February 22, 2009 in City, News, Opinion

Spin Control: Parking woes

By The Spokesman-Review
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Jim Camden
(Full-size photo)

The city of Spokane has created a new type of parking sign in downtown, and a new parking district. And, shockingly enough, it has people confused.

Drivers passing around the Fox, the Bing and the Knitting Factory may have noticed the signs and wondered, “What the …?”

On some of the street light poles are rectangular signs proclaiming they are in the “Entertainment Parking District.” Most of the parking meters in the area have yellow caps indicating they can be fed for a maximum of two hours; now a would-be parker will also see a blue sign with the universal “stick man in a wheelchair” symbol and an extra inscription of “4 Hour Time Limit.”

So one parks at a two-hour meter on Sprague or First with a blue disabled and “4 hour Time Limit” sign on it. What might that mean?

A. Regardless of what the meter says, I can park here for four hours.

B. I can only park here if I’m disabled, but I can park here for four hours.

C. If I’m disabled, I can park here as long as needed, just like other meters in downtown; if I’m not, I can park and plug the meter for two hours, then replug the meter for another two, but after that I have to give up the spot in case a handicapped driver needs it.

D. If I’m not disabled, I can park for up to two hours if I put money in the meter. If I am disabled and have a “stick figure in a wheelchair” sticker, I can park for free, like in other metered spaces in the city; but unlike other parking spaces in the city, I can only park for four hours. After that, I have to move my car or risk getting a ticket.

The correct answer is D, which one would know if one read reporter Mike Prager’s story last week.

Not all of the parking public was inferring that from the signs. The City Hall public information machine had to crank out a press release Thursday acknowledging “New Signs Cause Confusion in Entertainment Parking District.”

In fact, the Entertainment Parking District signs themselves may have caused some confusion. They, too, went up recently in an area that some people may think of as an Entertainment District, although perhaps not so much as a “parking district,” and probably not finding the parking there all that entertaining.

Unless, of course, one is coming or going from one’s parked car at a time when the fans for certain acts at the Knitting Factory are waiting to get in. Then one might be greeted by a greasepaint-faced devotee of the Insane Clown Posse, offering to kick one’s donkey if one would be so obliging as to come within range.

Such threats are entertaining from any distance of more than about 10 feet as soon as one realizes that said devotee is not about to relinquish a coveted spot in the line of 100 or so similarly adorned devotees, just for the privilege of kicking one’s donkey. But this is definitely more entertainment than one usually has parking in the district, which in recent months has involved finding a spot among the berms, climbing over said berms to reach the meter and trying not to drop one’s quarters into the berm.

Groups that draw greasepaint-faced devotees and other acts, ranging from the Spokane Symphony to cage fighting, are apparently the reason the city has created an entertainment parking district and placed limits on how long disabled drivers can park there. The general manager of the Knitting Factory says it’s about helping the fledgling entertainment district be successful.

“For me, it’s more about providing a place for the artist,” he said in that earlier story.

Last fall, the City Coucil agreed that the theaters needed to be able to clear out not just the parking spaces in front of their doors, but the spaces across the street, too. That way, the roadies have plenty of space to park the buses and semi-trailers, unload band members and amplifiers and generally have better access to helping the show go on.

And it will free up some parking for the fans of those acts, who might otherwise have to park in lots or parking garages, because disabled drivers who are working in the nearby buildings won’t be able to monopolize those spaces all day or evening.

The time limit applies even on days when there are no bands or orchestras or cage matches booked into any of the venues. And that makes sense, because it would be too hard for the vast majority of us to know the day-to-day schedules of three different theaters.

Of course, the disabled drivers could also park in lots and parking garages, and avoid the problem of coming out every four hours to move their cars. But as a friend and colleague who uses a wheelchair pointed out, parking in lots or garages this winter meant crossing streets where large berms of snow had been placed pretty much square in the middle – strategic for the Street Department but not so much for a wheelchair occupant.

Seems like it might be easier for the fans of the various musical acts, even the greasepaint-faced ones, to navigate the berms than a person in a wheelchair, but that’s just a guess from someone who is neither in a wheelchair nor prone to dressing up like a clown to attend a concert.

It also seems that the city did a better job of putting up the signs than explaining them. And a better job of looking out for the interests of the venues, the bands, the roadies, the buses, the trailers and the fans, than the interests of the disabled.

Staff writer Jim Camden can be reached at (509) 459-5461 or by e-mail at jimc@spokesman.com. Spin Control is also a blog at www.spokesman.com.


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