THE GOOD news is that Howard County's parking lots are not a war zone - Howard County drivers tend to be courteous to others. But there are still plenty of parking woes out there. One worry has to do with pedestrian right of way.
Commenting on the Chatham Station parking lot, off U.S. 40 in Ellicott City, Bill Davis of northern Howard County wonders whether drivers must stop for pedestrians on crosswalks in shopping centers. "There are clearly marked pedestrian crosswalks from the Giant store to the adjacent parking lot in front of Radio Shack. Most drivers graciously stop for pedestrians in that crosswalk. But some barely slow down, almost daring the pedestrian to step out in front of them," he says. "Do we need to get `Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk' signs like those at the Long Gate shopping center? And how would we get those signs?"
Well, Mr. Davis, according to the Howard County police, pedestrians have the right of way at all marked crosswalks, even on private property such as shopping centers, so technically, those signs at Long Gate Shopping Center are redundant. But they do serve to remind drivers of this often-ignored law.
Signs or no signs, drivers need to remember that pedestrians have the right of way on parking lots. If you think signs would provide a helpful reminder in your shopping center, contact the owner or manager. The county and state are not responsible for signs on private property.
We received plenty of feedback from Howard County residents who see parking as an adventure. Lynn Stiegler of Columbia points out that it isn't just SUV drivers who hog spots. "I have seen small cars parked far to one side of the parking space. Recently a car backed in beside my parked minivan and left herself lots of room on her side and NONE on mine," she says. "I had to get in through my minivan's sliding door."
Regardless of the size of the vehicle, I'm inclined to agree with Ms. Stiegler. It's more a matter of driver carelessness or lack of courtesy. But it is harder to maneuver a minivan or SUV that's 72-inches wide into a 9-foot-wide space than a car that's 60 inches wide. My experience indicates that it is more often minivan and SUV drivers at fault than drivers of smaller vehicles.
Ten years ago, when the trend was toward compact cars, many lots reduced the width of spaces from 9 feet to 7 1/2 feet, allowing developers to more easily comply with the required three to five spots per 1,000 square feet of retail space.
The proliferation of SUVs has led to different parking considerations, as people demand more room to park their decidedly noncompact vehicles.
The good news is that most of Howard County's shopping centers offer 9-foot-wide spaces - generous by today's standards - although some dip to just over 8 1/2 feet wide. Even with the generous spaces, parking a minivan or SUV can be tough, especially since the narrow lanes often prevent easy maneuverability.
Other readers express concern about how SUVs block parking lot visibility. "People need to be cautious driving in lanes of parking lots, since those backing out (even slowly) from spaces next to SUVs can't see a darned thing," says Terri Hunter of Ellicott City. She drives a minivan, but it's even tougher if you drive a smaller car.
There are also potential dangers to pedestrians walking by these large vehicles when cars next to them are starting to back out. It is extremely difficult to see around SUVs, so caution is the general rule while walking or driving on parking lots. That is one reason that parking lots are so dangerous for children, who are harder to see than adults walking past cars.
With a week left in the holiday shopping season, let's make courtesy and caution the rule: Park nice.
Coming next: U.S. 29 construction update. Because Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Tuesdays - when this column appears - and The Sun doesn't publish Howard County editions on major holidays, you won't see Traffic Talk again until Jan. 8. Meanwhile, though, have a Happy New Year and keep sending your pet peeves and road-related questions. And here is a question to think about: Are drivers breaking speed records on your neighborhood streets?
What's your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison @us.net. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044.