Q. I am confused about what has happened to parking spaces for those of us who drive vans and must unload from side ramps or wheelchair lifts. I have usually been able to find at least a few parking spaces in large parking lots that would allow me to unload safely without being blocked by another vehicle. That is no longer the case, at least at one of my favorite stores. Their parking lot was recently resurfaced, and in the process they restriped the lot. The “Van Accessible” signs were still there, but gone were the wider aisles that allowed me to unload without risk of being blocked. When I asked the store manager why the dimensions had been changed, he said that it was the latest requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
I thought any changes to that important law would be for the purpose of making things better, not worse. Why did this happen? If every parking lot is changed, there will be limited opportunities for parking by those of us who need vans with lifts and ramps. Is there anything that can be done to restore what has been lost?
— Still Looking
A. Your observations of fewer wide access aisles are correct. When the ADA was reauthorized in 2009, there were several changes made in the standards. Those changes took effect in 2012. Van parking space dimensions, particularly the access aisles meant to allow space for unloading, were changed in the process. They were reduced from 96 inches wide — sufficient for unloading off the end of a ramp or lift — to 60 inches wide in the new configuration.
I checked with the federal agency responsible for these standards — the U.S. Access Board — to get an explanation. Board staff responded that when the regulations were being discussed prior to finalizing them in 2010, the board considered complaints it had received for several years that the wider access aisles were mistaken for parking spaces, so people often parked there, blocking any unloading from vehicles parked in adjacent accessible spaces.
This happened to me on a couple of different occasions. In both instances I was able to contact law enforcement and the officers issued tickets. The next step was to have the vehicles towed, but both drivers moved their cars prior to the tow trucks arriving. At that time the fine for illegally blocking an access aisle in California was over $1,000, so hopefully those drivers learned an expensive lesson. However, this may not be occurring in other jurisdictions.
The good news: In the new parking configuration, a total width of a van parking space plus the adjacent access aisle remains the same as before. The 36 inches taken away from the access aisle was simply added to the van parking space. A van can park farther from the access aisle and still make use of it even if a vehicle is parked in the space on the opposite side of that aisle.
Also, the changes in the 2010 ADA standards actually increase the number of van accessible parking spaces — from one accessible van space per eight accessible spaces to one accessible van space for every six accessible spaces in any parking facility. It is also important to note that the previous configuration for van parking spaces with wider access aisles is still legal under an exception (Section 502.2), so you may see parking lots restriped without any obvious change in the dimensions of the van parking spaces.
For those who want to make a change in parking regulations, there are some steps that can be taken by advocates at the community level. The use of available van parking spaces by people who drive smaller vehicles will continue to be a problem unless state or local parking laws are changed. Local jurisdictions are responsible for parking enforcement, and could mandate a change to “Van Only” parking signage. They could also require that the words “No Parking” be stenciled as part of the access aisles, in addition to stripes. Local leaders, like mayors and chiefs of police, can also step up enforcement of disability parking laws, and advocates can make sure that the media are aware of that emphasis.
Anyone wishing to recommend or request a change to the ADA Standards can do so by writing to the U.S. Access Board at the address listed in the resources below. Their periodic board meetings are usually available via webcast, and it takes public comment at those meetings. Referring to the applicable standard by number, and with a clear statement of concerns and suggestions, will help assure that your problems are addressed.
• DOJ ADA website, www.ada.gov
• ADA Information Line, 800/514-0301 (Voice) or 800/514-0383 (TTY)
• ADAAG Technical Assistance, firstname.lastname@example.org
• 2010 ADA Standards, www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards
• US Access Board, 1331 F St. NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 2004-1111; 800/872-2253