Starting some time soon this month, the District government is slated to tighten the rules for its Red Top parking meters. The move will give disabled drivers and persons with disabilities, in vehicles displaying disabled parking placards and plates, exclusive access to approximately 350 distinctive metered spaces within the boundaries of downtown Washington’s Central Business District. The downside is, free reserved parking for people with disabilities in the CBD corridor, which includes the National Mall, the White House, and 169 blocks in the city’s “Golden Triangle,” will soon be a thing of the past, explains AAA Mid-Atlantic. The city says the changes will provide persons with disabilities “greater access to curbside parking in the high demand, congested CBD area by setting aside reserved, accessible parking meters.” Disabled drivers still await the date certain announcement. 

Under the new parking restrictions, persons with permanent and temporary disabilities, including drivers with “disabilities that make it difficult for them to feed the meters,” will now have pay to park at the curbside spaces, once the Red Top parking meters are re-programmed, the city government says. Yet, disabled workers, shoppers and visitors who are driving or riding as passengers in personal vehicles with the duly mandated plates and placards will be able to “park twice as long as the time allotted at the adjacent meters,” District officials explain.  Prior to the changes, any driver, including non-disabled motorists, could pay to park at Red Top Meters, which were originally designated for persons with disabilities, throughout the city. The change created a firestorm in many quarters. The District hopes the changes quell the controversy over access to handicapped parking spaces and ADA guidelines in the heart of the District’s commercial district. 

“In most jurisdictions across the nation and the region, reserved parking for people with disabilities is, as the saying goes, a ‘legal requirement, not just a courtesy,’ now disabled drivers and persons will have to pay for that courtesy in parts of downtown Washington,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic's Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “In recent years, a growing number of cities across the country, including Baltimore, Arlington, and Chicago, have jettisoned free parking at meters for disabled persons and commuters. Some locales made the changes to crackdown on the abuse of disability parking placards. To its credit, the District government is retaining the privilege and courtesy in other parts of the city for disabled individuals.” 

Until 2012, disabled persons could park all day at parking meters in the District. A fifth of the people (20.3%) residing in the District of Columbia are physically disabled or live with a select disability, such as mobility, cognitive, vision and self-care difficulties, according to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over a third of adults 65 years or older living in the USA reported a disability during 2013.  Many disabled persons “most frequently use motor vehicles, either as a driver or passenger, for transportation to the doctor and other medical visits and other local travel, such as shopping and recreation,” research by the U. S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics reveals. In 2009, 42, 254 District residents, ages 16-64, had disabilities. One in eight California drivers has a disabled parking placard. 

The changes mean everyone, including persons with disability parking privileges, must pay to park in the CBD. However, Red Top metered spaces are now reserved in the corridor, and as a result, only individuals with disability placards on the rearview mirror or with disability tags will be allowed to pay to park at Red Top Meters in downtown D.C., including Penn Quarter-Chinatown, Foggy Bottom, Embassy Row, Judiciary Square, and the K Street Corridor, and the area stretching from the White House to Dupont Circle. Anyone caught abusing the disability permit parking privilege or parking at the Red Top spaces in a vehicle that doesn't display a disability placard or a disability tag will face fines totaling $250, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic.   

Disabled drivers and persons with select functional disabilities in vehicles bearing disability placards and disability tags, including persons with a disability in mobility, will, however, still be able to park for free at any parking meter outside the Central Business District, according to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the District Department of Public Works.  Red Top parking meters comprise nine percent of the parking meter inventory throughout the city. Yet the District boasts 18,000 metered spaces. This appears, notes AAA Mid-Atlantic, to be within the ratio of the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines of “One of eight accessible parking spaces, but always at least one, must be van-accessible.”  The number of persons with disabilities in the District of Columbia correspond with the national average. As is the case in the District, nearly one in five persons in the United States has a disability, notes the U.S. Census Bureau. Plus, 53 million adults in the United States live with a disability, the CDC says. 

In the District, metered and curbside spaces reserved for a disabled parking permit holder are typically marked with the “wheelchair symbol.” Bear in mind, “a disability parking placard or plate is only valid when being used by the person with the disability or someone who is driving the person with the disability,” the District Department of Motor Vehicles warns. DDOT initially launched its Red Top parking meter program in 2012. Five years ago, the District installed 400 Red Top parking meters in the Central Business District and around federal buildings in the city. Back then, the city was on track to set aside 1,500 parking spaces reserved for the exclusive use of vehicles displaying the distinguishing license plate or card. 

The new meter rules were implemented without a lot of public input. After a backlash from disability rights advocates and other motorists, the District Council passed emergency legislation, “The Citizens with Disabilities Parking Fairness Temporary Amendment Act of 2012.” After the imbroglio, the city stopped enforcing Red Top meters and allowed all comers to park at the curbside sites. Previously, persons with disabilities, including disabled veterans with special license plates, and drivers with out-of-state and international disabled parking permits, could park free-of-charge all day long. Nowadays they can park at any parking meter in the city for up to double the maximum time allowed at the meter. After the metered space time expires, disabled people with a handicapped parking placard hanging on the rearview mirror must then pay to park, and they cannot exceed the paid-for time. Some disabled person still take umbrage at the change. 

To assist, accommodate and provide greater access to persons with different disability types, DDOT had previously announced the changes would be implemented after the turn of the New Year, in January 2017.  DDOT says the new rules will go into effect this month after “an extensive public awareness campaign and outreach to impacted communities.” According to a 2012 study, “About two-dozen states have laws that allow people with placards to park for free at metered spaces, and the majority of them have no time limit.” 

Under District parking rules and regulations, “Residents with disabilities who live in a single-family dwelling and meet certain other requirements can apply to have on-street parking spaces reserved for them,” explains DDOT.  Nearly seven in ten disabled individuals (66 percent) drive a car or other motor vehicles, compared to 85 percent of non -disabled individuals, previous research by the BTS revealed. “On average disabled driver’s drive 5 days per week compared with 6 days a week for non-disabled drivers.” As a rule of thumb, disabled persons can use their disability placards or tags in most states and in many other countries.

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