Flaggs: Disabled parking scarce

Published 11:00 am Thursday, January 30, 2014

Vicksburg’s downtown district is attracting more residents and visitors, and some of them are upset over the apparent lack of handicap parking spaces.
“We’re getting complaints that the handicapped don’t have enough parking downtown, “Mayor George Flaggs said. “The auditorium needs more (handicap) parking. We’re going to take a look at that and how we can make downtown more handicapped-accessible.
“We’re going to get all the city buildings in compliance and then look at downtown,” he said.
Flaggs has appointed a three-person committee of Police Chief Walter Armstrong, Fire Chief Charles Atkins and safety director Joseph Boler to chair the committee, examine the problems and bring their recommendations the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. No deadline was given.
City ordinances authorize the police chief to designate certain areas in the city as handicap parking areas, and requires the city buildings to have one handicap parking space and at least “one additional space for every 100 parking spaces available for those not physically handicapped.”
The parking spaces must be within 200 feet “of an easily accessible entrance to the facility.”
While many of the city’s curbs have been beveled, or sloped, to accept wheelchairs and there are several handicap parking spaces downtown, Flaggs wants to see more.
“I want to try for two spaces for each block,” he said.
Armstrong said he wants to look at downtown and see how the parking spaces are set.
“We need to look and see if all the (handicap) spots are on one side of the street, and how we can do it better,” he said.
“Accessibility is a big thing; making sure that no one’s access is blocked,” Fire Chief Charles Atkins said.
“We need to see if there is enough room for people who may have a van. We have a lot of people who have wheelchairs and motorized chairs. We have to make sure they can safely get out without any problems,” he said.
He said he also wants to meet with Community Development Director Victor Gray-Lewis and tour all city buildings to make sure they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
One challenge, Atkins said, is the Vicksburg Convention Center, adding its handicap spaces on the building’s south end and in the center’s parking lot may be too far for handicap patrons to go to attend a program at the facility.
“We’ll have to look into that,” he said.
Another challenge is the Vicksburg Auditorium.
Currently, Armstrong said, the building’s handicap parking spaces are along its sides, because that is where the available access to the building is.
City officials are already making plans to improve the front of the building, including adding handicap ramps. The work will be funded by a $50,000 grant from Ames, Iowa-based VenuWorks, which has the management contract for the convention center, and until October managed the auditorium.
The city plans to demolish the former Buttons & Bows day care center at 912 Main St. behind the auditorium, which the city bought in September 2012.
“Once we get that building torn down, we’re going to put all the operations vehicles (for programs) there,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said. “We’re going to have a ramp where they can load from the north side of the building, and it will be handicap accessible from the north and the front of the building — from all sides.”
Armstrong said he wants to put the extra handicap parking spaces along the front of the auditorium after the renovations.
“We’re going to make the city as handicapped accessible as possible,” Mayfield said.
“When you start talking about handicapped, make sure you do your homework up front,” he said.
“You can put in handicapped spaces and still have them in the wrong places,” he said. “You have to find the most strategic places possible, because you don’t want to put them in places where they don’t have access to the places people need to go.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The Americans With Disabilities Act sets out the design and marking of handicap accessible parking spaces:

• Handicap accessible parking spaces should be marked off and identified by a sign mounted so the lower edge of the sign is at least five 5 feet above the ground and can be seen by drivers and police.
• Accessible parking spaces for cars have at least a 60-inch wide access aisle adjacent to the designated parking space. The access aisle is just wide enough to permit a person using a wheelchair to enter or exit the car.
• Van-accessible parking spaces are the same as accessible parking spaces for cars except for three features needed for vans: a wider, 96-inch access aisle to accommodate a wheelchair lift; vertical clearance to accommodate van height at the van parking space, the adjacent access aisle, and on the route to and from the van-accessible space; and an additional sign identifying the parking space as “van accessible.”
• Under state law, a person initially applying for a handicapped car tag or placard at the county tax collector’s office must present a statement from a licensed doctor certifying that the person has a disability that limits or impairs their ability to walk, and the person will have the disability for at least five years.
The tag is renewable every five years.
In Vicksburg, the fine for illegally parking in a handicap parking space in Vicksburg is $213.50.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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