SHREVEPORT, La. – In August, KTBS reported on a downtown business owner who wasn’t happy about ShrevePark employees who were not following the same rules they are charged with enforcing.
That report got the attention of two citizens who spend a lot of time around Government Plaza. They said there is a major abuse of handicapped parking by city employees in that area.
So for three weeks, KTBS reporter T.W. Starr dug into their complaints, including daily hours-long observations of who’s parking where around Government Plaza, and discovered there is a problem with downtown parking.
"I work out at the downtown 'Y' and the machine I normally workout on faces McNeil Street. Starting back in February, I noticed that there were women who were parking in the handicap spaces and then walking across the street with their purse and their lunch bag to Government Plaza. You're not carrying a lunch bag if you're coming to pay your water bill or your taxes; you're planning on staying. And then I noticed that these same women showed up every day," said Lisa Hunter.
"For the past several years these spots have become free employee parking for city employees. They occupy these spots every day, all day and they will actually get out there and swap the spots to continue to occupy them. In essence, there is no handicap parking for the citizens of Shreveport surrounding Government Plaza," said Ed Angel.
To check out their complaints, Starr documented what he saw at the corner of McNeil and Travis. Each of the handicap spots has a 4-hour time limit.
Angel and Hunter had already provided photographs of what they call the "regulars” -- people with handicap tags who are there pretty much every day through the work week.
And just like clockwork a Ford F-150 truck was there at 9:30 a.m. And 7 hours later still in that same 4-hour limited handicap spot.
"On street parking should be reserved for people who come down here to do business, not for city workers," said Hunter.
On the day Starr did the interviews an Infiniti and Jaguar were parked the entire morning in the handicap spots. They are regulars, according to Angel and Hunter.
The Infiniti driver left just before noon and didn't go back to the handicap spots. Where did she go? Keep reading.
The driver of the Jaguar left at 12:46 p.m., presumably for a lunch break. She was back in a handicap spot at 1:40 p.m.
From there, she walked right back into Government Plaza. She was still there when the workday ended.
"I'm a disabled veteran. That parking is never available. That parking is not designed to be occupied all day long. It's designed for someone that needs to be there probably two or three hours at the most, not all day long," said Angel.
Starr went back the next day and the same Infiniti and same Jaguar were in the handicap spots all morning long The Jaguar never left the 4-hour handicap spot.
The woman who drives the Infiniti left around lunch time as she had done the day before and once again, she didn't go back to the handicap parking. But she did return to Government Plaza.
Where did she park for the afternoon? Her Infiniti was on the other side of the 'Y' in a private parking lot where the sign states “Southern University Private Parking, Reserved Parking for SUSLA ONLY.”
Around 4 p.m. she walked out of Government Plaza and Starr asked her a few questions.
- Question: "Excuse me ma'am, do you know why people who are working at Government Plaza are parking in these handicap spots right here?
- Response: She shakes her head, “No.”
- Question: “You don't know?”
- Response: “No, They probably handicap.”
- Question: “You think? There's no assigned parking?”
- Response: “Sure we have assigned parking, but not handicap parking.”
- Question: “The city doesn't have that?”
- Response: ”I'm not sure. Go inside and ask them.”
And that's exactly what Starr did. He had several conversations with the mayor's communications manager, Ben Riggs, who said they have directed all city employees who work at Government Plaza to follow all the parking laws and ordinances that are in place.
From there, Starr spoke to several people who work at Government Plaza about assigned parking. None of them wanted to go on camera, but they did tell me there is assigned parking, for some, underneath Government Plaza. And there’s more about a block away in a lot at the corner of McNeil and Fannin.
Whether it's in the lot directly across from Government Plaza or the handicap spaces on the street, employee parking is an issue as evidenced by a letter sent to all city employees by city attorney Mekisha Smith Creal on Feb. 21.
In it she says: "It has been brought to our attention that a number of city employees have elected to park in the lot and designated spaces directly in front of Government Plaza instead of parking in their approved and assigned parking spots. Doing so has required visitors and constituents who are present to conduct City business to park further away than necessary, including, but not limited to, those in need of designated handicap spaces. This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."
Starr also reached out to ShrevePark the entity charged with enforcing the parking laws downtown. KTBS was told they are lobbying for a change in local law because of this problem.
The response: "We have recommended a few changes to the city Code of Ordinances. The adopted change now requires parkers, including those utilizing handicapped spaces, to move to another block once their max time has been utilized. What we see is that typically an employee parks four hours in the morning, goes to lunch and then parks in another handicapped space, in another block, for the second half of their day. Even though the change to the ordinance is encouraging them to move to another block, its impact on this problem appears to be limited if the public perception remains the same."
"If you're a handicapped person and you're coming downtown and you need to go to Government Plaza, don't expect to find a handicap space because they are right at this moment being taken up by people who work in that building," said Hunter.
"As long as they can get away with it and no one is going to enforce anything, they're going to continue to do it. I mean these are habitual violators and these violations will continue until those that are in a position to do something about it are willing to take some action," said Angel.
Lorenzo Lee, ShrevePark parking services administrator, said there has been some discussion about decreasing the time limit for on-street, handicapped parking spaces to two hours. Decreasing the time limit would make it less convenient for employees and would double the number of parking sessions available in those spaces and would enhance their ability to time/enforce overtime parking in handicapped spaces, he said.