Local News

WRAL Investigates: Is Handicapped Parking Law Being Abused?

Posted February 6, 2006 8:44 a.m. EST

— Downtown Raleigh business owners say a state law that allows motorists with handicap parking stickers to park in time-limited parking is not fair because people take advantage of the law. Now, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance plans to lobby for changes to the law, saying it is bad for business.

In a recent investigation, WRAL found numerous vehicles with handicapped placards parked in 15-minute spots all day long in downtown Raleigh.

On East North Street, for example, vehicles with the placards took up 11 spots in a row; similar situations could be found in front of the Brass Grill on Wilmington Street.

The city's parking patrol passed every one of the vehicles without writing tickets because they had handicapped parking placards, making it legal for the drivers to park in any location for as long as they want.

"It takes up parking spaces that are needed by people who want to come in and do business and leave," said downtown business owner Stuart Turner.

At the city courthouse, a gray Buick was parked in the same spot five days a week for many weeks. The owner of the car is Willis Spence, a private security guard at the Wake County Garland Jones Building.

WRAL confronted Spence, who parked his car in a 30-minute spot more than eight hours. He claimed his legs are bad.

"I don't know what to say to be honest," Spence said. "When you are handicapped, you don't have the flexibility. Downtown needs to open up more parking. Bottom line -- downtown needs more parking."

Even though the county garage has many parking spots right next door to where Spence works, Nancy Hormann, of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, says the reason drivers choose the street instead of the garage is that it is free.

"They don't have to pay if they park there," Hormann said. "It's free all day long versus going into the deck -- it costs them."

Downtown advocates hope to find a compromise for handicapped drivers.

Larry Jones, of the state office for Americans with Disabilities Act, said the parking problem downtown is not what the law was intended to do.

"I think this was made with good intentions, but sometimes when you do this in order to cover everybody, the law can be stretched," Jones said.

The office hopes the law can be changed to include time limits.

So, WRAL took the controversy to the Mayor's Committee for Persons with Disabilities.

"There should be reasonable turnover in those slots so that other cars, other persons, including those with disabilities, can have access to that area," said James Benton, a spokesman for the Mayor's Committee for Persons with Disabilities.

As a result of WRAL's investigation, the Committee now hopes to find a way to encourage disabled citizens to use curbside parking as judicially as possible.

As for Spence, his car is no longer parked downtown because he no longer works there. After WRAL took the story to the county's attention, Spence was reassigned.