DUNWOODY, Ga. — It was a crowded City Council chamber Nov. 18 when Dunwoody adopted two policies that received significant public scrutiny: one designed to protect pedestrians and bikers and the other dictating holiday decorations. 

Earlier this year, Councilman Tom Lambert introduced an ordinance to protect “vulnerable road users,” such as walkers, bikers, scooter users, utility workers and other travelers not protected by the shell of an automobile. 

The policy was modeled after similar laws in place in Houston and other cities across the U.S., and Monday night Dunwoody became the first city in Georgia to enact such a policy. 

The ordinance establishes rules for all travelers to safely share the road; prohibits intimidation by drivers against VRUs and protects drivers from liability if bikers or pedestrians act recklessly or unlawfully. 

The policy requires drivers to leave a 3-foot distance when passing other road users. If the driver must cross into the opposite-direction traffic lane to create the 3-foot distance, they must travel behind the biker or pedestrian until it is safe to move over.

Councilman Terry Nall attempted to change the language that instructed drivers to cross into the opposite-direction traffic lane in certain circumstances.

“We’d be the only city that codifies this conflict with state law, and we shouldn’t be an outlier,” Nall said. 

Lambert said that language was essential to the policy. Without that clarification, drivers would continue to pass too close to bikers when there is opposing traffic, he said. 

Ultimately, Nall’s amendment did not receive support from other council members, and the VRU ordinance passed 6-1 with Nall opposed. 

The new policy will not be enforced until May 2020 to allow for an education period, based on a recommendation from Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch at an earlier meeting.

Though in the past, some residents have been critical of the VRU ordinance, three people spoke in favor of the policy in advance of its adoption Nov. 18. 

At the same meeting, the council adopted a policy that governs what decorations could be displayed in City Hall and other public buildings. The policy was drafted by the city attorney after a citizen requested that the city display a nativity scene during the upcoming holiday season.

The original policy included a list of items that were considered religious symbols — including nativity scenes, a crucifix or menorah — that would not be allowed. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits governments from endorsing specific religions.

The original policy also included a list of decorations that were allowable because they were not deemed religious symbols — such as wreaths, trees, snowmen, Santa Claus and dreidels.

For several meetings, one resident has asked the council to reject the policy or to allow the display of menorahs, arguing that Santa Claus and “holiday trees” were Christian symbols, and therefore, the policy was discriminatory. 

Councilwoman Pam Tallmadge initially proposed an amendment to the policy that would have moved menorahs from the list of prohibited religious symbols to the allowable list, but the council agreed that would not fix the underlying controversy.

“It’s not just about menorahs,” Deutsch said. “There are other religions that have other symbols that can be religious in some contexts and not religious in others … Somehow this has gotten way problematic because it seems like we’re excluding, when I think we ought to be inclusive.”

Councilman John Heneghan then proposed another change: remove both lists from the official policy and leave it up to the city manager and decorating staff to determine what is appropriate.

This left the language, “Decorating using religious symbols is not appropriate in common areas of city buildings unless the decorations are part of a display celebrating religious diversity, religious freedom or similar subject.”

“When we say diversity, we’re saying everybody,” Heneghan said. “We’re a community of a great many faiths, and when we celebrate a faith, we celebrate them all because there is not just one.”

Heneghan’s amendment passed unanimously, as did the final policy.

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