Douglasville residents dealing with disabilities are tired of too often finding delivery trucks or other obstacles such as dumpsters tied to construction projects blocking access to handicapped parking and are demanding some action be taken to put a stop to it.
The problem has been noted in the downtown Douglasville area along Broad Street, but may be more widespread.
During a WSB-TV crew’s visit that coincided with the city’s Christmas parade, a parade truck was filmed pulling into a handicapped space.
Douglasville Police Maj. J.R. Davidson said police can always use help with monitoring this sort of thing.
“The DPD does enforce parking restrictions, but with only so many officers to go around, not everything is noticed,” Davidson said.
“We would urge citizens to contact us when they see violations; call it in to the police department right then,” Davidson said. He added that the DPD’s goal is to enforce those restrictions.
Davidson said that if issued a citation, citizens could expect fine amounts to fall within a certain range, but are up to the discretion of a judge.
Some photos posted on social media illustrating the problem caught the attention of Douglasville City Councilman Mike Miller.
Miller said council members want to spend the necessary amount of time needed to fix the problem.
“We wanted to handle it comprehensively, and not take a knee-jerk reaction to the problem and send a cop out there for a couple of weeks to write citations,” Miller said.
And Miller stressed that fixing the problem is not as easy as just writing a citation.
“Those businesses need to get deliveries too, so we want to fix this but without penalizing the businesses unfairly at the same time,” he said.
Since the TV story aired, Douglasville’s City Council met and discussed the issue and heard additional comments from Kim Harrison, Douglasville resident and chapter leader for the Spinal Association in Georgia, who was quoted in the WSB story.
Harrison told Miller she feels that enforcement is lax throughout the city.
“I think the city's losing a lot of money on fines ... by ignoring this issue. But I don't want it to be where people are getting out of their cars and causing conflict. We need to educate the community,” she said. “A lot of it is just education, people just don't know.”
And Harrison told the city council some tech-assisted ideas might help with reporting illegally parked vehicles.
“We can use Parking Mobility as an app, where it's taking a picture of a back and the front of a car and that application will either send it to police or the sheriff and a ticket can be emailed to the offender — or a one-time warning,” she said.
But Harrison said that a meeting with Douglasville Police Chief Gary Sparks and Douglas County Sheriff Tim Pounds did not leave her hopeful.
“I spoke with the sheriff and the police chief both. Mr. Pounds and Mr. Sparks ... and I was a little discouraged. ...I was told it's not a safety issue and it's low priority.”
“[But] it is a safety issue to someone who’s sitting out in the heat in August for over 45 minutes waiting for someone to move their car because they’re illegally parked and I can't get in my car. They didn't show it on the news, but it takes a 6-to-8-foot clearance to get in my car. I do not sweat or perspire with the spinal cord injury, so when I get overheated, it causes me to almost go into like a stroke,” she said.
And Harrison also pointed out to council members that some designated ‘handicapped’ motorists are sometimes themselves part of the problem.
“The biggest offenders, I'll tell you right now, are handicapped people. They'll park across the aisles, it doesn't matter. As long as they've got the placard, they can park however they want," she said.
And the truck filmed during the TV news visit Harrison told council members was associated with the Christmas parade.
“If someone from the city wasn't texting the police that night, it would not have been addressed. When the TV station was there, that truck would've been there until the parade started, it was one of the parade trucks,” Harrison said.
Harrison noted that the handicapped have to plan their movements carefully, even for things that most people take for granted.
“... And it's not just the wheelchair community, you have visually-impaired people who like to be with someone who are aiding them. They want to be able to park close and maybe go into Irish Bred Pub and not park all the way in the parking garage. Like right now, someone's going to have to walk me to my car, because I'm not going over there in the dark. That's my concern. I want to be able to park out in the front where it's visible, it's lit,” Harrison said.
Miller said that doing some casual observations recently together with Maintenance and Sanitation Director Greg Roberts around mid-day did turn up several instances of parking violations and that they immediately contacted City Manager Marcia Hampton, to bring her onboard.
“We’re looking into it and have the appropriate people making the appropriate changes,” Miller said. “[We’re] talking to restaurant and business owners around there, coordinating with the ADA requirements and looking at getting everything fixed.”
Miller said the council will consider their progress in the next session, but that completing those tasks along with a proactive approach to police enforcement is what is needed now.