DUNWOODY, Ga. — The Dunwoody City Council made changes to a proposed biker and pedestrian safety ordinance at its Sept. 23 meeting.
The ordinance was designed to protect walkers, bikers, scooter users, utility workers and other travelers not protected by the shell of an automobile, termed “vulnerable road users” or VRUs.
The ordinance would establish rules for all types of travelers sharing the road, prohibit intimidation actions against VRUs and protect drivers from liability if bikers or pedestrians act recklessly or unlawfully.
The ordinance was introduced by Councilman Tom Lambert based on a similar code in Houston. Though several cities and some states have some form of VRU law, Dunwoody would be the first municipality in Georgia to adopt the rules.
Nearly 80 percent of roads in the city do not have sidewalks, Lambert said, and 90 percent do not have bike lanes, Lambert said.
The council consistently hears from residents who want Dunwoody to be a more pedestrian and bike friendly city. Creating infrastructure — sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes and other trails — is part of the solution, but doing it is costly and time consuming, and other changes are needed, Lambert argued.
“I really believe a lot of the value is in the areas where that infrastructure doesn’t exist because we’re clearly defining the responsibility of both the motorist and the VRU,” Lambert said.
Lambert said the law would create clear guidelines so that drivers who are confused by existing traffic laws would understand how to safely navigate around pedestrians and bikers.
It would also send a message to motorists who think they own the road that the city does not endorse that attitude. The ordinance would prohibit “road rage” behavior like throwing an object at another road user, maneuvering a car in a manner intended to intimidate or overtaking a VRU and then immediately turning in front of them.
“The intent of this ordinance is not to be punitive,” Lambert said. “It’s to educate and change behavior.”
The other council members generally seemed in favor of the concept behind the VRU ordinance but took issue with some of the specifics. The rule that commercial vehicles and heavy trucks would have to leave at least 6 feet of space when passing a pedestrian or biker was deemed unrealistic for Dunwoody.
“On Chamblee-Dunwoody, and probably Tilly Mill, at certain times of day there is nowhere to go,” Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said. “You cannot ever get into the other lane … I’m all for people cycling and walking because with traffic, the fewer cars we have it helps, but the reality of traffic in Dunwoody on certain major thoroughfares makes it a little hard to imagine 6 feet for a commercial vehicle.”
The city staff was instructed to remove that language before the next read. With this change commercial vehicles and all trucks would follow the same rule as passenger cars: three feet of space when passing.
The council also instructed staff to adjust some definitions and require pedestrians walking in the roadway to wear reflective gear.
“[Opponents have] tried to categorize this as an anti-driver law, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Lambert said. “VRUs also have a responsibility to behave applicable traffic laws and look out for their own safety.”
If the ordinance passes, drivers would be required to yield to VRUs when turning and move into the far lane when passing a VRU or if there is sufficient room between the driver and VRU, reduce speed while passing.
Pedestrians would be required to walk on sidewalks where they are accessible and safe to use. If there are no sidewalks, pedestrians would be instructed to walk on the shoulder or outside edge of the roadway facing traffic, unless on a one-way road.
Bikers would be required to be as near to the right side of the road as is safe, unless preparing to make a turn or overtaking another traveler.
Two residents spoke during public comment: one in favor and one against the proposal.