Dunwoody Police charged a driver with violating the city’s new vulnerable road user ordinance in a crash with a cyclist on July 13. It was the first such charge for a crash, and the 20th overall, since the ordinance went into effect on May 1.

Pattie Baker, a resident and bicycle advocate, was hit by a car while cycling on Tilly Mill Road, according to a police report. Police charged resident Laura Colden, 61, with improper passing of a bicyclist, hit and run, and a violation of the vulnerable road user ordinance. Baker and Colden did not respond to requests for comment.

The vulnerable road user ordinance is the first of its kind in the state, according to the city. It increases penalties for people who violate road laws involving “vulnerable road users,” such as pedestrians or cyclists, and it clarifies some ambiguities in state road laws, said Councilmember Tom Lambert, who sponsored the ordinance.

The Dunwoody Police Department said 19 other charges have been issued for violating the vulnerable road user ordinance, mostly for drivers failing to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. This incident was the first charge given for a crash with a cyclist.

Baker, who rides her bike with a 3-foot yellow pool noodle on the back to show cars a safe passing distance for cyclists, recorded the incident in a GoPro video and posted it on her blog, “Traveling at the Speed of Bike.”

The video shows Baker riding along the road while two cars drive toward her in the opposite lane. While those cars pass, a car behind her honks then hits her, causing her bike to shake while she yells for the car to stop.

“That is exactly the type of behavior we are targeting with this ordinance,” Lambert said.

The ordinance requires drivers to give a 3-foot distance when passing cyclists or other “vulnerable road users,” even if the driver has to go into the opposite lane. If the driver cannot safely give a 3-foot distance to the cyclist, they must drive a safe distance behind the cyclist until it is safe to pass them.

This ordinance clarifies the state law, which says drivers should leave a 3-foot distance “when feasible” while passing a cyclist, which Lambert said leaves the discretion up to the driver of the car.

The ordinance also says drivers should not make unsafe turns in front of pedestrians and cyclists or intimidate or harass them, according to the ordinance. Penalties for violations are up to six months in jail or probation or a $1,000 fine. If a driver completes a driver safety and pedestrian awareness class, these penalties could be waived or reduced, according to the ordinance.

“The intent was never to be punitive, but to educate and enforce,” Lambert said.

The ordinance passed the City Council in November, and Lambert said the lag in its effective date was to educate residents about the ordinance. The city has published a video and a flyer to explain the ordinance and is also working on a video regarding enforcement for police officers, Lambert said.

Lambert said he sponsored the ordinance because of the city’s goal to be a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly city. Lambert said the ordinance went into effect at a good time because of the COVID-19 pandemic getting more people outside to walk and bike.

“We saw a dramatic increase in the number of pedestrians on our streets, so having that ordinance in place was a really great safety tool for us,” Lambert said.

Though Dunwoody is the first city in Georgia to have such an ordinance, attorney Bruce Hagen said similar laws already exist in more than half of the states. Hagen is part of Bike Law Georgia, a chapter of a national network of independent attorneys who represent people in cycling crashes. He said Dunwoody’s ordinance is a “really good first step.”

“I’d like to see the law go much further than it does, and I would like to see it much stronger than it is,” Hagen said. “I do believe it is a well-intentioned law.”

Hagen and Lambert both said they would like to see the Georgia General Assembly implement a statewide version of the ordinance.

Lambert said his long-term goal is to work with state representatives to get something like this passed, and he hopes other cities can use Dunwoody as a template to implement similar ordinances in the meantime.

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