Many handicap parking signs can’t be enforced

The sign on the left is non-compliant, while the one on the right is compliant.

Not all handicap parking spaces are marked properly, and this has led to trouble dealing with violators in the city of Athens.

For the past year, the Athens Disabilities Commission has been on a mission to educate local property owners (including Ohio University) about how many of their handicap parking signs are not up to standards.

Non-compliant signage presents an enforcement issue for local police looking to cite people who violate accessibility parking rules.

At-large City Council member Steve Patterson, who joined the Athens Disabilities Commission last year, said Friday that the panel had been hearing complaints from people with disabilities: When they found somebody illegally parked in a designated accessibility spot, sometimes there was little that could be done about it.

This, Patterson said the commission discovered, is because some private property owners have posted an all blue-and-white sign that does not meet standards set up through the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

The standard sign under MUTCD protocol calls for a green border with green text on a white background and the blue international symbol of accessibility parking space marking, which depicts a stick individual in a wheelchair.

Patterson said that a representative of the Federal Highway Administration told him that even though MUTCD went from the old blue-and-white signs to the ones with the green text as far back as 1978, many people left the non-compliant signs standing.

"So we drafted a letter we've taken around to area businesses," he said.

Some businesses, he said, responded quickly to change out the old non-compliant signs for the new ones that are up to standards. Still others have been slow to act, he added.

The letter included pictures of the signs that are non-compliant as well as the ones that are.

"One of the major tenets of the Commission on Disabilities is to ensure equal access to all individuals with or without disability," the letter stated. "It is very important to have proper signage in your parking lots to ensure that people do not unjustifiably park in a spot reserved for a person with a disability."

Proper signs, it said, can be purchased from businesses such as Performance Signs, Zonez, and other sign companies outside the Athens area.

Patterson also sent a letter last week to state Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, delineating the relationship between MUTCD and Ohio Revised Code so that Phillips could perhaps explore whether something more needs to be done at the state level.

Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said Friday that all city spaces are marked correctly and are enforced.

"Private property spaces are a different story. though," he said. "Few businesses have them marked correctly so we don't do a lot of enforcement on private property."

Pyle said that he knows of no requirement for private property owners to mark spaces properly, so his department is not able to compel them to do so. This is the area where state action might be considered.

"Some, like Walmart, are in compliance though," Pyle said. "So we can and do enforce those spaces."

Patterson said that Kroger changed its signs to the proper ones shortly after being notified of the problem. He also pointed to Lowe's as having the correct signage.

One of the biggest entities in the city of Athens, however, Ohio University, is largely marked incorrectly (about 90 percent of the spots), Patterson said. He added that he has been meeting with the university in attempts to get that situation rectified.

In addition to his role on City Council, Patterson is a psychology professor at OU.

"It is my understanding that OU is now going to slowly change out their signs and put the proper signs in as well," he said.

Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers explained that most parking citations on OU campus are issued by Parking Services and are internal, administrative matters; if someone doesn't pay, the university pursues the fine as a civil matter.

OU Police enforce state parking regulations, and so, if they cite someone who's parked in an improperly marked spot, the ticket wouldn't be enforceable in municipal court.

Under MUTCD, blue-and-white signs are for informational purposes only, Patterson explained, so even though many have a $250 fine marked on them, it is not enforceable.

Patterson further warned that knowledge of non-compliant signage should not be used as an excuse for residents to go about parking in these spaces.

He related the story of one resident with a disability who was forced to sit in a hot parking lot for over an hour waiting for the owner of a vehicle to come along and move it in order to access her van.

"We've been working on this for a year now, largely educating people and educating myself," Patterson said. "Slowly people have changed. It's a good thing. Eventually, I'd like to see the whole city of Athens where all the signs that you see, whether it's private businesses, city or university, we all have the proper, compliant signs."

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