A pedestrian crosses the Mt. Vernon and Chamblee Dunwoody Road intersection in Dunwoody. (Photo: Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)
Photo: Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Metro city passes strictest law in Ga. protecting cyclists, walkers

Dunwoody is believed to be the only Georgia city with a ‘Vulnerable Road Users’ law

The city of Dunwoody has passed the strictest law in the state protecting bicyclists and pedestrians from the danger posed by cars and other vehicles.

The City Council last week passed a “Vulnerable Road Users” law, giving additional protection to a group that also includes skateboarders, motorcyclists and scooter riders.

Spearheaded by City Councilman Tom Lambert, the ordinance goes further than the current state law, and would stiffen the penalties for drivers who strike or act aggressively toward bicyclists or pedestrians. Based on Lambert’s research, he said, Dunwoody would be the first city in Georgia — as well as in the surrounding states — to pass such a law.

“This is obviously an issue everywhere. It’s not unique to Dunwoody,” Lambert said when the measure was first being discussed in September. “I hope we can be an inspiration to neighboring municipalities, other cities throughout the state.”

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The ordinance codifies state law in mandating that vehicles must be at least 3 feet away from a bicycle when passing one. It also bans drivers from throwing things at vulnerable road users, making an unsafe turn in front of them and maneuvering a car in a way that could cause “intimidation or harassment.”

Dunwoody’s ordinance only allows a car to go into an opposite-direction travel lane to pass a cyclist if it is safe to do so. Otherwise, they must stay behind the bike.

The ordinance provides several defenses for drivers, including if a bicyclist is not wearing bright or reflective clothing at night, or a pedestrian isn’t on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk.

A pedestrian waits to cross the Mt. Vernon and Chamblee Dunwoody Road intersection in Dunwoody. The city recently passed a “Vulnerable Road User” ordinance. (Photo: Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)
Photo: Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Several other states and large cities around the country, including Connecticut, Utah, Washington and Houston, have their own vulnerable road user laws. Bike advocates around Georgia have pushed for the state to pass a law that goes further than the current safeguards for cyclists.

Dunwoody also increased the penalty for violating the law, making it “more than a traffic violation. We want there to be some serious consequences,” Lambert said.

Drivers who break the Vulnerable Road Users law could face up to six months in jail or probation, a $1,000 fine or the suspension of their driver’s license. But those penalties may be reduced or waived if the driver completes a driver safety and pedestrian awareness class.

The law, which the Council passed 6-1, is set to go into effect May 1, 2020, allowing time to educate residents about the new rules and penalties.

Dunwoody is in the midst of a public awareness campaign aimed at pedestrian safety and improving drivers’ behavior. Lambert said the education components — as well as improved infrastructure for walkers and bikers — are key to making the streets safer.

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