Photo by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

As the Virginia General Assembly session heats up, there’s a lot percolating on smart growth and transportation. Key bills on congestion metrics, funding, and bicycle and pedestrian priorities are up this week.

Congestion metrics

For years, highway advocates and others hostile to transit have tried to make roadway “congestion reduction” metrics the primary way we choose which transportation projects get funding.

HB1470 and HB1915/SB1314 would do just that for the Northern Virginia regional transportation plan, local comprehensive plans, and new transit projects.

If passed, these bills would have serious impacts on Virginia’s transportation planning. In effect, when selecting new projects to build, Virginia officials would have to ignore the many benefits of transit for moving more people and building strong communities, and focus solely on how a project affects the capacity of existing highways to carry cars.

Undermining pro-transit jurisdictions

Another bill, HB2170, would merge the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which funds and manages Virginia’s portion of Metro, into the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a broader agency that includes more of the outer suburbs, and has a multimodal focus rather than transit-only. Combining them would reduce the voting power of transit-dependent jurisdictions to control transit decision-making.

Funding and oversight

Comprehensive “transportation omnibus” bill HB1887 is receiving a lot of attention because it would partially fill a hole in state transit funding and increase funding for structurally deficient bridges, deteriorating pavement, and local transportation needs. It’s a huge bill with a ton of provisions, some good and some bad.

Another bill, HB1886, would reform the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA), establishing new oversight and accountability for public-private partnerships in transportation projects. This is particularly important following debacles like Hampton Roads’ Route 460 project, which wasted $300 million in taxpayer funds without having permits in hand.

Bicycling and pedestrian priorities

Delegate Riley Ingram (R) of House District 62 (outside of Richmond) has introduced HB1746, a “mandatory sidepath” bill, which would prohibit bicyclists from riding in the road wherever there’s a sidepath or bike lane available. Obviously, this bill would have major negative impacts on the many Northern Virginia cyclists who use bicycles for transportation.

SB781, which would make it legal for cars to cross the double yellow line to pass bicyclists, with the required three foot safety distance, has passed in the Senate and is headed to the House. Another bill, SB882, would make dooring illegal, and would also make it easier for cyclists to be compensated after being injured by dooring.

HB1402/SB952 would make sure local jurisdictions don’t lose state funding if they implement road diets, with bike improvements on local streets. Under current law, replacing a car lane with a bike lane reduces a jurisdiction’s road funding, because the state funding formula is based on car lane miles.

SB1279 would ban use of any personal communications device while driving, unless that device is hands-free or the vehicle is stopped.

More information

The Virginia Bicycling Federation has an excellent online spreadsheet which they update regularly, detailing the status of bicycling bills this session. And the Coalition for Smarter Growth has a take-action tool to help Virginia residents contact their state legislators to support or oppose these bills.