Commissioner agrees accessible parking could be better

The accessible spots in the lot next to the Courthouse Annex building are for employees only.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Changes could be coming to accessible parking in some county lots in downtown Fort Wayne after 15 Finds Out brought one man’s concerns to the county commissioners.

“How could they restrict this to employees and not to people using the facility,” Dan Headlee wondered when he tried to park in the lot next to the courthouse annex building so he could go to small claims court.

With a cane and oxygen, walking even a few blocks would be too much for the 63-year-old Army veteran. But, the lot attached to the building is for county employees only and the accessible spots are too.

Fifth Freedom, a disabilities advocacy group, met 15 Finds Out at the lot and explained that a private lot is not required to offer public accessible parking and there’s no requirement for public parking to be close by.

“There’s no ADA requirement for maximum distance between parking and the buildings it serves. If the public parking is 1,000 miles away from your building, that’s where the accessible parking’s going to be,” Doug Schmidt, the ACT Team Coordinator for Fifth Freedom, explained.

A metered spot across the street is the closest accessible spot to the annex building. Then there’s another street spot and a parking garage two blocks away.

“They aren’t required to offer more,” Schmidt said. “That would be entirely up to them what they wanted to do.”

15 Finds Out took the parking predicament to Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters.

“No one’s called us. Often times, you don’t recognize there’s a problem or an issue until someone calls and says you have a problem or an issue,” Peters said.

Peters said all the employees who park in that lot work in the annex building.

“This operation was moved one year ago from Berry Street and there was no public parking there either. Spots are at a premium downtown, especially for county employees, so we’re trying to get people into the buildings and get them close by first. But, this particular issue, it’s worth rethinking,” Peters said.

Around 1,200 county employees park downtown every day. There are three accessible spots in the annex building lot, but Peters wasn’t sure how many employees in that building actually have an accessible parking tag and use them.

“There is parking catty-corner to this building no more than a 100 yards away, so ease of parking isn’t daunting for most of the people. It’s those who are really challenged with getting to a downtown building a block or two blocks away that we need to look out for,” he said.

Peters agreed with Fifth Freedom that the accessible parking situation could be better.

“It’s not a matter of whether we’re breaking rules or laws, obviously you don’t want to do that and we don’t do that, but if you can make a situation better for people we serve, that’s what we’re elected to do,” he said.

Peters said he’s already brought it up to the other commissioners.

“Let’s see if we can’t get some signs and make something work. We just have to figure out what that looks like and is it just for this building,” he said. “It won’t be open to the full public, but is there a remedy that is most appropriate that might include parking for handicapped individuals in this parking lot? And, we’ll look at the other lots too as far as their structure and handicap accessibility.”

It’s not clear if or when any changes to county lots could come.

The city of Fort Wayne also told NewsChannel 15 that of the roughly 3,140 parking spots on the street and in garages and lots it owns, around 135 are accessible, which is the ADA-required ratio.

Frank Suarez, a spokesman for the city, said the city is always evaluating where parking and accessible spots are located. A neighborhood or a business can also petition the city for a spot to be added in a certain area.

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