Asheville – Diana Gordon has a handicap that prevents her from driving when it flares up. It is bad enough that she was able to get a monthly parking space in one of the City of Asheville’s public garages, an experience she said has been “interesting, to say the least.” She told of the time she had to park on the seventh floor. She was fine with taking the elevator to the ground floor, but when it was time to return to her truck, she discovered the elevator “did not work for the millionth time.” So, at 72 years of age, she found herself hitchhiking back to her truck.
On four days when she was able to walk, she collected signatures on a petition for improved handicapped parking in Asheville’s downtown garages. She went from business to business and collected 232 signatures. Some of the businesses, in turn, collected an additional 117 signatures from their employees. She said that of all the people she asked, only six refused to sign. Other people signed the petition, but she did not indicate how many.
The petition, on behalf of the elderly and disabled, demanded that the city require handicapped parking in public garages to be near an entrance or exit that is near a street. It also asked that all handicap spaces have adequate aprons for loading and unloading wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters. Not just to be compliant with ADA requirements but to truly give people with disabilities equal access to opportunities, the petition called for the installation of a second, backup elevator in the Harrah’s Cherokee Center (Asheville Civic Center) garage. It also asked for signage in elevators and at all exits, posting numbers to call for assistance when the existing elevator is out of service, “which happens often, I know,” shared Gordon. Lastly, the petition requested some form of surveillance in the garages, Gordon remarking, “It is dangerous in there, at night especially. I can tell you that.”
“I think Asheville should be embarrassed about the condition of their parking garages,” said Rachael Bliss. After all, there is a Reddit page devoted to the Asheville Civic Center parking garage. Positive remarks came mostly from visitors from big cities with expensive parking rates. Negative comments were mostly about employee rudeness, but Janet R. North of Richmond Hills, Texas, said the garage had a “scary, dirty elevator.”
Bliss spoke of a shortage of spaces that effectively make parking more convenient for people with disabilities. To illustrate, she said there were about 24 handicapped spaces at the Civic Center. Generally speaking, about one in three people over 60 is disabled. On symphony nights, about half of the attendees are 75 or older.
Bliss also pays a monthly fee to reserve a parking space, but on some event nights, her space is taken. She echoed Gordon’s comments about having to park on the seventh floor and then trying to find a way down or back up. She said people sometimes put “little signs” on the elevator doors to indicate they are out of service, but a handicapped driver isn’t going to see those signs until he gets out of his vehicle, sets up his scooter or wheelchair, and makes the effort to get to the door.
Bliss also had issues with the garage exits. She said until recently, a person in a wheelchair or scooter could exit the Civic Center garage on Rankin Street. Now, the exit is kept with a rising arm gate. Wheelchairs and scooters aren’t heavy enough to trigger it to lift, and the curbs are built out to either side of the gate. Visitors unfamiliar with the garage might struggle in a wheelchair over to the Rankin exit and then try the library exit, only to find the elevator is broken.
Both women took their troubles to city council May 23, tying them into a consent agenda authorizing the expenditure of $90,850 on a contract with Walker Consultants for the design of upgrades to the Wall Street, Rankin, and Civic Center parking garages. The “various immediate-priority repairs” amounted to reinforcing structural concrete corbels and steel framing and supports. Bliss said she understood how reinforcing the structures was important, but getting the elevators to work, she felt, was a necessity.
When Gordon’s allotted three minutes ran out, Mayor Esther Manheimer told her she could present her written materials to Assistant City Managers Ben Woody and Rachel Wood, who were seated in the back of the chambers. Not expecting much, Gordon asked to whom she could speak, and Manheimer encouraged her to talk to the assistant city managers then and there.