Fargo lacks accessible parking
When Nate Aalgaard scans a parking lot and finds no accessible spaces near the door, he admits he'll often take the "silent boycott" approach. "If I can't get in there, I'm going to go spend my money somewhere else," said Aalgard, who uses a whee...
When Nate Aalgaard scans a parking lot and finds no accessible spaces near the door, he admits he'll often take the "silent boycott" approach.
"If I can't get in there, I'm going to go spend my money somewhere else," said Aalgard, who uses a wheelchair.
Lately though, he's getting a little more vocal.
As executive director of the Freedom Resource Center in Fargo, Aalgaard has been involved with a recent push to bring businesses up to speed with new state and local laws dealing with parking accessibility for people who are "mobility impaired." The law doesn't use the term handicapped.
A recent Fargo survey found that 96 percent of the nearly 200 businesses checked did not have spaces for people with limited mobility properly marked. Thirty-four percent of the businesses had no accessible parking.
Aalgaard said he was surprised at the findings but hopes it's a matter of businesses not being aware, not a matter of them not caring.
The survey was done by a group called Citizens on Parking Patrol (C.O.P.P.), made up of volunteers from the Metro Area Mayors Committee for People with Disabilities and the Fargo Police Department.
Volunteers visited businesses primarily on the city's main retail corridors such as University Drive, 13th Avenue South, 25th Street South, 32nd Avenue South and 19th Avenue North.
Places failing to meet accessibility standards were noted, and in January were sent letters from police informing them of their responsibilities, Lt. Dave Todd said.
Another letter went out May 5 to businesses that were still deficient, giving them 60 days from this past Tuesday to make changes or face a $500 fine.
These new stipulations are the result of changes that came about during the 2001 North Dakota legislative session.
The Americans with Disabilities Act includes parking accessibility guidelines, but enforcement has been a challenge, Aalgaard said.
Since the state law changed, the city decided it was time to get behind the issue. Official letters of warning and reprimand come straight from the Police Department.
"We're kind of the muscle behind what they (C.O.P.P.) are trying to do," Todd said.
Volunteers also have the power to ticket cars parked in fire lanes, cross walks and those blocking sidewalks.
Many problems businesses have had with parking accessibility are easy to fix, Aalgaard said. It might just be a matter of adding a blue stripe or updating a sign.
According to the law, parking signs must not only have the internationally accepted wheelchair symbol, they also must post a sign noting the $100 fine for violation.
Twelve percent of the Fargo businesses surveyed had no signs or not enough signs.
The number of accessible parking spaces required depends on the lot size. For example, a lot with 101 to 150 total spaces must have a minimum of five reserved spaces. A lot with 401 to 500 total spaces must have at least nine.
Parking lots also are required to have a certain number of van-accessible spaces, which are wider than average.
Thirty nine percent of businesses checked during the recent survey had no van accessible spots.
Aalgaard said the purpose of the ongoing effort is to provide equal access to everybody. The first step in getting that accomplished is educating people, he said. If that doesn't work, a $500 fine might.
The C.O.P.P volunteers will begin rechecking Fargo businesses beginning Aug. 1.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531