Asking disabled to pay for parking will benefit everyone 

The dilemma of the unavailability of accessible parking in San Francisco is a complex and delicate issue. On a daily basis, many people with disabilities struggle to find accessible parking in San Francisco. The inability to find accessible parking is a significant barrier to people with disabilities.

This year, San Francisco's Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee, of which I am a member, rolled out a set of six recommendations to help ensure adequate parking is available.

These recommendations, in brief, are to increase blue zones by at least 470 spots, to improve enforcement of placard misuse, to increase oversight of placard approvals, to remove the meter payment exemption, to designate the increased revenue from blue-zone meter enforcement directly into making improvements to increased mobility for people with disabilities and to establish reasonable time limits.

There is precedence for charging people with disabilities for parking in public and private facilities, which is having an encouraging effect on parking in the cities that have implemented it such as Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia. The need for accessible parking goes far beyond simply having to pay, or not pay, for parking.

One of my staff members travels to work in a modified van, and encounters extreme difficulty finding an adequate parking space on the street to offload a wheelchair using a ramp. She needs to not only find a space that is available, but also has adequate space to set down a ramp, being clear of trees, trash cans, bus benches, newspaper stands and other obstacles, and an even curb surface to set the ramp down on. She is often forced to use a nearby parking garage, where she pays the same fee as everyone else, because there is always an accessible space available to her in the garage.

I would like to address some of the community concern about parking fees. We are not recommending a tax on the disabled community, as some have called it, rather we are asking for a transition to equal payment for parking, with a very exciting mission: To allocate the increased revenue raised from metered parking directly to improving existing blue-zone spaces and to increasing the number of blue-zone spaces available, overall.

The Accessible Parking Advisory Committee has recommended that San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency work with the disability community to advocate for these improvements. To those who argue that people with disabilities can't afford to pay for parking, I'll emphasize again that these recommendations are merely a starting point from which we can build creative solutions to further address accessibility and economic justice.

Since beginning this process on the steering committee of the Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee, my opinions have changed. I began with the belief that parking should be free to placard holders. After examining the issues from all sides, and based on the experiences on other municipalities that have implemented fees, I came to the conclusion that charging for parking can only increase the availability of parking for all in San Francisco.

These recommendations are designed to be a foundation upon which to start a conversation addressing the need to expand the availability of accessible parking for those who truly need it. There is a tremendous disparity between the number of placard holders in the Bay Area (500,000) to the number of blue-zone spaces in San Francisco (700).

The ultimate goal is increasing the number of blue-zone spaces so more people with disabilities have access to this beautiful city of ours.

Jessie Lorenz is executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco.

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Jessie Lorenz

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