Black Friday tip: Don't block intersections; police are watching

jkegley@herald-leader.comNovember 21, 2012 

Police warn that they see increased numbers of car accidents on Black Friday. Message boards such as this one are designed to caution drivers.

CHARLES BERTRAM

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"Do not block intersection."

The pointed phrase is plastered on white signs along Lexington's major roads, but it often goes unheeded by drivers, causing annoyance at best and crippling gridlock at worst.

The problem worsens during the busy holiday shopping season, especially around the Fayette Mall and Hamburg areas. Police and traffic management officials announced Wednesday plans to try to reduce the problem this year.

Officials said at a news conference that traffic light timing will be altered, sign boards will be deployed and traffic cops will be out in force in part to prevent gridlock caused by Black Friday shoppers blocking intersections.

"What we do with the special holiday timing plans is try to keep the main corridors clear and open and functioning, so when you do get a green light from one of the side streets ... you have a place to go and you don't get stuck in the intersections," said Steve Cummins, traffic signal manager for the city.

The city's traffic management center will be staffed and operational on Black Friday to alter traffic light timing as needed and spot accidents through the traffic cameras, he said.

Traffic management will work hand-in-hand with the police department, which has altered the schedules and beats of traffic cops to have a larger presence around Fayette Mall and in Hamburg during Black Friday weekend and the week leading up to Christmas.

Police hope officers won't need to write tickets to combat the problem, Lt. J.J. Lombardi said. Instead, they hope sign boards posted near major intersections will inspire motorists to keep intersections clear.

The light-up signs will serve as reminders "of state laws and traffic regulations pertaining to blocking the intersections, which is a perpetual and annual problem every year in the holiday season when you have the malls being inundated with shoppers," Lombardi said.

Cops will be more inclined to write tickets at intersections where there are a lot of complaints, he said.

However, enforcement of the law is not as effective as convincing drivers to be mindful of it. Police reminded drivers and shoppers to be patient.

"We just need to slow down a little bit," Officer Bige Towery said. "We need to make sure we're not distracted, we're aware of our surroundings, and that we're out there with a whole lot of other people. It's not just us."

At Wednesday's news conference, police also outlined plans for enforcement and reminded shoppers of tips to lessen the chances of becoming victim to a crime. As well as increased enforcement, the police Skywatch Tower, two-story observation platform, will be deployed at Fayette Mall, giving police a birds-eye view of the parking lot.

Police see the number of car break-ins skyrocket during the holiday season as people leave their cars unattended while shopping. There also is an increase in home burglaries and identity thefts.

Towery gave the following tips to Black Friday shoppers:

■ Lock all car doors. Professional car thieves often pull the handles of hundreds of car doors, stealing only from the ones that are unlocked.

■ Put all valuables out of sight or take them with you, such as purses, GPS devices or money. "People will break into your car for 50 cents," Towery said.

■ Guard your checks, credit cards and debit cards from prying eyes. Identity thieves often uses a technique called "shoulder surfing," using a cell phone to record personal information from checks and cards.

■ Put all purchases in your car's trunk or take them home between stores.

■ Break down boxes when you open big-ticket items, such as TVs. Putting intact boxes on the curb "is showing everybody that drives by your house 'Hey, look what I just got. It's in my house now,'" Towery said. "That's an invitation for burglary."

■ Report suspicious activity to police.

Police also urge residents to avoid fights over bargain-basement deals. Yearly, news reports pop up across the nation of Black Friday shoppers being trampled and injured.

"Fortunately, Lexington has not experienced what many communities have," Towery said. "We want to keep it that way."

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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