The Pittsfield City Council will increase the number of downtown handicapped parking spaces.
Councilor Chris Connell says Elm, Tyler and South Street all lack accessible parking – Tyler Street only has one space available on the entire street. He says such spaces on North Street are also few and far between.
"It seems every time that we have either a project on one of our main streets, whether it be streetscape or new construction, we seem to be losing the handicapped spaces," Connell says.
Two spots were removed on North Street and replaced on School Street due to recent construction, meaning added distance for people with disabilities, Connell says.
Resident Bill Sturgeon, who walks with a cane, says other spots near apartment buildings on North Street just disappeared altogether.
“There is a handicap parking space in front of Crawford Square. That’s the last handicap parking space on street till Lenox or Lee,” Sturgeon says.
Sturgeon says even near specialty stores that sell walkers and wheelchairs, there’s no accessible parking in sight.
“These people are old like me and we remember where the handicap parking spaces were and we remember them disappearing and not coming back,” Sturgeon says.
Last year, Connell petitioned to have one accessible spot for every 10 downtown parking spaces. The effort failed because some areas couldn’t really fit additional parking.
This year, Connell, the city's Public Services Department, and the Commission on Disabilities renewed a plan to add or relocate about 20 spots.
Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy says the spots were close to stores and accessible.
"The parking meters have certainly helped to make spaces available. People with handicapped placards could park anywhere. So it has made it easier for them to find spots. But it is not just about finding a place to park, it is about finding the right place to park," Turocy says.
Turocy says Massachusetts has laws about how many handicapped spaces are required in parking lots but the law regarding street parking isn’t as clear.
“We want them to be able to park where there is a curb cut – easy accessibility to the curb,” Turocy says.
The Traffic Commission then recommended against adding the proposed spots, concluding there were sufficient spaces elsewhere.
Some businesses have also voiced concerns over designated parking harming profits.
Connell argues the spots are inconvenient for people with disabilities.
“This is a segment of our population that need our help more than anybody else,” Connell says. “And what's happened is over the years as new construction has happened, that their spaces have actually decreased when in fact their numbers have been growing because population is getting older, every day, by the way.”
At last week’s City Council meeting, the recommendation was tossed out. Now, the 20 spots will be added and reviewed in the next year.