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We’ve all been there.

You’re running ridiculously late. You circle the parking lot at your child’s school or work and there’s nothing left but handicap spaces. Your errand will just take a minute. You approach an open handicap space and pause.

Don’t.

Thousands rely on handicapped parking to live their daily lives and when people who don’t need them take them fraudulently, it’s not just wrong. It’s immoral.

Unfortunately, it happens a lot. And it’s not just parking in the handicapped spaces that’s an issue for some. Parking in the striped areas next to a handicapped spot also blocks the space that people rely on for wheelchair ramps.

When temperatures hit record-breaking lows last week, I was reminded of a trip to the post office in the dead of winter last year. 

Circling the post office parking lot with my daughter, for whom we rely on a disability placard to park since she can’t walk long distances and she’s too heavy to carry (she uses a wheelchair for any trip that requires a decent amount of walking), I noticed both handicapped spots were filled, including one by a large SUV that didn’t have a handicap tag. 

I found another spot, bundled my daughter up as best I could and then did something I never do: I knocked on the offending car’s window.

“Do you have a handicap parking tag?” I asked, trying to stay calm with my daughter in my arms, though underneath it I was angry.

The man inside looked at me blankly. I can’t remember if he even shook his head yes or no. Maybe he was surprised someone was actually challenging him about it.

“You shouldn’t park there unless you have a tag,” I said and left.

I wanted to do more but it was something.

Shawn Starkey, a spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office, says as far as the proper protocol when you see someone parked illegally in a handicapped space, it’s a law enforcement issue.

Penalties may include fines as high as $500 and up to 30 days in jail.

Lt. Mark Stout with the West Bloomfield Police Department said if someone calls his department about a car illegally parked in a handicapped zone, they’ll send an officer out to respond.

“We do cite people,” said Stout. “We write a fairly regular amount of citations for parking in handicap zones.”

Parking Mobility App is an app that lets the public report violations of accessible parking. They forward those violations – which carry no legal weight – on to local law enforcement and in communities they partner with, that could result in a ticket.

One of the challenges when it comes to accessible parking is that there’s never been a comprehensive study done that shows how rampant the problem in some communities, says Project Director Mack Marsh.

“This means there is no reliable data that we can use to educate local decision makers on the need for better enforcement and education efforts,” says Marsh. “We gather that data from people who use the Parking Mobility App to report violations. Once we have significant data in a given community, we provide that data to local decision makers to get them to deploy our program.”

Marsh say it’s not about punishing one violator at a time. It starts with educating community leaders and that takes time.

“Parking Mobility’s goal is to end the global issue of accessible parking abuse, unfortunately this means that sometimes individual issues aren’t quickly solved; it takes a long term, sustained effort,” he says.

In the meantime, what we can do to keep parking accessible for everyone? Keep our eyes open for those who aren’t following the law, call local police if you someone in a spot that they shouldn’t and reconsider parking in a spot even if it will “just take a second.”

It has to start somewhere.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mfeighan
 

 

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