Raleigh, N.C. — Two years after officials proposed ways to prevent people with handicapped placards from parking on downtown streets for hours at a time, the issue still frustrates business owners and confounds Raleigh leaders.
By Raleigh's interpretation of state law, vehicles bearing a handicapped placard or sticker can take any metered or time-limited parking space – at no charge – for as long as drivers need.
Throughout downtown, cars with placards usually dominate the on-street parking. Near the intersection of Jones and Wilmington streets on a recent day, for example, 11 of 13 parked cars indicated they belonged to handicapped drivers.
One woman, who didn't want to give her name, parked in a 15-minute spot on Hargett Street for at least eight hours. She left alone, but said her father, whose placard hangs from the car's rear-view mirror, had been with her when she parked.
"Momma picked him up," she said, adding that she doesn't think she took advantage of the system.
A WRAL investigation in 2006 uncovered the issue of handicapped-parking abuse, and Mayor Charles Meeker and officials with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance proposed offering more accessible handicapped parking in downtown parking decks and cracking down on people with expired placards.
Various city committees continue to discuss the problem. State lawmakers also have looked at options.
City Councilman Philip Isley said the issue is difficult to balance.
"Not only is it a revenue issue, it's just not fair," Isley said.
Various downtown merchants have suggested a limited number of on-street handicapped spots in addition to accessible deck parking.
Floye Dombalis, of the Mecca Restaurant, said the current system doesn't allow turnover.
"They stay there all day, and there's no parking space for anyone else," Dombalis said. "I think it's very serious."
Fred Johnson, of the Alliance of Disability Advocates, sees the issue differently.
"I understand that (frustration), but as it is right now, the law allows that. So, what do we do to address that that benefits everybody?" said Johnson, who is part of city discussions on the issue.
Charlotte requires people with handicapped placards to pay at parking meters like other drivers.
Several handicapped drivers in Raleigh said the cost of parking downtown would be prohibitive for them if they had to pay.
Parking decks charge up to $10 a day, and monthly lots charge from $55 to $95.
"I think there should be cheaper parking," one driver said.
"I couldn't pay. I didn't have the money for it," said another driver.
With Raleigh's free on-street parking for handicapped drivers, he didn't have to.