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Bicycle advocates hope for better 2024 in General Assembly

Arlington advisory panel saw little success in its priorities this year
/Metro Creative

Bicycle advocates in Arlington are hoping they come away with more from the 2024 General Assembly session than they garnered in 2023.

“We didn’t get anything accomplished last year,” said Gillian Burgess, a member of the county’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, speaking at an Aug. 21 meeting.

(On the plus side, she acknowledged, “we came really close” on a number of issues.)

The committee, which is overseen by County Manager Mark Schwartz, funnels its recommendations through him and onward to the County Board as it sets its annual legislative priorities for the following year’s General Assembly session.

Since “not much was achieved” in the 2023 session, “we can ask for a lot of the same things” for 2024, Bicycle Advisory Committee chair Cynthia Palmer said.

The Bicycle Advisory Committee will hold a joint meeting with the Pedestrian Advisory Committee on Sept. 13 to consider legislative priorities for 2024. The meeting will be held online; the public is invited, and a recording will be placed on the county government’s YouTube channel.

Palmer highlighted a number of the 2023 goals that fell by the wayside in the divided General Assembly – gaining more local control of traffic-enforcement rules; a transportation fund to support pedestrian/bicyclist safety; more safety equipment on trucks; and elimination of Virginia’s contributory-negligence law, which prevents pedestrians and bicyclists injured in crashes with vehicles from recovering damages if they are found to be even partially at fault.

At the Aug. 21 meeting, leadership of the county government came under criticism for not pushing more forcefully in Richmond for issues related to bicyclists (and, by extension, pedestrians).

The local government “has not stepped up to the plate to help us,” said Burgess, pointing to a much more robust effort coming out of neighboring Alexandria.

But even a stronger voice on the issues may not amount to much under the current political environment, said Collier Cook, a former president of the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association, who participated in the meeting.

“As much as we think we can do a lot here in Arlington, our voice is very small when it gets down to Richmond,” he said.

The outcome of the General Assembly election in November could move the needle, one way or another, on issues related to bicyclist and pedestrian safety. But even if Democrats’ hopes are fulfilled and the party wins back control of the House of Delegates while maintaining its majority in the state Senate, the party for at least two more years won’t be able to enact much of its agenda without compromising with Gov. Youngkin.

Should Republicans’ hopes of holding the House of Delegates and winning the state Senate come true, local advocates on a host of issues will have to start finding friendly legislators in other parts of the commonwealth, as almost all lawmakers from the Northern Virginia area are Democrats.

On the plus side, Burgess said, the Virginia Department of Transportation did engage with bicycle advocates on issues that were proposed for the 2023 legislative session, and “those talks continue.”

Several participants in the Aug. 21 meeting suggested what was needed was more regional and statewide collaboration with groups of like minds, but committee member Eric Goodman reminded them that such advocacy goes beyond the panel’s formal scope, which is limited to advising the county manager.

The 2024 General Assembly session convenes in Richmond in early January for what is expected to be a 60-day session.