Your Views: Lack of political diversity produces bad laws

Your Views: Lack of political diversity produces bad laws
(Photo credit: Cody Mello-Klein)

To the editor:

Virginia House of Delegates bill 2262, which permits bicycles to treat stop signs as yield signs, is emblematic of how governance goes wrong when one party takes total control. On Feb. 21, all of Alexandria’s House of Delegates members voted for this bill, which contains the following provision which, thankfully, the almost evenly divided Senate sidetracked:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the operator of a bicycle may treat a stop sign as a yield sign if the operator (i) exercises due care, (ii) determines that it is safe to proceed, and (iii) yields the right of way to the driver of any other vehicle approaching the intersection when the approaching vehicle is not required to stop.

In plain English, “notwithstanding any other provision of law” means bicyclists no longer would have to yield to pedestrians at intersections if they can miss hitting them by more than an inch and that all the protections prioritizing pedestrians set forth in existing law are overridden relative to bicycles.

A few years ago, safety advocates persuaded the legislature that all traffic should be required to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk or starting to cross. As a result, not only traffic in the lane in which the pedestrian happened to be would have to stop, but traffic in all lanes. Without specifically admitting to it, “notwithstanding any other provision of law” would wipe out this pedestrian protection vis-à-vis bicycles’ interaction with pedestrians.

How about electric bicycles, e-scooters and motorized skateboards? Does this vague provision apply also to them or is it only a matter of time before their lobbyists prevail upon the legislature to do the same the bicyclists have quietly and almost successfully persuaded it to do for them?

Recall not long ago, Alexandria’s City Council had to revise its ordinance because it was written in such a way that motorists would only get a traffic ticket for a few hundred dollars for some driving infractions involving hitting a pedestrian. The language in this bill is like that because “notwithstanding any other provision of law” overrides every other traffic law governing bicycle behavior at intersections.

This bill didn’t just happen; surely legions of well-organized bicyclists lobbied for such an exemption to traffic laws. But why didn’t Alexandria’s members of the House of Delegates, Democrats all, alert neighborhood civic associations and other stakeholders who would have a day-to-day interest in pedestrian safety and traffic laws?

Why did they try slipping through so fundamental a change in the basic philosophy of traffic law that all highway vehicles are treated alike without a full discussion with their constituents, rather than catering to a well-organized, highly motivated, but small minority?

One reason is because Alexandria lately has become a one-party town and when political competition goes away, so does responsive governance. Instead, elected officials pay more attention to pressure groups, secure in the knowledge that there isn’t a strong enough opposition party to force them to instead listen to the people.

When Alexandria had a viable two-party system, we sent high-caliber representation to Richmond: Republican Vince Callahan and Democrats Patsy Ticer, Marian Van Landingham and Rob Krupicka. Now, abuses like this pass almost in silence.

-Dino Drudi, Alexandria