BRATTLEBORO—A community member recently presented concerns to the Selectboard over issues of making the downtown area more accessible to people with disabilities.
Robin Scudder told board members that she was present to represent her concerns. Those concerns, she said, are echoed by the town’s ADA Advisory Committee, which acts as a liaison among the business community, and residents with disabilities, and town government over compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
At the Selectboard’s Aug. 7 meeting, Scudder talked about the lack of accessible parking spots on Main Street and noted the town isn’t able to meet the width requirements for designated spots because the streets are too narrow.
She recommended the town make clear to the public those physical limitations to compliance, because otherwise “people might think the town doesn’t care.”
People who have disabled-parking placards or license plates do not have to pay for parking, but none of the 67 spaces on Main Street can be marked as handicapped and reserved accordingly.
Scudder told Board members, “I’m tired of people telling me I can park on Main Street and don’t have to pay,” because she has a placard.
“It’s not about free parking,” she said.
Rather, she said, “it’s about parking” where she can easily get in and out of her car, or help her 81-year-old mother do the same, in a spot that’s close to the shops and restaurants she wants to visit.
The members of the ADA committee believe “there are probably cooperative and creative ways to provide parking on Main Street for people with disabilities in a way that’s helpful for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be expensive,” Scudder said.
One idea she offered was for Main Street merchants to sponsor renting one or two parking spots every day, as is permitted by the town’s parking bylaw for exclusive use of the metered space.
Under this plan, parking enforcement agents would put a locked hood on the meters, and the spaces could be designated informally as handicapped spots.
The town code, last updated in 2010. stipulates that “[such] device shall be issued for short periods only.”
‘They just can’t’ go downtown
People with disabilities, Scudder noted, “are an untapped market.” She provided figures on the number of people with state-issued disabled parking placards or license plates.
In Brattleboro, 1,542 have these accommodations, she said, and 955 more in the neighboring towns. She said her figures don’t include data she was unable to get from New Hampshire and other nearby communities.
Scudder questioned the locations of some of the accessible parking spaces in town parking lots.
Harmony Lot, which is centrally located to many eateries, has only four spots.
The High-Grove Lot’s spots are “absurd,” she said, because the hill on High Street is a barrier to many people who use wheelchairs, canes, or walkers.
The 12 spaces in the Transportation Center are far from Main Street and require people with disabilities to cross the street, sometimes multiple times, she noted.
Scudder challenged the director of the Downtown Business Alliance, Stephanie Bonin, on the organization’s focus on visitors.
“You talked about tourists being able to go in and shop,” she said. “People who live here would like to go eat.”
Noting the many, and well-used, accessible spots at the 99 Restaurant on Putney Road, Scudder said, “it’s not that [those patrons] don’t want to go downtown, but they just can’t.”
Selectboard Vice Chair Brandie Starr thanked Scudder for bringing the issue to the board and expressed appreciation for the way she presented the information.
Town Manager Peter Elwell told the Selectboard they would discuss other parking-related matters at the Aug. 21 regular Board meeting.
Some of the planned agenda items also include infrastructure improvements to the Transportation Center, new ordinances, shared private-public parking, and whatever else the Selectboard would like the town manager’s staff to research.