The city of Seattle is proposing changes in its handicapped-parking rules to restrict disabled parking to four hours in two Seattle neighborhoods to make room for other disabled individuals.

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Citing the abuse of handicapped-parking placards, Seattle is considering putting four-hour limits on disabled parking in two Seattle neighborhoods.

The proposal, being circulated among disabled groups, would place time limits on parking meters on First Hill near the hospitals and in downtown Seattle.

“From everyone we hear from, it’s a problem,” said Mary Catherine Snyder, with the city’s Department of Transportation.

By restricting the amount of time a vehicle displaying a disabled placard can park at a meter, the city hopes:

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• It will make room for others who are disabled and can’t find parking spaces.

• It will free up spaces for those who pay.

• The increased scrutiny may prompt those illegally using the placards to stop trying to get free parking on city streets.

Currently, if there is a handicapped placard on a vehicle, there are no time limits and parking is free.

The city says there is widespread abuse of the state-issued placards. In early 2009, there were more than 750,000 inactive disabled-parking placards in circulation statewide, according to the city.

“Placards represent golden tickets to free parking, especially in downtown Seattle where monthly parking is so expensive,” said the city in a flier announcing the proposed parking changes.

Individuals with license plates for the disabled would not be subject to the four-hour limit. Snyder said placards are easily transferred and more prone to abuse than plates.

State law allows cities to limit spaces for the disabled to no less than four hours, which is what Seattle is proposing.

The time limits would be placed on meters on First Hill, near Swedish Medical Center and Virginia Mason Medical Center, and in a three-block-wide area of downtown bordered by Madison Street, Third Avenue, Yesler Way and Sixth Avenue.

“Our position is that we want (meters) to turn over frequently,” said Jon Scholes, policy director with the Downtown Seattle Association. He said there are about 5,000 meters downtown and “the city should manage them in a fair and reasonable manner.”

He said a four-hour limit seems reasonable for disabled individuals shopping downtown. They also have the option to park in a downtown garage, he said.

Scholes also pointed out that those who park downtown all day, with a disabled placard, are taking spaces away from other disabled people who need them.

Mike Gray, with the First Hill Improvement Association, said his group plans to meet with the city next week to discuss the parking issue. “The neighborhood does recognize it’s a problem,” he said. “It’s obviously being abused.”

His group recently was briefed on the First Hill parking study, which found 40 percent of all cars parked around Virginia Mason and Swedish had handicapped placards. Of these vehicles, at least 40 percent had been parked more than four hours. It was found that 7 percent of all the placards were expired or belonged to dead people.

Lucille Walls, executive director of the Alliance of People with disAbilities, said her group isn’t asking the city to provide more parking than what is required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which says the disabled should receive about twice the amount of time on a meter that is allowed to those who aren’t disabled.

Walls said about 18 percent of people in Seattle have a disability, and about a quarter of them qualify for a placard.

Walls said four hours seems reasonable for someone going to a doctor’s appointment or shopping. One issue that would need to be addressed is disabled individuals who work and need a parking space for an eight-hour workday.

Jim Erickson, with the First Hill Improvement Association, agrees this could be a problem. “People who are employed will probably be disappointed when it happens,” he said. “But I see it as a positive thing. It will give hundreds of people coming here for an appointment a chance to get handicapped parking.”

The city points out that the hospitals have parking garages and that downtown Seattle parking facilities offer 50 percent monthly discounts to people with valid disabled permits.

Snyder said the city hopes to put the parking changes in place this spring.

On any day in downtown Seattle, said the city in its parking proposal, 30 to 40 percent of the parking spaces are filled with vehicles with disabled placards.

Parking-enforcement officials say that more than 10 percent of those are inactive; getting rid of those would free up hundreds of spaces for those with legitimate placards.

If the change is adopted, Seattle would be the second city in the state to put limits on disabled-parking spaces.

Last March, Spokane imposed four-hour limits for handicapped parkers in its “entertainment district” downtown, to accommodate tour buses and entertainers delivering equipment.

Snyder said a new law that allows police to ticket cars with placards that are expired or issued to a person who’s now dead already is helping with abuse of the handicapped placards. Since last summer, the city has issued 50 of the $300 tickets.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or

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