To the Editor:
I am writing to express my concern and confusion about the rown of Bar Harbor’s recent decision to remove and not replace two handicapped parking spaces that were in front of the Criterion Theatre on Cottage Street.
They have been in place for at least a decade if not longer and were not restored after a recent repaving project. They served the handicapped community and people with limited walking capacities, allowing them access to our local business community and for day-to-day errands.
Many residents and out-of-town visitors have used them for years and have come to count on the access they provided. Several area businesses have received complaints about their removal, as has the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
I called the town office to inquire about why this was done and subsequently attended a Parking and Traffic Committee meeting I was invited to, to ask directly about why they had not been replaced. The reason given was that as they did not completely meet the specifications recommended by the ADA (American Disabilities Act). Therefore, they were deleted for fear of a lawsuit.
The committee went on to vote that they would not make a recommendation to the Town Council to restore them.
A simple Google search of ADA states its fundamental civil rights purpose: to protect citizens against discrimination based on their disability and to provide access to those with limited abilities. The town of Bar Harbor is taking the stance that because they cannot exactly fulfill the spacing guidelines of the ADA for parking space measurements, they will not provide them on street. While there are still handicap accessible spaces in our public parking lots, the ADA states that any city or town should provide accessible spaces on the street in equal percentage to other spaces.
They recommend for every 25 marked parking spaces, a minimum of one marked for handicapped access.
The fear of being sued over incorrect measurements, while a genuine concern, is taking priority over the potential of a lawsuit over no handicapped on-street parking access at all. There is a legal precedent requiring spaces on the street.
It is my perspective and that of many people I have discussed this with that the town ought to investigate this issue further. The Town Council should consider being on the right side of satisfying the intent of this law.
I think prior to summarily dismissing this in fear of possible lawsuits, it would be a better path forward if a knowledgeable lawyer could review the law and investigate any allowances or waivers for spaces that cannot 100 percent comply. If these two spaces cannot be returned to their former designation, which may or may not be the case, is that the only option?
Perhaps find a new location further down on Cottage Street where there are existing curb cuts. Possibly the crosswalk could be repainted to allow for more room near the accessible spots, etc.
The obligation to improve the accessibility of existing buildings and sites in a town such as ours is an ongoing one worthy of continued consideration including after restoration or restriping efforts.