The 2017 Safe Bicycling Initiative

March 30, 2017

Cover Image of the Safe Bicycling Initiative Law Guide

The Arlington County Police Department’s second annual Safe Bicycling Initiative (SBI) is now in full swing. The program, part of an ongoing effort to make Arlington County an even better place to ride a bicycle, runs from March 27 through April 4. Expect to see a heightened focus on interactions between people riding bikes and people driving vehicles as ACPD seeks to change the behavior of both people driving and cycling through education and enforcement of existing traffic laws, with the goal of creating safer roadways for all.

ACPD collaborated with BikeArlington, County Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Staff as well as Bicycle Advisory Committee members to give input on the SBI Law Enforcement Guide. All parties were also asked to identify the most concerning violations made by people biking and people driving motor vehicles near people riding bikes. Not surprisingly, there was quite a bit of overlap between everyone’s lists! Drivers not checking for people riding in the bike lane before turning (also called a "right hook"), drivers parking in the bike lane, close passes and people on bikes flouting stop lights and stop signs or traveling against traffic ranked highly for everyone. This feedback informed the Law Enforcement Guide and the Roll Call Training provided to all officers ahead of the initiative.

Arlington Police Roll Call Room with SBI on projector

Seated in the back of a roll call room filled with uniformed officers, my colleague and I were able to listen in on the training officers received ahead of the Safe Bicycling Initiative. It was a neat experience to see and hear our collaboration reflected in the presentation—and hear the officers ask thoughtful questions about tricky right-of-way issues. And our ACPD counterparts, who are charged with education and enforcement, voiced similar concerns about these topics.

According to the SBI Law Enforcement Guide, this initiative “will begin by educating motorists, cyclists and law enforcement in the county concerning the laws that apply to cycling. When motorists and cyclists are educated on the laws regarding cyclists, each can share a mutual understanding of what their responsibilities are toward one another. If motorists and cyclists can predict the actions of one another based on the legal rights each possess, crashes will occur less and respect between motorists and bicyclist will increase.” Sound familiar?

Officers were reminded that “In Virginia, a cyclist is considered to have the rights of a motorist when operating on a roadway. Other vehicles on the roadway must respect the right of the cyclist to travel safely on that roadway. Cyclists riding on the sidewalk, shared-use path, or across a roadway on a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties of a pedestrian.”

As noted earlier, officers will be paying more attention to people on bikes (obeying traffic signals, riding with lights, wrong-way riding) as well as the way that motorists interact with them (3 feet to pass, failure to yield, improper interactions at crosswalks). With increased scrutiny, all users of the road may expect an uptick of citations (initially just as warnings for a short grace period), but in the long run will make the streets safer for everyone.

Arlington Police Department Officers on a bike ride

BikeArlington also works with the Arlington Police Department by providing on-bike educational opportunities, highlighting different local infrastructure and what it’s like to ride a bicycle on busy streets in Arlington. Our second tour with the police was held last week, and we appreciated the opportunity to show Chief of Police Jay Farr, Deputy Chief of Operations Andy Penn and other members of the police department how different the experience of riding a bike can be, sometimes block by block, and talk with them about additional ways we can collaborate to make our roadways safer for everyone.

Download a copy of the 2017 ACPD “Enforcing Bicycle Traffic Laws” Guide for a “cheat sheet” reference of specific Virginia code on some of the most common motorist and cyclist infractions that officers will be watching out for.

And thanks again to the Arlington County Police Department for working to make the County the best place in the greater Washington area to ride a bike!

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