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Advocates for disabled promote stiffer parking fines

Snow outside businesses, home accessibility also a concern

Published: Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 11:08 p.m. CST
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
A sign designating a parking spot for a person with a disability is seen in Joliet on Thursday.

JOLIET – A local disability group would like the city to enact – and hopefully enforce – stiffer fines for scofflaws parking in spots set aside for people with disabilities.

The Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Disability Issues also wants to prohibit Joliet businesses and residents from piling snow on city sidewalks and to have developers more aggressively promote universal design concepts for local housing.

Committee Chairman Tony Arellano said handicapped parking violations in Joliet have increased dramatically since a citizens patrol was disbanded about a year and a half ago.

“I see more and more people violating handicapped parking spaces, and nothing happens to them,” Arellano said.

The group would like to see fines increased from $250 to $350. Other area towns, including Shorewood and New Lenox, now fine at the higher rate, Arellano said.

“The deterrent to park in disability parking spaces should be high so that people would think twice before taking a spot from a person who really needs the space,” Arellano said.

Fines, patrol considered

At-large Councilman Jim McFarland, who attended the disability committee’s meeting Thursday at Bicentennial Park, said he would bring the proposal to the City Council.

“It’s unfair to the people who need handicapped parking,” McFarland said. “The only way to bring it home is with a stiffer fine.”

Arellano said a citizens patrol that worked with Joliet police for several years was highly effective in enforcing handicapped parking violations. Citizen spotters would patrol various commercial parking lots in town and report violators to police. An officer would then issue a ticket to the offender.

But a decline in citizen participation and police department budget cuts resulted in the patrol’s demise in 2012, Arellano said.

Ed Johnson, a crime prevention officer with the Joliet Police Department who also attended the meeting, said it’s possible to re-establish the citizens patrol.

“The biggest problem would be assigning an officer, but I think it’s doable,” Johnson told the group. “I don’t think it would be a hard sell for [Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton]. He’s very much about the community.”

Snow issue

The group also was concerned about businesses that piled snow on city sidewalks or failed to shovel snow at all. Arellano said snow piles were a huge issue in some commercial districts last winter, impeding foot traffic for schoolchildren, the elderly, disabled and other pedestrians.

“At 8 a.m. you’d see kids and people waking around piles of snow and in the street because there is no sidewalk,” Arellano said.

McFarland said he received several complaints on the issue from bus commuters in the Jefferson Street corridor.

“This is something we definitely need to look into,” McFarland said, noting the city’s only ordinance regarding snow shoveling is a prohibition from shoveling snow into the street.

McFarland said informing businesses about the need to clear snow to keep their businesses accessible during winter might help resolve the issue.

Johnson noted that last winter’s record snowfalls created a lot of problems for everyone.

“Sometimes it’s a matter that there’s nowhere to put the snow,” Johnson said.

Universal home design

Finally, the group would like to see area developers promote universal design in new homes. Universal, or inclusive design, are building standards that address the needs of the disabled.

Examples include more accessible light switches and electrical outlets and fewer steps.

Arellano said the design format would allow more Jolietans to “age out” in their own homes rather than end up in nursing homes. It also would accommodate the surge in disabled veterans, he said.

The group would like to see developers at least have a universal design model home in housing projects so potential homeowners could see the format. Universal design homes costs about 1 to 2 percent more upfront, versus about 20 percent to retrofit, Arellano said.

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