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Posts from the Elderly & Disabled Category


SFMTA Board Greenlights Push to End Free Disabled Placard Parking

The SFMTA and the Mayor’s Office on Disability produced this video explaining why free parking for disabled placard holders is bad policy.
Looking to end the dysfunction caused by California’s failed policy of giving free parking to disabled placard holders, the SFMTA Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday giving agency staff the green light to pursue state legislation that would allow local jurisdictions to charge placard holders at meters.

The policy change has been recommended by a committee comprised mostly of disability advocates that was formed to tackle the growing problem of placard abuse, which deprives legitimately disabled drivers of reserved parking spaces close to their destinations, cheats the SFMTA out of revenue, and lets drivers occupy high-demand parking spots all day with no incentive to limit their stay. Consequently, abuse of placards by non-disabled drivers is rampant.

California is one of only 15 states to exempt disabled parking placard holders from having to pay at the meter. Pursuing a change in that law is one of six recommendations made by the SFMTA’s Accessible Parking Policy Advisory Committee, but it’s the only one that the SFMTA can’t implement without approval from the state legislature. It’s currently unknown which state assembly member or senator might introduce a bill.

Bob Planthold, a senior and disability advocate who served on the SFMTA’s committee and initially opposed charging placard holders for parking at meters, pointed out that the 35 states that already do so include Florida and Arizona. “A lot of people retire and move to those states,” he said. “Those states are not having people move away because they require people to pay at the meters.”

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Advocates for the Disabled Say Free Parking for Placard Holders Must End

A panel of disability advocates, the SFMTA, and other entities has recommended that handicap parking placard holders no longer be given free parking at meters.

Photo: SFMTA

As the SF Examiner and the Chronicle reported, the policy recommendation came out of a committee formed to tackle the growing problem of placard abuse, which deprives legitimately disabled drivers of reserved parking spaces close to their destinations, cheats the SFMTA out of revenue, and lets drivers occupy high-demand parking spots all day with no incentive to limit their stay.

“Current disabled parking placard and blue zone policies are failing to increase access for people with disabilities, and reduce parking availability for all drivers,” said Jessie Lorenz, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco, in a statement.

As we’ve reported, lifetime free parking for placard holders — an incentive for abuse — is enshrined in state law, and repealing it would require a bill to be passed by the state legislature. There’s no word yet on which senators or assemblymembers might take up such a bill, but city officials said potential legislation could either call for the free parking repeal statewide or for SF only, and that they hope to pass it by 2015.

Carla Johnson, interim director of the Mayor’s Office of Disability, said California is one of only 15 states to have such a law in place. When it was enacted in the 1970s, she said, the limited parking meter technology at the time made payment more physically challenging, and the law was intended to help disabled drivers get around that obstacle. “Back then, we had to use coins, we had to manually turn a dial, we didn’t have curb ramps that allowed you to get up onto the sidewalk,” said Johnson. “Things have changed since then.”

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Cleaning Up SF’s Car-Littered Sidewalks Will Take More Than Parking Tickets

Cars littered on San Francisco’s sidewalks are a painfully common sight. The problem is perhaps most prevalent in outer neighborhoods like the Sunset and Bayview, where, for decades, homeowners with residential garages have paved over their front yards. The pedestrian environment on these streets is left degraded, with swaths of dead space where families and people with disabilities are often forced to walk around an obstacle course of cars and driveway ramps.

Make no mistake: It’s illegal to park on any part of a sidewalk or in a “setback” between the sidewalk and a building. The practice of paving over front yards was also banned in 2002.

Yet conditions in these neighborhoods make clear that the SF Municipal Transportation Agency does not enforce sidewalk parking on sight (though officials have claimed that’s the policy). Meanwhile, the Planning Department says it only fines homeowners who pave their yards when someone files a complaint. The issue recently got some attention in an SF Chronicle article last week, as well as the latest segment of KRON 4’s People Behaving Badly.

With all this space physically molded for car storage — practically every last inch on many streets — Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich said cleaning up San Francisco’s car-littered sidewalks will take more than getting parking control officers to hand out tickets. The Planning Department — which has no staff to proactively enforce rules against illegal setback pavings, according to the Chronicle — would have to crack down on violators, reversing decades of institutional tolerance for the practice.

“The city has turned a blind eye for so long that they have created a de facto entitlement” to illegal parking, Radulovich said. “City agencies have created an uncomfortable dilemma for themselves – start enforcing the law and deal with the fallout, or continue to ignore the problem and watch it grow worse.”

The setbacks, side yards, and backyards required in the city’s planning code “were intended to create usable open space and/or gardens, not open parking,” said Radulovich. Greenery lost to pavement also means more stormwater flowing into the often-overloaded sewer system.

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How Handicap Placard Abuse Threatens SF’s Parking Reforms

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If cities needed any more reason to curb handicap placard abuse, here it is. The authors of a new study out of Los Angeles point out that rampant placard abuse threatens to undermine performance parking programs like SFPark by skewing the data and the price of parking, the Atlantic Cities explains:

If a city has a pricing program for parking, like Los Angeles or San Francisco, the costs are even greater. Such programs raise the price of parking until a certain level of vacancy (often 15 percent) is present at any given moment. But disabled placards usually allow drivers to park for free for an unlimited amount of time. Many do just that: a 2009 meter survey in Los Angeles found that the 5 percent of cars with disabled placards used 17 percent of all available time. When placard abuse meets priced parking, the results are flawed space counts and artificially high rates for everyone.

The authors of the study, Michael Manville of Cornell and Jonathan Williams of Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants in Seattle, call for abolishing free parking perks for handicap placard holders because they work against the interests of the most seriously disabled and poorest members of society, who are not travelling by car. Additionally, they write, “the externalities of this clumsy subsidy threaten to undermine a transportation reform that could deliver large benefits to all citizens.”

As we reported recently, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency is in the early stages of developing a campaign to curb placard abuse, which could involve eliminating the free parking perks enshrined in state law.

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SFMTA Looks to Tackle Abuse of Handicap Parking Placards

The man and woman in this SUV, parked with a disability placard in a disabled parking spot on John F. Kennedy drive in Golden Gate Park last weekend, had no visible signs of disability. Before parking, the couple switched seats to allow the woman to drive. (Note: Here, the woman is seen picking up something that she dropped.) Photo: Aaron Bialick

Aiming to reduce handicap parking placard abuse, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency is in the early stages of an effort to reform state laws that enshrine free parking privileges for placard holders.

Misuse of handicap placards deprives legitimately disabled drivers of reserved parking spaces close to their destinations, cheats the SFMTA out of public revenue, and lets drivers occupy high-demand parking spots all day with no incentive to limit their stay. SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency confiscates about 2,000 parking placards for misuse every year, and the fine for the violation was raised this year to $935, following a state bill passed in 2009 that increased the fine ceiling from $100 to $1,000.

Though few details are available on what the SFMTA’s campaign would look like, Rose said any reforms would require state legislation, and that “all options are on the table.” SFMTA staff is currently “working with our regional and state partners to address placard reform to not only make parking easier and more efficient for all, but to improve access to drivers with disabilities,” he said. The agency plans to form an advisory council on the issue this fall.

Aside from the number of placards confiscated annually, the extent of placard abuse in San Francisco isn’t known. But as the Sacramento Bee reported last week, it’s a growing problem in cities throughout California:

As placard numbers grow across the state, frustrated officials from Sacramento to Los Angeles say too many users are in fact able-bodied people abusing the system. It’s time to put a stop to it, they say.

The number of placards in Sacramento has risen far faster in recent years than population growth. As of last year, 100,000 vehicles in Sacramento County had placards. That’s nearly one of every 10 vehicles, the third highest among California counties.

Under state law, the Department of Motor Vehicles issues placards to drivers who submit applications signed by any of a number of health care workers: doctors, chiropractors, optometrists, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives.

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Disability Advocate Cristina Rubke Confirmed to SFMTA Board of Directors

Renowned disability advocate and attorney Cristina Rubke was confirmed by the Board of Supervisors today as the newest member of the SFMTA Board of Directors.

Rubke was nominated by Mayor Ed Lee to replace outgoing member Bruce Oka. She was roundly praised by colleagues at a recent Board of Supervisors Rules Committee hearing for her willingness to collaborate and seek an in-depth understanding of various issues, as well as her experience serving on city committees.

Preceding today’s unanimous approval by the full board, Supervisor Scott Wiener said “listening to her experiences as a regular rider on the [Muni] system was very compelling.”

“I think she understands the importance of continuing to reform our transportation function in San Francisco and make it run better and serve everybody,” said Wiener.

Although Rubke “doesn’t necessarily have professional expertise in the area of transportation,” said Supervisor David Campos at the Rules Committee hearing, “the reality is that we want someone who has firsthand experience of what it means to be a rider of public transportation.”

Rubke, a SoMa resident, told the committee she’s ready to delve into the complex issues she would face on the board, including reducing the agency’s work order and overtime costs and improving pedestrian safety, while aiming to represent a range of underserved communities.

“As a person in a wheelchair, I am truly dependent on public transit, and welcome the chance to improve it,” said Rubke. “Accessibility means more than just a wheelchair ramp, although that’s a good start. It means that my grandmother knows she can walk safely through our streets, understand how to buy a transit ticket, she can afford that ticket, and she can figure out how to take different modes of transportation safely.”

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SFMTA Allows Taxis to Block Bike Lanes

Valencia Street's bike lanes are notoriously full of stopped taxis. Photo: bbond, MyBikeLane

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is officially allowing taxi drivers to block bicycle lanes.

A memo [PDF] from Deputy Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi and Accessible Services Manager Annette Williams says the agency is issuing bumper stickers to taxi drivers telling Parking Control Officers not to cite them.

John Han of Taxi Town SF first reported the story, writing that the move has been “more than a year in the making”:

The memo, signed by Deputy Director of Taxis Services Christiane Hayashi, says not only will the SFMTA issue the bumper stickers, but it has also issued “guidance” to the Parking Control Officers instructing them not to ticket taxi drivers who are actively loading or unloading in bike lanes.

Taxis stopped in bike lanes routinely endanger people on bikes in San Francisco, and legitimizing the practice could encourage more of it. When blocked, bicycle riders are typically forced into passing motor traffic or between parked cars, where drivers or taxi passengers may open doors in their path.

Condoning such a dangerous practice seems incongruous with the SFMTA’s goals of improving the safety of bicycling in the city.

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People with Disabilities Find Mobility Through “Wheels for Wellbeing”

Wheels for Wellbeing, a UK program, helps get people with physical disabilities cycling and challenges conventional notions that equate their mobility with automobile dependency.

Using tricycles, handcycles and recumbent cycles, participants discover that there are options for nearly anyone to enjoy the freedom of cycling. For these folks, the health benefits that come with their improved mobility can be particularly powerful in treating their illnesses.

H/T to


Muni to Pilot Senior/Disabled Pass with BART Access

3258898257_8c7cabd8a7_m.jpgFlickr photo: frankfarm

The MTA had some good news to announce today about Muni amidst a deepening budget shortfall, service cuts, and fare increases: the agency is launching a pilot program to allow senior and disabled customers unlimited access to BART within San Francisco and all Muni transit services with a single pass. At least during the pilot phase, the pass will cost $15, the same price as the regular Senior/Disabled Pass.

When Muni raised the price of the monthly Adult Fast Pass from $45 to $55 on July 1, it also raised the price of the monthly Senior/Disabled Pass from $10 to $15. January 2010 will bring another $5 increase to the Adult Fast Pass price, and using the pass on BART within San Francisco, a feature now included in the base price, will cost an extra $10.

By contrast, starting in February 2010, senior and disabled customers in the pilot program will actually get more value out of their now pricier passes. Unlike Muni's TransLink trial program, however, each phase of the pass pilot program will be limited to 2,000 participants, who will be randomly selected from a drawing with a November 30 deadline. The first phase will last six months, followed by two more six-month trail periods with separate groups of participants.

According to its press release, the MTA says it will use the pilot to assess the "functionality, popularity and potential costs" of implementing a Senior/Disabled Pass with unlimited BART access. If the pilot is deemed successful, the pass could be made widely available to senior and disabled customers.

Full details about registering for the pilot program are available on the MTA's website.


For Bus Stop Consolidation, a Good Policy Will Be Good Politics

2837940932_603516f64f.jpgFlickr photo: ehoyer

With support for bus stop consolidation building, local leaders are starting to weigh in on political strategies for implementing a new stop spacing policy.

For Pi Ra of the Senior Action Network, the best political strategy is to start with a good policy, before recommendations to eliminate specific stops are out. The MTA has been working on a revised stop spacing policy, but Ra said the draft revised policy isn't adequate.

"So far, it's based solely about if it's flat or not flat, what degree of slope it is, and if it's a transfer or not," said Ra. "But they haven't really put in consideration the demographics of who uses that particular bus stop, and if it's a destination or not. So they all their research and then come up with a criteria to judge whether or not that bus stop should be there."

Ra said he "does think we have too many bus stops, especially in areas where it's really flat," but he thinks the MTA needs to start with a solid policy before it makes specific proposals. "Do you want to go through this again every time you're going to eliminate a bus stop? It'd be best to come up with a criteria that everybody accepts, or closely accepts, so when you decide to eliminate a bus stop, you say, 'here's the criteria, it fits that criteria,' and since this is what we accepted, then you won't have such a big fight over it each time. And they seem like they still haven't learned that particular lesson."

In a presentation on stop spacing in June, the MTA recommended that the revised stop spacing policy should give consideration to "destinations such as schools, hospitals, and other community facilities," though it didn't mention senior centers or similar demographic considerations specifically. The MTA has resisted doing broad demographic surveys, but Ra said taking important institutions into consideration "will be fine," instead of trying to survey demographics at every stop.