Get out of my space

UW disabled parking is a municipal gold mine

Parking on Spence St. south of Ellice Ave. can cost you big time. But for University of Winnipeg (UW) students and faculty with physical disabilities parking accessibility is an even greater pain.

The disabled parking area, located on the west side of Spence St. outside the Duckworth Centre, is a hotbed for parking infractions. From January to October 2014, the Winnipeg Parking Authority collected a possible $186,900 from disabled parking violations accounting for 623 tickets and 80.2 per cent of all violations in that strip.

Fines are listed at the maximum payable amount which is $300 for a disabled parking violation. The City of Winnipeg allows a 50 per cent discount on fines paid within 15 days of issuance.

According to statistics provided by the Winnipeg Parking Authority, in 2012 patrols issued 300 disabled parking violations netting $90,000, and in 2013 issued 273 tickets at a possible total of $81,900. 

Over three years, a possible $358,800 in fines were collected on the south side of Spence St.

Samuel Unrau, former accessibility director of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association has encountered these parking problems firsthand.

“A lot of people just use this area as a loading zone,” Unrau says. “People don’t realize the consequences for people like myself with disabilities. By me not being able to park here, for example, might mean that I cannot go to class. Sometimes I can’t even get to the meter to pay.”

Todd Dube is the co-founder of Wise Up Winnipeg, a self-described group of “citizen activists working towards exposing and solving Winnipeg’s unsafe traffic engineering and unfair enforcement tactics.” He says he’s heard from a number of people over the last year regarding Spence St. parking.

“The locations where the city is the most deficient is precisely where they target for enforcement,” Dube says. “When this is brought to their attention, the police take the position, ‘We don’t tell the City where to put signs,’ and the City takes the position ‘We don’t tell the police where to enforce.’ It’s a very profitable disconnect.”

Whether the signage is confusing to drivers remains unclear. Four handicapped parking signs are positioned at intervals along the sidewalk. 

However, a nearly 30 foot gap of Spence St. is left without any signage, leaving only a City parking meter marking the location.

Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and advisor to the UW President says the problem may be systemic, stressing that drivers should use common sense when parking.

“There’s 10,000 students who come on campus,” Read says. “This is a high traffic area. I do know that when the RecPlex was under construction, this was a problem in part because there were lost spaces while it was being built. We did receive a complaint from a now retired faculty member with mobility issues around inability to park. But that’s the only complaint that I’ve had.”

Pamela Zorn, chief operating officer at the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities, believes this debate exposes a larger problem.

“I think it speaks to a delay on the part of people in authority at the University as well as the City of Winnipeg to work collaboratively to ensure a barrier free experience at the University for staff and students,” Zorn says.

“The City’s staff may not be given the opportunity to feed the information up the chain to see that this barrier for students accessing the parking be removed by ensuring proper signage for parking,” she says. “It’s up to the (UW) to initiate this meeting and advocate for this.”

A mobility challenged UW professor with a registered handicapped parking pass asked that we refer to him only as “Sid.” He’s confident there are solutions to these problems.

“They need to have somebody coordinating it and have a security guard patrolling the area,” he says. “Somebody should be out here in the morning, saying: ‘Out! Keep it moving!’ because sooner or later, somebody is going to get hurt. 

“The signs are there. It’s the people who think if nobody’s watching, the rules don’t apply. You’re not entitled to these spots. On the days when I’m not hurting, I do park on the other side of Ellice and leave the spot for someone who really needs it.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 12, 2014)

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