Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Disabled parking policy: yet another example of how not having a master transportation plan means that DC's transportation "policy" is crazy stupid

All may Park All Must Pay (Rosslyn)
Decal on a parking meter stanchion in Rosslyn, Arlington County.

From Parking Today Magazine:

If you give something for free, particularly something of rather great value, you can rest assured that there will be those that take advantage. My question is, as has been raised on these pages numerous times in the past, why do we give free parking to handicapped persons? Immediately we have created a black market in handicapped permits. Policing the process is difficult, if not impossible. And spaces that are needed for handicapped persons are filled by nincompoops who don’t need the service. The Handicapped tell me that they want access, not charity.

Recently, the DC Department of Transportation introduced a special "red top" parking meter program to better control parking for the disabled ("D.C. to install more red top meters for disabled people" from the Post).

But the spirited reaction to the loss of privilege--parking anywhere for free--means that the DC City Council is stepping in to rescind the program ("DC Council to consider halting new ‘red-top’ parking meter program for disabled drivers" from the Post).

Parking policies should be set by a transportation master plan, not by whim, and/or in response to the complaints of a few, especially over loss of privilege. (This is my major complaint about so called "performance parking programs" across the city, how we deal with church parking on Sundays--I actually don't have a problem with it, but it should be managed carefully, with proposals for free parking for funerals, with the relatively miniscule price for residential parking permits, etc.)

"Traditionally" disabled motor vehicle users have either been allowed to (1) park for free; (2) without restriction in terms of length of time parked; and/or (3) for an extended period of time.

Across the country, including DC, rampant abuse of disabled parking privileges has been uncovered. For example, the Los Angeles Times has run a series of articles about investigations in handicapped parking permit abuse there, starting with this article from 2011, "Placards can bring a curbside surprise: State DMV cracks down on fraudulent use of disabled parking passes. It's touched a nerve."

From the article:

Fraudulent use of disabled parking placards -- those blue or red badges that allow motorists to park for free or in specially reserved spaces -- has exploded in the last decade, according to state motor vehicle officials. With 1 in 10 California drivers now legally registered to carry the passes, transportation experts say abuse has become commonplace. At any given moment, on any given street, more than a third of the vehicles displaying the tags -- and parking without paying -- are doing so illegally, say officials with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

More recent articles have involved Steve Lopez, one of the
LA Times' leading columnists, going around with parking enforcement personnel targeting placard abuse. See "It's time for a crackdown on abusers of disabled placards," "A peculiar pattern," and "Cracking down on parking meter cheaters: They use disabled-driver placards that they don't deserve. But thanks to the LAPD and DOT, some of them get the hefty fines they really do deserve."

As Lopez points out, there are so many cheaters that they prevent legitimate handicapped parking permit holders from using handicapped parking.

Where is the outrage over the abuse? The Chicago Sun-Times has reported on similar problems in Chicago. Links to 7 stories on the subject are available within this story.

Chicago Sun-Times video story on illegal use of handicapped parking permits.

So there are two issues. One is massive abuse of the privilege. The other is the revenue loss from providing free parking. (The City of Chicago has been presented with a bill by the parking meter concessionaire of more than $13 million for the cost of providing free handicapped parking, and that's after a credit of more than $5 million. See "Meter company sends city $13.5 million bill for disabled parking from the Chicago Sun-Times.)

More jurisdictions are requiring that disabled patrons pay for parking, even if they are still provided with priority locations and longer periods to park than what would normally be provided.

By providing a framework and goals focused on effective transportation policy and throughput, a master transportation plan is essential in creating an environment where transportation policy is based on robust practice and achievement of goals, rather than more like a taffy pull focused on ameliorating complaints from various interests asked to pay their way.

The Arlington County Master Transportation Plan, specifically the Parking and Curb Space Management Element, is a model for how transportation planning should be done, and demonstrates just how much the DC way of no planning and Council legislative privilege creates a failed environment for intelligent transportation policies and regulations in the city.

From the Element:

Policy 1. Prioritize the use of curb space, matching the various types of uses to the most appropriate locations. In commercial areas and high‐density residential areas, generally consider bus stops, curb nubs, taxi stands, paratransit pickup, short‐term retail and handicapped parking to be the highest priority.

Curb space is owned by the community, and must be managed for the greatest public benefit. Priorities for curb space management are not uniform across the County and will depend on the County’s Land Use Plan and proximate land uses and transportation options. Major transportation nodes such as Metrorail stations or major bus stops (Super Stops, BRT stops and street car stations) are primary organizing factors for curb space. Secondary factors include activity centers (major hotels, shopping centers, and high‐rise residential and commercial buildings) and other nodes of the primary transit network (PTN). However, all of these uses must respect the pedestrian experience. The placement of these elements should be carefully considered to avoid negatively impacting pedestrians and other amenities that help create a high quality urban environment. Appendix A includes three tables that show a hierarchy of curb space uses for High‐Density and Commercial Districts, Medium Density Districts and Low‐Density Districts. ...

Policy 13: Provide travel options for persons with disabilities through reserved access to curb space and dedicated off‐street parking, with enforcement.

Reserved parking for people with disabilities ensures safe and equal access to goods and services. Mobility impaired persons with limited mobility require parking spaces in close proximity to their destinations and therefore should be allotted the parking spaces closest to primary building entrances. ...

At this time no ADA‐standards exist that define what accommodations should be made for accessible on‐street parking spaces. Absent national standards the County utilizes best practices when providing disabled‐reserved on‐street spaces. ...

In 1998, the County, after close coordination with representatives from the disabled community, adopted a policy that ended free use of parking meters by persons with handicapped parking permits. The change removed the chief incentive for fraudulent use of such spaces. In addition, the number of reserved meter handicapped spaces was tripled and the allowable time on those meters was increased to twice the standard time.


It's not surprising that DC is 14 years behind Arlington County with regard to addressing the same issues, DC doesn't have a robust, comprehensive transportation plan.

It could be though that City Council likes it this way, because that means that they can pander to various interests when it suits their needs, especially when it comes to parking, which I liken to the "third rail" of local politics (traditionally social security and medicare make up the "third rail" of national politics).

But still, it's very frustrating, when a better way of doing things is so obvious, and yet despite the obvious, DC prefers to go its capricious, under-planned way.

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