Downtown district lacks disabled parking, finds city boss

SPRINGDALE – The city is reworking plans for Emma Avenue after a local leader pointed out that it had not built a parking lot for people with disabilities.

Emma Avenue has 107 parking spaces – both parallel and traction – but none are marked for disabled parking.

Three spaces are reserved for disabled parking in front of the new municipal campus, but none on Spring Street in front of the building housing the temporary offices of the mayor, engineering, city attorney and human resources.

Thomas Nichols with Disability Rights Arkansas called the situation “really unfortunate”.

“You don’t revitalize a city center by sacrificing accessibility for the sake of beautification,” he said.

Mayor Doug Sprouse said city officials will look into how disabled parking can be added in the future.

“I certainly didn’t think about it,” he said of the omission.

Brad Baldwin, the city’s director of engineering and public works services, said his staff had started designing the spaces and ramps to accompany them.

Sprouse said the reconstruction of much of the streetscape along Emma’s was not complete, and spaces for people with disabilities would be added in the process.

A government website dedicated to the Disability Act lists disabled parking requirements, based on the total number of parking spaces. One disabled parking space is required for every 25 regular spaces in parking lots up to 100 spaces, by law.

Therefore, Emma’s quarter-mile stretch between Blair Street and Park Street should have at least four disabled spaces, one of which must provide space for a van.

The website also notes that the parking requirements for on-street parking are not addressed by the Disability Act. Instead, enforce the rules for the parking lots, he said.

“I have absolutely no idea why Emma doesn’t have disabled parking,” Baldwin said.

It will be easy to add spaces on Emma’s north side, just east of Main Street, as drivers park there, Baldwin said.

Sprouse said the city may also add disabled parking spots on Emma’s side streets.

Emma Avenue east of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad tracks was rebuilt as Tyson Foods built offices in the company’s first head office building and other historic buildings. But none of the 39 parallel parking spaces on this stretch of Emma are designated for disabled parking.

City officials are uncertain whether the space on the street for parallel parking will provide enough space for the larger parking spaces accessible to people with disabilities, Sprouse said.

More than 55 million Americans or 18% of the population have a disability, according to the Americans With Disabilities website. A true tally of people with disabilities in the state is unknown, Nichols said. Different agencies report different types of disabilities and some people have chosen not to disclose their disability, he explained.

The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration issues disabled parking permits in the form of license plates. Scott Hardin, a spokesperson for the department, on Tuesday reported 4,129 license plates currently issued in Washington County.

Nichols said that a place of business or a government office isn’t really open to everyone if it prevents people with disabilities from frequenting the place – even if it’s just a step forward.

“Then you push a whole class of people into the background,” he said. “And no one is immune to disability,” he said.

Chris Weiser discovered this when he developed rheumatoid arthritis last year.

“It hit me pretty hard,” he said. “I had to use a wheelchair to get around.

Weiser has since retired as CEO of JV Manufacturing, although he remains chairman of the board. He continues to be Chairman of the Springdale Water and Sewer Commission and the Beaver Water Commission.

Weiser noticed the lack of disabled spaces downtown in June when he wanted to attend the Street Dinner offered by the Downtown Springdale Alliance. The city closes Emma Avenue in front of Shiloh Square for several hours during dinner.

He didn’t know where he could park for a short walk to the table. He said Jill Dabbs, executive director of the Alliance, and Sprouse had given his wife permission to cross street barriers and park inside.

Many companies offer parking, disabled parking and entrances behind their buildings.

Jeff Brown, owner of Odd Soul on Emma, ​​said he has several regular customers with disabilities. They park in the back and seem to have no problem accessing the bar, he said.

Baldwin said he walked Emma this week and compiled a list of locations that may contain disabled parking, including side streets.

He plans to install disabled car parks on Emma before the end of the year.

“I consider this to be a high priority project,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do, we have to do it.”

A disabled crossing on Emma Avenue in Springdale requires people in wheelchairs to briefly enter traffic before reaching the sidewalk. Go to nwaonline.com/210926Daily/ for more photos. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / JT Wampler)

Chris Weiser of Springdale walks Thursday along Emma Avenue in Springdale in an area with no disabled parking.  Weiser became aware of the problem when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and was briefly confined to a wheelchair.  Go to nwaonline.com/210926Daily/ for more photos.  (NWA Democrat-Gazette / JT Wampler)

Chris Weiser of Springdale walks Thursday along Emma Avenue in Springdale in an area with no disabled parking. Weiser became aware of the problem when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and was briefly confined to a wheelchair. Go to nwaonline.com/210926Daily/ for more photos. (NWA Democrat-Gazette / JT Wampler)

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Report abuse

The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration maintains a hotline and has a form on their website to report abuse in parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities.

The service usually sends a newsletter to the owner of an unauthorized vehicle parked in a disabled parking space. Ongoing abuse can be turned to local law enforcement.

The department received about 1,100 complaints per year, just under 100 per month, said Scott Hardin, a spokesperson for the department.

To file a complaint: (866) 667-2755 or portal.dfa.arkansas.gov/MisuseParking.

An average year is around 1,100 complaints (just under 100 per month). The ministry received 1,134 complaints in 2019. Of that total, it determined that 658 were abuse and sent letters to those owners.