Shopping center traffic rules mean just what they say


September 14, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AS HORRID as motorists are in shopping centers, it's a wonder that anyone ventures into those concrete jungles. And the bad news is that it's only going to get worse out there, especially with the Christmas holidays a few months away.

Steve Wrzesien wonders about the ubiquitous "stop" commands painted near walkways in front of stores.

"I am confused about the Maryland law when coming to a STOP sign. I was at the Home Depot in Eldersburg last week and noticed that they had PAINTED the word STOP, with a white stripe in front of the word, at four different areas in front of their store. There is no actual STOP sign, just the painted word," he said.

What really gets Wrzesien wrapped around the axles is the drivers who ignore this simple command. "Sure enough, the next day when I was there, I parked my truck and proceeded to cross the lane to enter the store when this moron came right through the area! If I wouldn't have stopped, I would have been struck! After passing by me, he went right through the next area and didn't even apply his brakes!" he said. "If there is no STOP sign, just the word STOP painted on the road, are you still required to STOP?"

Yes. But the law of tonnage applies (the heaviest vehicle wins), and that, apparently, has more weight than a word painted on the pavement. Even when drivers are rule-abiding, it's always wise to use your common sense. Don't step out in front of moving vehicles if you're a pedestrian. And if you're a driver, yield the right of way to pedestrians.

Wrzesien has good company in his confusion and concern about driver behavior in shopping center parking lots. George Earl wonders about the regulations governing parking in designated parking spaces at malls and shopping centers.

"It used to be that people parked their vehicles only in designated, painted parking spaces. Now you see vehicles parked along curbs anywhere where the curb isn't painted red. It's as though any space that isn't labeled `No Parking' is fair game. It's not because there is nowhere else to park, because most of the time there are plenty of available parking spaces," he said.

He noted that people often park along a curb across from other vehicles that are parked in designated parking spaces. "Then, when the people who parked in the designated spaces try to back out of their space they are blocked and they have to make many extra maneuvers to get out of their space without hitting the vehicle that is blocking them," he said.

Backing out is especially difficult for those who drive large SUVs, pickup trucks and minivans.

It's not just inconvenience for gas-guzzlers Mr. Earl is worried about. "Other times, the vehicles parked along a curb are blocking one lane of a two lane access lane so that traffic in one direction must stop and wait for a break in traffic the other way before they can get around the car parked along the curb," he said. "What do the regulations say about parking in designated parking spaces?"

The regulations say that motorists need to park in designated parking spaces. It doesn't get any clearer than that.

Shoppers who can spend a leisurely afternoon in the mall can suddenly turn into maniacs in the parking lots, and that is what has got Carrie Reich's rotors in an uproar. "If I'm already backing up out of a spot why does another driver have the right to honk me when they speed down the aisles?" she asked. "I never start backing out without looking carefully first. But if a car suddenly speeds up to where I'm backing out, he [or she] might just have to wait a few minutes until I'm done."

Finally, a concern about a local shopping center that might be fixable. "Thought of your column [recently] when I was waiting through four [at least] traffic light cycles coming out of The Mall in Columbia on Broken Land Parkway heading south at the intersection with Little Patuxent Parkway. Little traffic crossing on Little Patuxent Parkway but lines of cars waiting to leave the mall," Tim Mercer said. "I am curious if anyone has considered retiming" the signals.

The bad news is that the folks at the Howard County Department of Public Works hadn't thought about investigating the signal timing until your comments were received. The good news is that they're looking into it, said Mark DeLuca, chief of traffic engineering for Howard County.

"Having to wait four cycles before getting through the intersection is excessive and hopefully only represents an unfortunate aberration in the overall performance of the signal," he said. "We'll check this signal as well as the one at Broken Land Parkway and Town Center Avenue to see if timing changes can optimize their performance."

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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