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Downtown District Lacks Handicap Parking, City Leader Discovers

SPRINGDALE — The city is reworking plans for Emma Avenue after a local leader pointed out it failed to build any handicap parking. To get a disabled parking permit online follow the link.

Emma Avenue holds 107 parking spaces — both parallel and pull in — but none are marked for handicap parking.

Three spaces are designated for handicap parking in front of the new Municipal Campus, but none on Spring Street in front of the building holding the temporary offices of the mayor, engineering, city attorney and human resources departments.

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

“You don’t revitalize a downtown area by sacrificing accessibility in favor of beautification,” he said.

Mayor Doug Sprouse said city officials going forward will consider how handicap parking can be added.

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

Brad Baldwin, the director of the city’s Engineering and Public Works Departments, said his staff has started the work to design the spaces and ramps to accompany them.

Sprouse said reconstruction of the most of the streetscape along Emma is not completed and handicap spaces will be added in the process.

A government website dedicated to the disabilities act lists requirements for handicap parking, based on the total number of parking spaces. One handicap parking place is required for every 25 regular spaces in parking lots of up to 100 spaces, the law says.

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

The website also notes parking requirements for on-street parking are not addressed by the disabilities act. Instead, apply the rules for parking lots, it directed.

“I have absolutely no idea why Emma does not have any handicap parking,” Baldwin said.

Adding spaces on the north side of Emma just east of Main Street will be easy because drivers pull into parking there, Baldwin said.

Sprouse said the city also could add handicap parking space on the cross streets of Emma.

Emma Avenue east of the tracks of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad was reconstructed as Tyson Foods built office space in the company’s first headquarters building and other historic buildings. But none of the 39 parallel parking places on that stretch of Emma are designated for handicap parking.

City officials are unsure if the space on the street for parallel parking will provide enough space for the wider handicap accessible parking places, Sprouse said.

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

The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration issues handicap 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 a place of business or a government office isn’t truly open to all if it keeps people with disabilities from patronizing the place — even if it’s just one step up.

“Then, you are pushing a whole class of people to second rate,” he said. “And no one is immune to disability,” he said.

Chris Weiser discovered that 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 chief executive officer of J.V. Manufacturing, although he remains chairman of the board. He continues to serve as chairman of the Springdale Water and Sewer Commission and on the Beaver Water Commission.

Weiser noticed downtown’s lack of handicap spaces 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 the 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 barriers and park inside.

Many businesses do offer parking, handicap 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 back and seem to have no problems accessing the bar, he said.

Baldwin said he walked Emma this week and developed a list of locations that could hold handicap parking spaces, including cross streets.

He plans to install some handicap parking on Emma before the end of the year.

“I consider this to be a high priority project,” he said. “This is the right thing to do, we need to be doing it.”

Report abuse

The Arkansas Department of Finance and Adminstration manages a telephone line and offers a form on its website for reporting abuses to reserved handicap parking spaces.

The department usually sends an informational letter to the owner of an unauthorized vehicle parking in a handicap place. Continual abuse may be turned over to local law enforcement.

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

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

An average year is approximately 1,100 complaints (just under 100 per month). The department received 1,134 complaints in 2019. From that total, it determined 658 were misuse and issued letters to those owners.