A new city plan calls for well-lit “safe haven” zones in Five Points where people can wait for cabs and other transportation in the busy entertainment district.
As University of South Carolina students return to campus this week, crowds will be picking up in Five Points, especially on the weekends.
Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook and Assistant City Manager Melissa Gentry presented the Five Points Corridor Night Transportation Plan to Columbia City Council Aug. 5.
The plan, which goes into effect Thursday, calls for a number of specifically designated transportation loading zones at strategic locations throughout Five Points. These zones will be in effect from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and will be marked with signage during those hours.
During those hours, there will be taxi loading zones near the corner of Harden Street and Devine, at the fountain area at the end of Saluda Avenue, and on Harden Street near the intersection of College Street.
Additionally, there will be USC shuttle and Carolina Cab loading zones along the east side of Saluda Avenue and a private shuttle loading zone near the intersection of Saluda Avenue and Harden Street. (Carolina Cab is an evening taxi service run by Checker Yellow under contract with USC.)
Several entities collaborated on the plan to make Five Points safer and to make transportation away from the popular entertainment district more efficient, including city administrative staff, the police department, USC and the Five Points Association.
“We recognize that Five Points has opportunities and challenges, because we have lots of college students that frequent that area,” City Manager Teresa Wilson told Council. “Of course, we wanted to make sure every college and university has the opportunity to have access to the safety or safe haven [zones] down in Five Points when they are visiting. At the same time, it is important for all citizens of Columbia to have safe havens as they approach taxi cabs and certain transportation options.”
Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine wondered whether students might have a fear of being “reported” when they access the shuttles or Carolina Cabs if they have been drinking.
Wilson said the purpose of the transportation plan is for students to feel free and safe to use the transportation options being offered.
And Holbrook indicated targeting underage drinking is not a leading priority for CPD officers on crowded nights in Five Points.
“Underage drinking is an issue,” the chief said. “It’s not our priority. We have to be realistic in how we approach things. We want students to feel comfortable coming to these transportation spots and not feel like they would be under scrutiny by law enforcement.
“The object of this is that they arrive and they get home safely.”
The police chief said there would be additional lighting in place at the transportation loading zones. He said the police department and USC have purchased a portable lighting system designed specifically for such scenarios.
Holbrook added he thinks the night transportation plan will create a “safer and more manageable environment” in Five Points.
Of course, there are other colleges in the city aside from USC, including Benedict College and Allen University. Councilman Moe Baddourah said he was “curious and interested” as to whether there is a plan in place for CPD to educate other colleges and universities about the Five Points late night transportation initiative.
Holbrook said other colleges have been contacted.
“Obviously, as we were working on this plan, we did reach out to all the colleges and universities to inquire about their capacity to participate in this and their desire to,” the chief said. “Throughout the fall we will be participating in their freshman orientation programs, and we are going to address the fraternities and sororities to educate them on what our expectations are, from law enforcement, on behavior and conduct anywhere in the city.”
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