Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Loudoun Police Warning Motorists NOT to Yield to Bicyclists - Update

VDOT and NOVA Parks recently installed a warning device at the W&OD Trail crossing of Sterling Blvd in Loudoun County to encourage motorists to yield to trail users. Today (Tuesday, July 25) Loudoun Sheriff's officers were issuing warnings to motorists who stopped for trail users at the crosswalk. Officers said they would be issuing citations soon.

According to a May 2017 news release from the Sterling District Supervisor, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors supported making this intersection safer for trail users: "The improvements currently being installed by NOVA Parks include the installation of a trail user activated rectangular rapid flashing beacon (RRFB) warning signal to alert motorists of an active crosswalk ahead."

W&OD Trail at Sterling Blvd
Before modifications including RRFB

It's crazy that Loudoun police plan to ticket motorists for yielding to trail users. VA law, 46.2-924 states that "The driver of any vehicle on a highway shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian crossing such highway: 1. At any clearly marked crosswalk, whether at mid-block or at the end of any block;” This should be very clear. The law goes on to state that motorists also yield "3. At any intersection when the driver is approaching on a highway or street where the legal maximum speed does not exceed 35 miles per hour.” The later item does not refer to a crosswalk, but to an intersection. Over time this law has been misinterpreted by some to mean that unless the speed limit is 35mph or less, motorists aren't required to yield to users of a crosswalk.

We are consulting with local transportation and legal staff regarding their interpretation of VA law and what they think about Loudoun Sheriff's officers behavior. Loudoun Sheriff's department does not have a good reputation when it comes to enforcing the law as it applies to bicyclists. In 2009 they ticketed MS 150 riders for not coming to a complete stop at STOP signs. In 2012 they ticketed Reston Century riders for not putting a foot down when stopping at a STOP sign.

Update 28 July 2017: Today we spoke with Captain Hines, chief of the Eastern Loudoun Station, about the enforcement effort at this intersection. Captain Hines said officers were warning bicyclists to stop at the STOP signs at the crosswalk before entering and encouraged them to press the RRFB button before crossing. No tickets were issued.

Capt. Hines said that some motorists were stopping in anticipation of bicyclists crossing. The bicyclists were approaching the intersection and had not yet stopped or pushed the RRFB button. We disagreed about whether this was illegal or not. It's possible that the motorists could be cited for stopping on a highway (46.2-888): "No person shall stop a vehicle in such manner as to impede or render dangerous the use of the highway by others, except in the case of an emergency, an accident, or a mechanical breakdown."

From the police perspective, they are concerned that motorists who stop prematurely could be struck from behind. Or that when one motorist stops prematurely and a bicyclist continues into the crosswalk without stopping first, the cyclists could be struck by a second motorist who is not aware that a bicyclist is approaching. This is a legitimate concern and several cyclists have been struck in this situation.

One way to address this concern is to do what other states have done, require motorists to stop at a crosswalk if the motorist in the adjacent lane has also stopped. In 2014 FABB worked with Del. Kaye Kory to get such a law passed, Reckless driving; passing other vehicles at intersections. (HB320). We may give it another try next year.

We appreciate Capt. Hines taking the time to discuss this issue with us and look forward to working with his office to help educate motorists and bicyclists about safety issues. 

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question, were the cops going car to car on foot, or pulling cars over? Or was this a case of a cop chastising a driver for hard stopping at the crosswalk (which I've seen often here). Was this a one off event, or had they setup a watchpoint?
The answer is simple folks: if you are riding your bicycle, you are a Wheeled Vehicle. If you get off your bicycle and walk, you are now a Pedestrian. So what I do it get off my bike at intersections like this and walk, usually carrying my bike Cyclocross on my shoulder so there is absolutely no doubt that I am a Pedestrian. As long as you give cars a reasonable opportunity to stop, then they must do so. I have verified this approach with local law enforcement.
Unknown, I wasn't at the intersection so can't answer your questions. I've heard that police were telling motorists that they shouldn't stop for trail users if the RRFB was not flashing.

KiwiSawShop: Bicyclists are treated the same as pedestrians in a crosswalk. According to the law, 46.2-904, "A person riding a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, motorized skateboard or foot-scooter, motor-driven cycle, or electric power-assisted bicycle on a sidewalk or shared-use path or across a roadway on a crosswalk shall have all the rights and duties of a pedestrian under the same circumstances." It does not say that bicyclists must walk across a crosswalk.
Two questions:
1 - What constitutes a "Stop" on a bicycle? Do you have to put your foot down? Is a track stand, or momentary stop of the wheel sufficient? If you put your foot down, but you are still rolling, is that sufficient?

2 - What is considered being in the crosswalk? Do you have to actually step into the road or is standing at the edge of the road waiting to cross sufficient?

Thanks, Norm

Norm, I'll try to answer your questions:

1. A stop by a bicyclist is the same as a stop by a motorist; cessation of forward motion. There is nothing in the VA code that requires bicyclists to put a foot on the ground. If you put a foot down and were still rolling, that would not be considered a stop.

2. In VA code there's no clear definition of what constitutes being in a crosswalk. The code for motorists to yield to pedestrians (and bicyclists) in a crosswalk (46.2-924) states: "A. The driver of any vehicle on a highway shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian crossing such highway:

1. At any clearly marked crosswalk, whether at mid-block or at the end of any block;"

I think police generally interpret this law as meaning the pedestrian must be in the crosswalk. I've talked to a traffic engineer who said he thinks a pedestrian at the curb ready to enter the crosswalk could be considered "crossing such highway" "At" the "clearly marked crosswalk."

In that same code (46.2-924) it states: "No pedestrian shall enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic." This is also as clear as mud. What does "in disregard of approaching traffic mean"? It depends on the speed of traffic, time of day, road conditions, etc. A police officer would have to make that determination. If a pedestrian or bicyclist is struck while in a crosswalk, they likely won't be in any condition to describe what happened. The motorist will likely say the person jump out in front of them and the motorist couldn't stop. Testimony of witnesses is critically important, but I've been at the scene of a crash in which the policeman didn't want to take any additional info from witnesses after speaking to one witness. It's up to witnesses or crash victims to gather as much info, including contact info, as possible.
One of the problems for my clients (cyclists struck by cars, trucks, SUVs, etc., is that the 1st lane (closest to them as they are on the W&OD Trail) car stops, waves them on, and maybe the 2nd lane stops as well.
But we recently resolved a case where a car, not wanting to stop for traffic, went into the 3rd lane that makes the left turn Northbound on Sterling Blvd., that is just forming prior to the Trail (perhaps with its left side wheels on the median) & strikes the cyclist. I think Del. Kory's solution would be a good one for this example. Also, while no solace to the injured cyclist, runner or skater; GPS, GARMIN, FItBIt & other "Personal GPS" device data can help to prove the case, even in the face of unhelpful driver, police & lack of eyewitness statements.
FULL DISCLOSURE: From our Law Shop by the 20 mile marker of the W&OD Trail, I helped some of the MS Riders in Court; regularly represent injured bikers; & teach bike safety at local public elementary schools with our "Lids on Kids" free helmet program.

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