WRAL Investigates

Raleigh wrestles with handicapped parking problem

Posted May 29, 2008 4:39 p.m. EDT
Updated May 29, 2008 9:24 p.m. EDT

— A city task force met Thursday to discuss ways to balance the need to provide accessible downtown parking spaces for the disabled with the need to keep spaces available for other drivers.

The meeting came two days after a WRAL investigation found people with handicapped placards parking on downtown streets for hours at a time.

Under Raleigh's interpretation of state law, a vehicle bearing a handicapped placard or sticker can take any metered or time-limited parking space – at no charge – for as long as the driver needs it.

That stance has frustrated downtown merchants, who say customers have no place to park because cars bearing handicapped placards often occupy all on-street spaces all day.

"It's the long-term parkers who are the employees that take over the streets early in the morning and don't move," said Gordon Dash, the city's parking administrator.

A task force appointed by Mayor Charles Meeker, which has been meeting since September to devise a comprehensive downtown parking plan, took up the handicapped parking issue Thursday.

"We need to figure out how to address it," committee member Don Carter said. "There's too many people that are using handicapped stickers that don't need handicapped stickers."

A lack of enforcement for people misusing the placards is one of two problems committee members noted. The other was providing the spaces free of charge, which they said is a disincentive for getting people to use handicapped spaces in downtown parking decks, which charge for access.

"If that's removed, than the abuse level can come down," parking consultant Lee Bourque said, referring to the option of free on-street parking.

Charlotte charges people with handicapped placards who park in metered spaces.

"They do have turnover, and it does work well for them there. We're certainly looking at that model," Dash said.

Committee member Mark Ezzell said disabled drivers don't deserve free parking more than anyone else. But expecting them to go out to feed a meter all day also isn't reasonable, he said.

"We need to make certain that we do not solve this problem on the backs of people with disabilities," Ezzell said.

The panel also is looking at  Boulder, Colo., for a possible model. That city provides designated, on-street handicapped spaces with all-day meters.

The task force expects to submit its recommendations for improved downtown parking to the City Council in July or August.