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Proposed ban on fast-food cops irks businesses

Cans of worms sometimes turn up in the most unlikely places, as Clair Muller was reminded recently.

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The veteran Atlanta councilwoman, who chairs the council's transportation committee, learned from city traffic engineers a few weeks back that one of the biggest impediments to maintaining safe and efficient traffic flow throughout the city comes from off-duty police officers hired to direct lunchtime traffic outside of fast-food joints.

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The reason is simple: Every time a cop stops two or three lanes full of cars so some guy can make a left-hand turn to get his McRib a few seconds quicker, it renders pointless the delicate synchronization of nearby traffic signals, often resulting in gridlock.

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Exhibit A is the restaurant-lined stretch of Peachtree Road between Brookwood Hills and Piedmont Hospital that drives like a slow-motion obstacle course every day around noon.

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"It's a no-brainer that traffic isn't flowing well," Muller says.

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So she drafted a proposed ordinance that would prohibit restaurants and other private businesses located on major streets from hiring cops for the purpose of herding motorists into their drive-thru lanes — and then was promptly criticized by the business community and the Atlanta police union.

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In a Sept. 2 letter to city officials opposing Muller's proposal, the Buckhead Coalition's Sam Massell argues that having uniformed police officers in the middle of the street actually enhances traffic safety and deters crime. Plus, he says, echoing the concerns of the police union, the cops need the extra money.

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So Muller has been forced to regroup. She pulled her proposal out of the public safety committee and is now planning to form a task force to help tweak her proposal, which already includes an exception for the hiring of police to direct traffic at sporting events, festivals and other permitted events.

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"It needs some around-the-table discussion," she explains. "Before you sell people on a solution, you have to sell them on the fact that there's a problem."

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Sometime before the end of the year, Muller plans to reintroduce the proposal in her own committee, where she'll better be able to control discussion.

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In other words, watch out, Mickey D's.



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