Traffic proposal hopes to cut off driving scofflaws

Sunday, June 10, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:55 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

One day, a couple of years ago, as Michelle Marcum was parking at her job at the Subway restaurant in Crossroads West Shopping Center, she was confronted by a woman taking a shortcut through the lot. The woman yelled at Marcum for parking where she wanted to drive.

“She said she was trying to get to work, but so was I,” Marcum, assistant manager of the restaurant, said.

The difference was that Marcum was parking in a legitimate space, and the woman cutting through the lot was avoiding the traffic on Stadium Boulevard and Broadway by cutting through the plaza’s parking lot.

Even large speed bumps in front of the sandwich shop haven’t deterred drivers.

“People actually just drive around the speed bumps,” Marcum said. “I don’t know how fast they are going, but they are definitely speeding.”

It’s those kinds of dangerous maneuvers, and complaints about them, that prompted the Columbia Police Department to recommend an ordinance to curb “corner cutting.” The department has proposed an amendment to the city code that would make it illegal for anyone to drive across public or private driveways, parking lots, alleys or yards to avoid stopping at intersections.

“There were enough citizens who were upset and tired to do something about this,” said Sgt. Tim Moriarity, traffic supervisor for the Columbia Police Department.

Moriarity said a prime example is by Patricia’s IGA on Keene Street, where drivers traveling north cut through the grocery store’s parking lot to access I-70 Drive Southeast. By taking the shortcuts and joining westbound traffic already on the outer road, corner-cutting drivers are making it more difficult for those waiting in line on Keene Street.

“It’s a safety and convenience concern, and we were able to get some support for it,” Moriarity said.

David Maxwell, owner of the Bread Basket Cafe in the Crossroads West Shopping Center, said he’s seen a lot of close calls involving pedestrians and automobiles cutting through the lot.

“It’s a safety issue for the people who are already on the parking lot,” Maxwell said, adding that the new ordinance would also be a money saver. “I think property owners would be in favor of it, too, because of the increased wear and tear on the parking lot.”

Owners of the Taco Bell at Business Loop 70 and Providence Road have also been waiting for a solution to traffic that cuts through their lot to bypass the intersection’s traffic light.

“It can cause a problem if someone is cutting through,” Taco Bell franchisee Cameron Dunafon said. “It’ll be good for customers and maintenance of the lot.”

The ordinance comes up for a final vote at the City Council meeting June 18. Moriarity said he hopes it passes.

“We know that other cities have laws like this and that they work,” he said.

If and when the ordinance goes into effect, Moriarity said police will try to educate drivers about the new rules before punishing them with tickets.

“There’s always a period of warning,” he said. “We will have an educational campaign, and cars will be stopped and issued warnings.”

After the warning period, drivers will be issued tickets, especially in high-priority areas where accidents and complaints are occurring. Misdemeanor tickets can bring fines of up to $500.

“I think that people will realize that corner cutting is wrong,” Moriarity said.

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