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Lack of handicapped parking spaces can be a “deal breaker” for downtown shopping

Upon hearing of the City Council decision to eliminate the traditional parking meters and implement a “park and display” to pay for downtown parking fees, I felt my stomach curl. That is a second reason NOT to go downtown. Nothing is more annoying that than the back-and forth run those infernal machines.

The first  reason, and by far the stronger reason, not to go downtown is the abyssimal lack of handicapped parking, Designated handicapped parking.

Let me preface with the statement that I am a huge fan of old-fashioned Main Street shopping. User friendly Main Street shopping. Shops such as Hodgepodge, streets such as Franklin Street,  are a “breath of life” for someone like me, used to and loving huge unique Main Streets with a marvelous diversity of shops,  manageable, accessible parking and park benches galore. I love small locally owned businesses. I avoid malls as if they dispensed bubonic plague.

When Strawberry Alley opened recently, I was dismayed to see a single handicapped parking space. Once I walked (hobbled, actually) from where we had to park, I spent the entire ceremony glued to a chair. The only handicapped parking slot I could see was cordoned off for this street festival occasion (thank you, Clarksville, on behalf of all its handicapped residents). If there were more designated spaces further up toward North Second Street,  I could not see them and was unable to walk that far to check. There are none on Franklin Street, which is where most of my favored  shops, DAC and the Roxy are. There are a few handicapped slots on the river side of City Hall.  Any event held on Franklin Street or Strawberry Alley that blocks off the street automatically blocks off access to many of the disabled.

Having lived for years in a community where parking was at a premium, where “pay and display” was used in oversized parking lots behind the shops and “destinations,” I am all too familiar with the half-a-block or block-long walks to the machine that dispenses a little paper ticket, walking back to put it on your dashboard, and then walking back to the store you wanted to visit. It is aggravating, especially if all you want to do is drop a dime in the meter and dash (well, I don’t dash, but you get the idea) into a store and out again in a hurry.  “Pay and display” is a deal breaker. A mobile  human can do the walking. The minority of disabled or often partially impaired folks not only can’t do the walking, they have few if any dedicated parking slots to work with. Before I applied for and received my new placard, I hadn’t shopped downtown in months, couldn’t walk there from the existing bus station.

While anyone with a disability placard or license plate can park anywhere without worrying about parking tickets, finding a spot to park, much less a handicapped spot, near the shops in downtown Clarksville, is an exercise in futility. Not having a specific handicapped slot on Franklin Street is ludicrous. For someone with a disability, the absence of designated handicapped parking combined with congested downtown parking is a good reason to take their shopping and business dollars elsewhere. For me, that would not  be the mall, but maybe shops in Cadiz, Kentucky, or Paris, Tennessee (a nice road trip and they have a real, old fashioned shoe store that measures and fits your shoes to you).

As a person battling against periodic severe and often mobility-impairing back pain, neuropathy and respiratory issues, I spent much of the past 10 years resisting the urge to seek that disability placard, stubbornly determined to “deal with it.”  I gave in this summer, sort of: I am now the possessor of a bright red temporary card, good for six months. The “six months” is the result of my perpetual guarded optimism. I don’t always use it; it’s use depends on the quality of my day; on some days I can’t walk 50 feet, can’t walk through a grocery store, can’t even stand up to do my dishes in a single shot. People  who see me don’t think I “look” sick, and I work at not showing it; sometimes though, the limp and the hobbling walk are self evident, as is the periodic wincing or involuntary moan from pain.

I hope to feel better, be stronger sooner rather than later. I want to shop on Franklin Street for the holidays.  But in the absence of a designated place to park on Franklin Street, and rarely an empty parking slot to slip into, my options are limited.  My last Roxy excursion involved a plan to be dropped off and and retrieved by a kind friend who made two circuitous trips from his house to mine to downtown to do that so that I could see a show.

By the time my new placard expires in winter, I hope to be much better. I don’t want to have to renew it.  But for now, I, nor anyone with such physical limitations, couldn’t do that little bit of additional walking required to get to downtown from existing handicapped spots.

As part of the push to make downtown both desirable and accessible, the city has to add more than sloping, handicapped curb cuts; designated handicapped parking spaces are critical to that downtown access.

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