Sunday, July 18, 2010

Discouraging the Misuse of Handicapped Parking Spaces

People who don't have to shouldn't be using handicapped parking spaces. That shouldn't have to be said. I'm not sure why people feel that it's all right to do so - perhaps they think that it does no harm to only use one for a few minutes, perhaps they feel that their right to convenience trumps all others, perhaps they're just thoughtless, perhaps they think that the signs refer to the mentally handicapped.

Andrea's theory is that if you use one of those spaces when you don't need to, you're tempting fate - that if you want to use handicapped parking spaces so badly, the fates will arrange it so that you can, legally.

For whatever reason, the spots that are set aside for those with mobility issues are often used by those who don't, and we're not very good at ticketing offenders when it does happen. And many of the spots that are misused, aren't under the city's control - they're on private property, such as a mall parking lot. With some of those property owners, such as the Co-op and the Forest Centre, we have a contract with them to do parking enforcement. But with others, such as Cornerstone, we don't. And we don't do a particularly good job of enforcing those which are under our control - you're far more likely to get a ticket for an expired meter than for parking in a handicapped zone.

But because we like to be seen as taking action, at council this past Monday we passed a bylaw which will give us the authority to take action on people who choose to park in these spots, even on private property. I don't disagree with the intention (but unlike one council member, I can't confess to having pent-up rage against these people - I tend to pity them instead), but we shouldn't be adding another bylaw that won't be enforceable because we don't have the staff. We can't enforce this on the spots that we're responsible for now, and we've just added several areas to the mix. We have a tendency to pass bylaws that we can't enforce, just to give the illusion that we're attacking the problem. When it comes to bylaws, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.

Enforcement of this is supposed to be the responsibility of bylaw enforcement, but we haven't added any additional staff to a group which already has a difficult time keeping up with an ever-increasing workload. When I asked about this, I was told that enforcement would be done on a complaint basis. In other words, if you see someone parked in a handicapped zone at Walmart, you're supposed to call bylaw enforcement, and hope that they get there before the offending vehicle is gone. Good luck with that. I might have more faith in improving things if there was going to be a regular spot checking done, as happens with parking meters.

However, I was called by someone on Saturday morning, saying that five police (not bylaw enforcement) vehicles were at Walmart, ticketing vehicles in handicapped spots and fire lanes, and also passing out a couple of tickets to taxis who were picking people up, which I think is carrying things a bit too far. I'm also wondering how much it cost the city having five police vehicles handing out tickets, rather than doing what they're supposed to be doing.

But perhaps having an initial flurry of ticketing will get people's attention, and we'll see less abuse of these spaces. And if nothing else, I hope that the councillor who parked in a handicapped zone at St. Mary's School for the mayoral debate during last year's election campaign now realizes that he shouldn't have done that - educating ourselves is sometimes the most difficult part of change.

"I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it." - Garrison Keillor

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