Austin’s handicapped community pleads for parking minimums at CodeNEXT hearing

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Battles over housing density have stolen center stage in the city’s land development code overhaul, but members of Austin’s disabled community want to ensure their accessibility concerns are not drowned out.

Several disabled Austinites, organized under disability rights group Adapt of Texas, advocated Tuesday for accessibility improvements under CodeNEXT, the city’s five-year, $8.5 million project to rewrite the land development code in response to Austin’s continued exponential growth.

Those citizens, nearly all of whom used wheelchairs, said eliminating minimum parking requirements for new development creates a less accessible city, as disabled persons rely on cars for mobility and handicap parking spaces.

Throughout the CodeNEXT debate, parking requirements have been a hot button topic. Some say the city’s enforcement of parking minimums contribute to greater traffic congestion and extend the city’s dependence on cars as the central mode of transportation, thus widening its carbon footprint. Parking has also been looked at as a pricey encumbrance on development, the expense of which can trickle down to the user.

Others claim eliminating minimums on new development would foist the parking burden onto already narrow neighborhood streets, exacerbating congestion and endangering street safety.

However, Jennifer McPhail, a community organizer with Adapt of Texas, said there is more to the parking debate.

“There are people who are all over the city that couldn’t walk far or ride a bike and those people need to be considered as well,” McPhail said. “Keeping people trapped … in one area of town or another because you want to be more environmentally sensitive makes no sense to me.

“You can be both environmentally sensitive and comply with laws that protect people with disabilities.”

Following the meeting, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the point was well taken.

“Certainly a reminder that we need to be more cognizant of that issue,” Adler said.

The mayor said if the city were to reduce or eliminate parking minimums in an area, the transportation department would earmark a certain number of off-street parking spots as handicap spaces.

South Austin resident Nancy Crowther said many disabled persons move to Austin because of its accessibility but room remained for improvements. Handicapped Austinites continued Tuesday to advocate for better sidewalks and accessible housing that those living on disability could afford.

One speaker said the city has not adequately responded to the handicapped community’s concerns over CodeNEXT.

“We’ve put in the effort [with the CodeNEXT process],” he said. “And we’ve seen very little, if [not]nothing, for our efforts.”

City Council will hold its next public hearing on CodeNEXT on Saturday, June 2, 10 a.m. at City Hall.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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