Act Now—by Nov. 1—to Preserve Railbanking for Rail-Trails

Overgrown, abandoned railroad

Photo by Michael Weidner on Unsplash

Your comments are needed now to prevent rule changes that threaten railbanking—agreements between railroad companies and trail managers to convert unused rail corridors to trails, until they are needed for railroads again.  Opponents of railbanking want to impede the development of rail-trails.

Please submit your comments by Thursday, November 1.  Read on for details.

From Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Leeann Sinpatanasaskul:

“As you may know, the federal Surface Transportation Board is considering a rule that RTC believes poses a threat to railbanking and, therefore, the creation of future trails. Basically, the rule would limit railbanking negotiations to an arbitrary three years, when some negotiations take up to 6 years.

The comment period ends on Thursday, Nov. 1—and I just found out last Friday that anti-railbanking supporters (from NARPO – National Association of Reversionary Property Owners) are sending in many comments supporting the rule.

If your organization is able to send in their own comments opposing the rule, please do so! The docket number is EP-749-1 and comments are classified as “other submissions” which do not require a user account or a filing fee. RTC has a template letter attached that you can use, and I am more than happy to help review a draft if you have questions.

If you, as an individual, would like to send a comment, an easy way to do that is through our action alert. RTC is collecting petitions and we’ll submit them to the STB by the Nov. 1 deadline.

Sorry for the short notice and if you have any questions, please feel free to shoot me an email.”

New Tests Show Some Bike Helmets Protect Better Than Others

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injuries in cycling, but, until now, consumers who want to buy one that offers the best protection have had little information to go on. A new ra tings program, based on collaborative research by Virginia Tech and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, fixes that.

The first 30 helmets to be tested — all popular adult-size models — show a range of performance, with four earning the highest rating of 5 stars, two earning 2 stars, and the rest in the 3-4-star range. Cost wasn’t a good predictor of performance. Both the $200 Bontrager Ballista MIPS and the $75 Specialized Chamonix MIPS earn 5 stars.

“Our goal with these ratings is to give cyclists a n evidence-based tool for making informed decisions about how to reduce their risk of injury,” says Steve Rowson, director of the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab and an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics. “We also hope manufacturers will use the information to make improvements.”

While the government requires that helmets pass a series of tests to be sold in the U.S., the new ratings rely on a more realistic evaluation based on joint Virginia Tech and IIHS research.

“As more people choose the bicycle as a mode of transportation, better helmet design is one of the tools that can be used to address the increasing number of cycling injuries,” says David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS and a frequent bike commuter.

A total of 835 bicyclist s were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2016. That is the highest number of bicyclist deaths since 1991.

More than half of those killed in 2016 weren’t wearing helmets. Helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of a head injury by 50 percent.

The bike helmet rating system developed by Rowson and his colleagues builds on their years of experience evaluating other types of sports head protection. The Virginia Tech Helmet Lab currently rates football and hockey helmets, as well as soccer headgear. [continue reading…]

Dahlgren Rail Trail Added to National Recreation Trail Program

Unveiling trail signage at DHRT announcement on June 16

The Dahlgren Rail Heritage Trail in King George County has been named a National Recreational Trail by the US Department of the Interior.  The trail was also added to the Potomac Heritage Trail Network at a ceremony held in King George, Virginia on June 17.

Former DCR Director David Brickley explains the significance of National Recreational Trail status.

The 15.7 mile Dahlgren Trail is a rail trail which follows the route of the old Dahlgren Branch line.  It  stretches across King George County just east of Fredericksburg, Virginia.   The railroad line was built by the federal government during World War II to serve the US Naval Base at Dahlgren.  The line was later sold to the Richmond Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad and subsequently to CSX Transportation before being abandoned.  Former DCR Director and trail advocate, David Brickley then purchased the trail corridor in 2008 so that it could be preserved for the benefit of future generations. [continue reading…]

New Amtrak Bike Service to Downtown Richmond’s Main Street Station

Amtrak's Main Street Station - Richmond, VA

Amtrak’s Main Street Station – Richmond, VA

Amtrak and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation have announced pilot bike service to downtown Richmond’s Main Street Station (RVM).

This is a major announcement for cyclists who may want to spend a weekend visiting the River City or surrounding area with their bike.

This new service is particularly convenient for cyclists in the Northeast who want to ride Virginia Capital Trail from Richmond to Williamsburg.  Mountain bikers can also take Amtrak to Richmond to ride the 35 miles of urban single track in the James River Park’s trail system 

Main Street Station is also a convenient connection point for cyclists riding the East Coast Greenway, US Bike Routes 76 and 176, US Bike Route 1 and Adventure Cycling’s Atlantic Coast Route.

Riding the Capital Trail

This multiuse trail, traces the colonial history of the United States, passing stately plantations, a winery, the homes of three presidents and Civil War Battlefields.   It also connects the three Virginia Capitols – Jamestown, Williamsburg and Richmond.

The Capital Trail is also part of USBR 76 and the East Coast Greenway. [continue reading…]

“Smart Cycling” Bike Safety Classes in Richmond, May 14 & 26, June 2

Become a more confident cyclist by advancing your knowledge and skills for staying safe on a variety of road conditions. This class will teach you how to ride confidently in traffic! You will have the opportunity to practice what you learn in the classroom. Expect to refresh and expand your knowledge of traffic laws and the rights and responsibilities of cyclist on the road; learn 5 “layers of safety” that you can put to use on every ride (it’s not just about the helmet), learn emergency handling skills and riding techniques that can prevent motorists’ mistakes and allow you to avoid trouble, and much more!

This course is divided into two parts:  1. Classroom; 2. Parking lot bike handling skills, and road riding with instructors. The classroom part will be held Monday evening, May 14,  at the Glen Allen library.  Then choose one of the Saturdays, either May 26 or June 2, for the parking lot bike handling skills and road riding. Participants must attend the classroom session in order to participate in the Part 2 On-Bike.  The On-Bike session will be held at:

Laurel Park Shopping Center
2312 Hungary Rd
Richmond, VA 23228
United States

Registration price: $24

Ages 14-17 welcome with participating parent or guardian. Proceeds minus costs donated to promote cycling. [continue reading…]

After Passage by Both Houses, Distracted Driving Bill HB181 Dies in Conference Committee

As the Legislature’s website notes “No further action taken. Failed to pass House”

Just as we thought something positive might come out of the Conference Committee, apparently everyone dug in their heels, insisted on their version of the bill, came to an impasse that couldn’t be resolved, and left the bill without their approval in any form.

Thus ends HB 181‘s circuitous journey. Close to the finish line, but not quite across it, the victim of too many amendments attempting to improve it, but with a number of legislators vowing to be back with a similar bill next year.

One incremental step forward, as the bill banning the use of hand held devices in work zones did pass.

HB181, The Distracted Driving Bill, Passes Senate, But…

Early in today’s discussion of the bill, Chap Petersen proposed an amendment which stated —

2. “That by July 1, 2018, the Dept. of Criminal Justice Services, in consultation with the Dept. of State Police, shall develop a set of best practices for law enforcement agencies regarding the stopping of vehicles for alleged violations of the provisions of this act so as to (i) avoid profiling certain drivers based upon demographic characteristics and (ii) promote the even handed administration of justice.”

3. That the Dept. of State Police shall monitor and record all of the citations issued pursuant to the provision of this act and the relevant demographic characteristics of those persons cited. The Dept. shall submit a report with the results of such monitoring and recording to the Governor by Dec. 1, 2018.

Petersen’s amendment was obviously in response to opposition to the bill that had been reported to be expressed by the Black Caucus back while it was being heard in the House, who was concerned that it would give law enforcement an excuse to pull motorists over on the basis of racial profiling.

Sen. Carrico (a retired State Trooper) stated in discussion that this looked like another “unfunded mandate” being handed to the State Police who already are under staffed, under paid, and underfunded.

After some discussion, the Petersen amendment passed by 29-11.

Then some time later, after the bill had been “Passed by Temporarily” at the request of Sen. Obenshain, when discussion of it resumed, Sen. Norment proposed his amendment in obvious response to Sen. Carrico’s concern about an “unfunded mandate.” With Sen. Stanley surprisingly joining the the D’s, the vote on the amendment was 20-20, whereby Lt. Gov. Fairfax broke the tie with a nay vote, rejecting the amendment.

Than came a request to reconsider (Sen. Stanley apparently voted mistakenly) which was granted, and this vote was 21-19, along party lines, to accept the amendment.

Now with the amendment, the bill passed on the 29-11 vote .

At some point soon now, the fiscal impact of the bill will have to determined by the State Police and others, the result fed in to one of the budgets, and we will see if that kills the bill or not. If it is too high, it may. We shall see.

HB181 Vote Postponed Another Day — Advocacy Update #12

As part of a marathon session, characterized by Sen. Norment near the end as the “doorstep to legislative purgatory” that featured two 20-20 votes that Lt. Gov. Fairfax settled with his vote making them both 21-20, HB181 finally was heard after being passed by for the day three times previously.

After Senator Surovell (D-Fairfax) introduced a Floor Substitute that would essentially turn the bill into a bill that would make ALL use of a communication device unless “hands free” a traffic infraction, the substitute was accepted including several votes who had previously been opposed.

Sen. Obenshain (the R chair of the Senate Courts Committee through which the bill had come) then attempted to introduce another Floor Substitute similar to the original bill which would permit handheld devices for some exceptions including getting the time and GPS directions. His attempted substitute was ruled out of order and it appeared that we were headed for a favorable vote on the bill with Surovell’s substitute as Sens. Marsden & Wagner (a previous opponent who stated that he felt that the time for this bill had come) speaking in support.

It was not to be as Sen. Obenshain asked for the bill to be set aside for a time so he could discuss some changes, which request was granted.

Then after the rest of the docket was nearly completed, HB1525-Yancey prohibiting use of Handheld devices in Highway Work Zones was being discussed, Sen. Petersen asked if this was needed since we were about to vote on HB181. Since the answer was yes, 1525 was voted on and passed, 29-10, which is a step in the right direction.

Immediately following that vote, a voice who sounded like Sen. Newman asked that HB181 be passed by for the day and that was granted, so that’s where we are, Passed by for the Day (for the 4th time) ’til 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Not sure where this leaves the bill, since if Sen. Obenshain (whose support has been one of the reasons it has gotten as far as it has) has now gone over to the opposition, he may be able to kill it. There are, however, some others who sound supportive who have not been previously, and Sen. Surovell made some comments regarding preventing selective enforcement that may help blunt that opposition. I think the bill still has a chance, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow, where it will join a number of other bills that also were passed by for the day, as we get closer to the deadline, which I believe is Thursday.

Distracted Driving Bill HB181 Awaits Senate Vote — Advocacy Update #11

Had thought we might have HB 181 the Distracted Driving Bill heard in the special session of the Senate this morning which was held from about 9:45 to a little after 11 when they adjourned until Monday.

Not so, however, as it was Passed By for the Day for the third straight session, and only Uncontested bills wee heard.

While being Passed By for the Day is never a good thing, we still may be OK on this one as the Senate really has a backlog, but there still is a week to go, so we are not yet right up to the deadline.

Since we have this additional opportunity, it wouldn’t hurt to put in another call or EMail to YOUR Senator whose contact info you should know by now, asking them to be sure and support HB181 when they finally get a chance to hear it.

Distracted Driving Bill HB181 Clears Senate Courts Committee; Up for Senate Vote Soon

Distracted driving bill HB181 Reported Out of  Senate Courts Committee Committee, 10-3

Distracted driving bill HB181 Reported Out of Senate Courts Committee Committee, 10-3

After all the recent drama around HB181 the Distracted Driving bill, it was finally heard this morning at the civilized hour of 9:00 a.m. in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. After a very nice job of presenting it by Del. Chris Collins, a very impressive group of witnesses testifying in favor of it lined up behind the podium led by Patty Kruszewski whose daughter Lanie was killed by a distracted driver several years ago. Her testimony was followed by that of an EMT responder from NOVA who had had relatives killed in a similar incident. Uniformed Police officers from two jurisdictions, the rep of the Sheriff’s Assn., several insurance company reps, Janet Brooking of DriveSmart Virginia, Jon Lugbill of SportsBackers, and I followed with our support, with no witnesses coming up to speak in opposition.

Being impressed with the team of supporters that had been lined up by Janet, but not certain how the vote might go, at length came the Move to Report & Second and the vote on the electronic screen. Lots of green and only a few reds was encouraging, and when all the votes were posted the count was 10-3 to Report, with only Ryan McDougle from Hanover, Richard Stuart from the Northern Neck, and Ben Chafin from the far south west in opposition. No clapping or cheers, but some silent expressions of relief at the result, as the bill now goes on to the Senate floor, where it will be a surprise if it doesn’t pass, having successfully cleared the Courts Committees in both the House & Senate (which are generally considered to be among the toughest hurdles to get over). Because some relatively minor amendments had been made to the bill after it cleared the House, it will have to go back there again after clearing the Senate, but that is not expected to be a serious problem.

Having had such a winding route to this point, lets hold our applause and everyone contact their own Senators asking their support for HB181/the Distracted Driving bill on the Senate floor in the next few days so we can get this bill to the Governor’s desk. It would also be in order to THANK your Senators for their support in the Courts Committee if they were among the 10 (Obenshain, Saslaw, Howell,Deeds,Lucas, Edwards, Reeves, Sturtevant, Petersen, Peake) who voted to report.

Also in order would be an expression of disappointment from RABA members to our local Senator Ryan McDougle (698-7504, for his opposition to the bill.

Thanks to everyone who has weighed in with their support so far! If you haven’t, here’s your last chance to help. Let’s do it one more time and make sure this bill gets to the Governor.