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Hard on the Handicapped

Handicapped residents looking for parking in the Middleford garage have hit a wall.

"The city has essentially cut off the parking garage," said David Graham, one of the owners of 38 Central Restaurant and Wine Bar. "At this point, it doesn't seem well thought out."

Graham, who is handicapped, said he has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice complaining that the city might be out of compliance with the Americans with Disability Act.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency spent $1.7 million for maintenance and to remodel the parking garage on Sixth Street. MURA created a passageway through the garage that connects Bartlett Street on the north and south, but the wall divides the garage into two parking areas with no pass-through.

A 15-space, VIP parking area on the west, which is attached to the 38 Central building, has only one handicapped parking space. It previously had five, three of which were against the west wall. The VIP parking area has stairs leading to Middleford Alley but no handicapped ramp. Handicapped shoppers would have to exit the garage on the north side, then proceed down the passageway to access the alley.

Seven handicapped spaces have been created on the other side of the newly created wall, but there is no pass-through to allow easier access.

Graham said the original plans for the passageway included a pass-through from one side of the parking lot to the other.

Recovering from a broken leg suffered 11 months ago, Graham has been using the single handicapped space on the VIP side and has heard complaints from other handicapped customers. In general, the VIP parking area has been a turnoff for many customers, he said.

"We get lumped in with the negative feelings that have already been generated about parking in the downtown," he said.

Graham said he recalls seeing some initial plans that showed a pass-through in the wall dividing the two parking areas. But Lynette O'Neal, assistant to the deputy city manager, said there never were any plans for an opening.

In the area where an opening could be placed, the city has built a storage area for items related to The Commons.

Only one handicapped slot was installed in the VIP area because there is such limited parking and it's difficult to turn around. Also, if a large van parked in the handicapped space, it could make it difficult to determine whether there would be additional spaces, forcing vehicles to back up onto Sixth Street, O'Neal said.

The 15 VIP spaces cost $40 a month compared to $25 a month inside the other area of the garage and $15 a month on the roof. Handicapped and motorcycle parking is free.

O'Neal said the seven new handicapped spaces on the other side of the wall were designed to be closer to the parking garage elevator.

O'Neal said the city realizes most of the handicapped parking is now located farther from the 38 Central building.

"If they have any suggestions, we welcome them to come to the Parking Commission so we can discuss them," she said.

The Parking Commission will next meet at 8 a.m., April 11, at City Hall, 411 West Eighth St. Comments can be made in writing or by addressing the commission during the meeting.

Karen-Lynn Miller, a 53-year-old Medford woman who works in offices above 38 Central, said the city is more concerned about handicapped people using the elevator to the garage. But Miller, who is handicapped with peripheral neuropathy, said she has no need to go to the second or third floor of the garage.

"They could give a rip about access to the building," she said. "Their goal is to get as much parking revenue as is humanly possible."

Helen Merusi, a 64-year-old Sams Valley woman who works with Miller, said she appreciated having a covered parking spot close to her work because she is fearful of slipping. Merusi struggles with bad knees and is also handicapped.

She said the design of the new passageway, which was supposed to link Main Street to The Commons, has made it more difficult to access an important downtown building that contains 38 Central and other businesses.

"We are pretty unhappy campers," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

38 Central owner David Graham talks about handicapped parking spaces in downtown Medford’s Middleford parking garage Tuesday. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore