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When is an accessible parking place not accessible?

August 22, 2009
By LAUREN LEFEBVRE, Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living

Summertime is a wonderful time of the year in the Tri-Lakes. It's so wonderful; in fact, that the area we call home is a vacation destination for many people. What does that mean for people that live here? It's a jump start to for our local economy, it's revenue and it's jobs. It's also a parking nightmare. Accessible parking spaces, even in January, are few and far between.

I've often wondered what the requirements are for accessible on-street parking. Parking lot requirements are pretty cut and dry. One out of every eight places must be van accessible. Other than people with disabilities who need a van accessible parking place, no one really knows what that is. Let me tell you what van accessible means. It means a traditional parking space that is directly adjacent to an 8-foot, striped access aisle (that's the striped part that a wheelchair ramp or lift extends out to so the person using a wheelchair can get in and out of their vehicle-it is not a place for a skinny car or motorcycle). In parking lots over 25, the requirements start to get a little different.

In this case we are now looking at two different types of accessible spaces-van accessible and car accessible. Parking lots consisting of 26 to 50 spaces must have one accessible space with an 8-foot wide access aisle and one accessible space with a 5-foot-wide access aisle. The more spaces in the lot, the more accessible spaces required. Oh yeah, one more thing, van accessible spaces need to have a sign that identifies it as Van accessible-not just the usual blue and white wheelchair symbol.

Where are these accessible spaces located in a public lot? Good question. Common sense should dictate this. Don't put them on a hill, don't put them on the edge of a ditch, don't put them up against a bike rack, don't put them where the dumpster goes, etc. In a public lot I would locate the accessible spaces close an accessible entrance/exit.

Think about it. If the shopping district for the community is located up a flight of stairs from the public lot, don't put the accessible parking places there. The person is going to have to travel through the entire lot using a wheelchair or scooter to find a way out. If there is no accessible way to get out of the lot-then you've got trouble.

On street parking, or parallel parking, is a horse of a different color. The guidelines are hazy on this. Basically they say there shall be one accessible parking space per block with a full 5-foot access aisle. The access aisle must connect with a pedestrian crosswalk serving that space. There is no definition of "block."

There is an exception. Oh boy, everyone's favorite way to circumvent the law, an exception! The exception is that if the access aisle leaves less then 14 feet of public right-a-way space (sidewalk space) there is an acceptable alternative. This does not mean you don't have to have one designated accessible space per block.

What is does mean is that now the space must be located at the end of a block (corner). The space still has to connect to a pedestrian crosswalk. That doesn't mean the vehicle parks in the crosswalk. It means that when the person exits or enters their vehicle they aren't expected to rev up to racing speed to jump curbs in order to get anywhere.

The wheelchair lift or ramp is going to extend onto the sidewalk so the person can get in and out. There should be nothing on the sidewalk blocking the wheelchair ramp from extending-no sidewalk sign, no clothes rack, no garbage can, no tree, no fire hydrant, no bench, no planter, no light post-nothing. Hey, it happens every day.

Now, take a look around at the parking situation in the Tri Lakes area. It's a sad state of affairs. The Americans with Disabilities Act falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice. The Act contains language that allows leeway as far as accessibility. If accessibility will cause undue burden on a business or is not "readily achievable" then the U.S. Department of Justice tends to go soft on people. The DOJ does not consider purchasing blue paint, a sign and a sign post an undue burden. Measuring out five and eight foot access aisles and painting lines is considered to be readily achievable by even the poorest of businesses. As far as municipalities go-they are supposed to be accessible from the word go-burdensome and as unreadily achievable as it may be.

Before the snow flies, which may be next week, TLCIL staff will begin surveying every public parking lot in the Tri Lakes region. Public lot does not just mean municipal. If you are a business and you are open to the public then your lot is for the use by the public. Yes, your lot is for "customers only" however customers are the public. Are you really going to say "customers without disabilities only?"

Oh please, please do that. Go ahead, make my day!



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