Despite a sea of parking lots sprawled across Washtenaw Community College’s campus and a four-level structure erected this year to house vehicles, WCC’s 131 handicap parking spots have been breached.
Alvaro Medina, a 56-year-old business major from Ann Arbor has been frustrated with able-bodied motorists parking in the more conveniently located handicap spots.
“Everybody should have a special sticker to prove it is you because some people are cheating,” Medina said.
The most common threat to the sanctity of handicap parking, according to Director of Campus Safety and Security Jacques Desrosiers, is the use of legitimate handicap-registered vehicles by drivers without any physical health complications.
“Our biggest problem with handicap parking is young people who borrow cars from possibly a grandparent for the convenience of using the spots,” Desrosiers said. “That’s a little selfish.”
Despite implications of morality, or lack thereof, when parking in handicap spots to save time, many students brazenly insist on taking these liberties anyway.
A female student in clear violation of the rule was confrontational when speaking with Voice reporters. Unfriendly and annoyed, she would provide no personal information as she sat defiantly studying in her Suzuki atop and between the blue lines painted in the asphalt.
“I don’t have time to find a spot,” said the violator. “Please go so I can do my homework.”
Desrosiers asserts that CSS routinely patrols the lots, searching for any of the multitude of violations to policies in place. Although handicap parking violations aren’t the most common of infractions, Desrosiers says his team does not take them lightly.
“If we see it, we will enforce it and write a ticket,” Desrosiers said. “We’ll generally look around the dash board to see if they have any tags or stickers.”
When issuing a ticket, CSS officers file it to the local court system immediately for processing. In Ann Arbor, the fine for parking in a handicap parking spot is $125, according a2.gov. The fine also increases depending on the time after the ticket is issued.
Leaving tracking and punishment to the judicial institutions depending on what county the car is registered to.
“We take it right to the court,” Desrosiers said.
But the problem still remains, according to some students.
“There clearly is a need for more – and closer – handicapped parking,” handicapped student Kate Conat wrote in an email to a Voice reporter. “I love being a student at WCC and enjoy most of my classes immensely, but just getting to and from them can be a real test of endurance.”
Conat said she feels there isn’t enough handicapped parking close enough to some of the buildings.
“The three that seem to me to be hardest to get to are the Student Center, the Gunder Myran building and the Crane Liberal Arts and Science building,” she added. “Generally speaking, I’ve been able to find handicapped parking at both the Business Education and Technology and Industrial buildings. As SC, GM and LA are three of the busiest areas of campus, however, the lack of close handicapped parking for these buildings creates a true hardship.”
Eastern Michigan University takes care of handicap parking misuse a little differently. Sporting a larger campus and more lots, campus police at EMU require that handicap drivers register with the university to make tracking of improper tag-use less difficult. There are 117 students registered for free handicap parking of the more than 20,000 enrolled at EMU this year.
“I have written hundreds of tickets for misuse or fraudulent use of H-tags,” said an EMU campus police officer, Donna Carcone “I don’t think the students know how serious it is. It makes my job easier when EMU issues handicap tags, because the student has been validated.”
According to Carcone, violators can be fined up to $500 and be sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Although WCC’s security officers are on the case as well and out in full force to stop the abuse of handicap parking spaces, students whose conditions beg the use of such spots continue to find themselves trolling the lots in search of adequately close parking.
“I feel I got lucky today,” said a registered handicap driver and nursing major Doug Etcher, 32, of Ann Arbor, as he exited his vehicle in one of the specially marked spaces. “Usually I have to drive around to find a (handicap) spot.”
But school administrators are certain they have done everything possible for handicap drivers. Director of Facilities Management Damon Flowers told Voice reporters that the campus is actually lush with the sectioned-off spots, but admits that their placement is not always ideal.
“The school has plenty of handicapped parking spaces,” Flowers said. “They might not be where everyone would like them, but we have more than enough.”
Flowers points to lax guidelines from the government and the fluidity of lot layout at WCC making it difficult to assign adequate H-spots to certain buildings. The only lot specifically tailored to a building on campus sits across Huron River Drive at the Health and Fitness Center.
“By law, building codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act, handicapped parking spaces are close to buildings,” Flowers said. “But there’s really nothing that talks about where they should be located by elevation.”
The number of handicapped parking spots is determined by how many plots of land are in use and what they are being used for. There is no finite number of parking spaces required based on the building.
According to Flowers, the college uses a formula to determine the number of regular parking spaces needed. Roughly, 278 square feet of campus building equals one parking space.
“If this place was a McDonalds, the regulation would tell us exactly how many spaces were required,” Flowers said.
Flowers suggested moving handicap spots from the third floor of the parking structure down to its ground-level where seven already reside.
*Voice staff writer Nathan Clark contributed to this report