IN THEORY, Bostonians with disabilities have access to handicapped parking in lots and on the curbside, but there is no way for people who need the spaces to know where they are, or whether they’re available. While there’s a broader debate afoot about how much space in Boston — at curbside and in new developments — should be devoted to parking to begin with, there has to be a more effective way of matching people who have disabilities with the available handicapped spaces.
A forward-looking policy on this issue would require, at a minimum, an accurate picture of where those spaces are. Currently, the number of streetside spaces is subject to change; residents or businesses can request that a curbside spot be converted to handicapped-only status. But there’s no reliable map even of existing handicapped spaces; or an accurate idea of precisely where those spaces are. In years past, the city has sent out interns to count the spaces, an inefficient process that is prone to human error — and whose results weren’t made available to the public.
Luckily, the city seems to be rethinking the way it approaches parking more generally. In 2013 the city unveiled a pilot program in the Seaport District where sensors, buried under select spots, could inform people via a smartphone app whether the space was free or not. The program isn’t complete yet, but the results seem promising — the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics is determining whether a similar program can be implemented citywide. But even if it’s not possible to equip all streets with such sensors, the city should examine cost effective ways of tracking the occupancy of handicapped spaces. Indeed, that would also force city government to keep an accurate database of where those spots are, and update it as the number and location of those spaces change.
As a recent Globe letter writer pointed out, disabled citizens who struggle with public transportation may have difficulty determining in advance if they’ll be able to park. Providing timely, accurate information to these residents can be crucial to ensuring their participation in city life.