

    but at the end of the day, one has to deal with whether you want the advocacy with no progress or progress in smaller less provocative bites.

    My frustration here is that I WANT to see MORE for bikes but this is a long slog …the US and Va world are indeed car-centric.

    I might be wrong. You might be right. I just think that sometimes half-loaf now and the rest later gets more progress than hard-lining issues.

  13. re: ” there may well be a growing incidence of malicious endangerment of others, a criminal activity, taking place on Virginia’s roads.”

    geeze Reed… even if you thought it you might not actually say it – in the context of “dooring”.

    People do stupid things now days… as DJ said, some open their doors in front of F-150s… but those kinds of folks, I seriously doubt – are paying much attention to what they are opening their door in front of.. much less doing it maliciously…

    People kill bikers and motor-cycle riders all the time in part because they’re in a hurry- driving too fast for conditions and in part because they simply do not “see” vehicles smaller than typical cars.

    I’m quite sure you as all of us have – been surprised to come up abruptly on a bike around a curve or hill or sometimes even at night…sometimes it’s a pedestrian wearing dark clothes walking right on the shoulder… people on foot – get “doored” in WalMart parking lots..or in malls…

    it’s more the idiocy of the times than evil doers… and I’m not sure what the answer is but I’d hate to see a new law for each kind of careless idiocy we are now witnessing…these days.

  14. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Don highlights the important point that this is not just about bikers. This is about all users on the road. Whether they open doors of parked vehicles, or are directly endangered by those who do, or are endangered by those forced to swerve out of one harm’s way posed by the open door, into nearby lanes that pose a chain of additional threats to yet other drivers. So they bill works to product all involved. Not only those who ride two wheelers but those who drive eighteen wheelers, or four wheelers and all in between.

    It’s about protecting all concerned from a rapidly rising hazard. Thus, its no different from the legally recognized fact that some intersections require legal controls. Things like stop and go signs, special turn signals and the like. And that fines are reasonable imposed for those who ignore those controls for what ever reason. And that our laws should rightfully take such facts into account when determining civil liability for damages resulting to others by reason of someone’s failure to obey such laws.

    Translated: you have an accident while running a red light, you and your insurance company pays. Or, you open your door in front of oncoming traffic, you pay.

    This is not about the bike. But as long as bikes have a right to use the public roads, those who ride them are entitled to same protections against physical harm, as those who drive Don’s 150 Ford. And politicians who grandstand the issue for personal or political advantage deserve approbation.

    Regarding my comment about malicious behavior, it arose from a reasonable reading of the comments of others. Indeed, some commentary suggests that those who act to improperly inflame this issue reside in a number camps, furthering endangering public safety. That’s another good reason to address this matter openly and directly, not by sleigh of hand. Or by putting fancy legal theory gloss on what’s obvious as the nose on ones’ face. Let get back into the habit of calling things what they are.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Correction to 1st paragraph: So the bill works to protect all involved.

  15. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Regarding this matter generally Larry, I am reminded of our dialogue in the prior Nov. 2012 post on the website entitled “Another Income-Inequality Study Stating the Obvious”. The issue there was a political one, involving the necessary structures and attitudes necessary to insure that the rights of all citizens were protected.

    This is an excellent illustration of how easily a”majority” can abuse even by simple neglect the rights of a minority. A further discussion of this point can be found it today’s WSJ.

    There Allen Guelzo’s in his excellent article “A Theory of Liberty” takes to task elements of John Burt’s new book titled: Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism, with subtitle Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict. These issues have been around a long time, since Plato at the least. And on this occasion, Lincoln got the best of Plato by a country mile.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Connection to 1st sentence. Regarding this matter, Larry, I am reminded of our dialogue in the prior Nov. 2012 post on THIS website WHICH POST WAS entitled “Another Income-Inequality Study Stating the Obvious”.

      1. right.. does that mean you support more laws and regulations in response to it?

        I kinda thought the folks who talked about “liberty” wanted LESS regulations and laws and wanted to leave it up to individuals to deal with these kinds of things.


        do you, in general, support more regulations and laws to address things not currently resolved to our collective satisfaction?

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