SPRINGDALE — The city is reworking plans for Emma Avenue after a local leader pointed out that it had not built disabled parking.
Emma Avenue holds 107 parking spaces – both parallel and pull – but none are marked for disabled parking.
Three spaces are designated 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 departments.
Thomas Nichols of Disability Rights Arkansas called the situation “truly unfortunate”.
“You don’t revitalize a downtown by sacrificing accessibility for beautification,” he said.
Mayor Doug Sprouse said city officials will consider how disabled parking can be added in the future.
“I certainly didn’t think of them,” he said of the omission.
Brad Baldwin, the city’s director of engineering services and public works, said his staff have begun work designing the spaces and the ramps to go with them.
Sprouse said the reconstruction of most of the streetscape along Emma is not complete and handicap spaces will be added in the process.
A government website dedicated to the Disabled Persons 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 with a maximum of 100 spaces, by law.
Therefore, Emma’s quarter-mile stretch between Blair Street and Park Street should have at least four handicapped spaces, one of which must provide space for a van.
The website also notes that parking requirements for on-street parking are not addressed by the Persons with Disabilities Act. Instead, enforce the rules for parking lots, he ordered.
“I have absolutely no idea why Emma doesn’t have handicap parking,” Baldwin said.
It will be easy to add spaces on the north side of Emma, just east of Main Street, because drivers will park there, Baldwin said.
Sprouse said the city may also add handicapped parking 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 headquarters and other historic buildings. But none of the 39 parallel parking spaces on this stretch of Emma are designated for disabled parking.
City officials aren’t sure if the on-street space for parallel parking will provide enough space for the wider handicapped-accessible parking spaces, Sprouse said.
More than 55 million Americans, or 18% of the population, have a disability, according to the Americans With Disabilities website website. A true count 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. Department spokesman Scott Hardin reported 4,129 license plates currently issued in Washington County on Tuesday.
Nichols said a place of business or government office isn’t really open to everyone if it prevents people with disabilities from frequenting the place — even if that’s just a step forward.
“So you push a whole category of people into the background,” he said. “And no one is immune to a 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 general manager of JV Manufacturing, although he remains chairman of the board. He continues to serve as Chairman of the Springdale Water and Sewer Commission and the Beaver Water Commission.
Weiser noticed the lack of handicap 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 allowed his wife to drive through the street gates and park inside.
Many businesses offer parking, disabled parking, and entrances at the back of 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 getting to the bar, he said.
Baldwin said he accompanied Emma this week and compiled a list of locations that could accommodate disabled parking spaces, including cross streets.
He plans to install disabled parking on Emma before the end of the year.
“I consider this a high priority project,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do, we have to do it.”
A handicapped crossing on Emma Avenue in Springdale requires wheelchair users to briefly merge into traffic before reaching the sidewalk. Go to nwaonline.com/210926Daily/ for more photos. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/JT Wampler)
Springdale’s Chris Weiser walks Thursday along Emma Avenue in Springdale in an area with no designated 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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The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration maintains a hotline and offers a form on its website for reporting abuse of handicapped parking spaces.
The department usually sends an information letter to the owner of unauthorized vehicle parking in a handicapped space. Continued abuse may be referred to local law enforcement.
The department receives about 1,100 complaints a year, or just under 100 a month, said Department spokesman Scott Hardin.
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 department received 1,134 complaints in 2019. Of that total, it determined 658 were misuse and sent letters to those owners.