Cambridge council hits speed bump regarding library’s ADA parking

The original idea of marking the parking spaces shown in the foreground as "courtesy reserved" spots for those with mobility issues was deemed "less than ideal" due to the slope of the area.

The Cambridge City Council exited their Aug. 16 council meeting with more questions asked than answered in regards to additional reserved parking spots for individuals with mobility issues at the Cambridge Library. The end result wound up being the topic being tabled until their Sept. 7 meeting.

The agenda item was a follow-up to a July 19 work session that was prompted by two letters to the editor complaining about the distance from the library’s handicapped parking in the west lot to the secondary entrance. That distance was estimated to be 200 feet. The results of the work session were to direct staff to research and present the most feasible - and least costly - method of creating parking spaces in the east lot that would either be ADA compliant or reserved based on an “honor system.”

During the Aug. 16 meeting, City Administrator Evan Vogel presented a possible solution based on staff research and recommendations from the city’s public works department and engineer. According to Vogel, there is only one small section in the center aisle of parking that meets ADA requirements for minimum slope. In addition, up to four additional spots directly to the north of that spot could be labeled as courtesy spots for those with mobility issues.

While that one official handicapped spot would be close to the main entrance, it would also essentially be on an “island” as there would be space for cars to drive between the entrance and the parking spot on one side, and a no parking space on the other side to allow for garbage truck access. This fact prompted Public Works Director Todd Schwab to recommend that there not be a handicapped parking sign erected for that spot, citing the high likelihood of repeated damage to the sign by cars, garbage trucks, or snowplows.

In addition, the courtesy spots would still be some distance from the entrance as the spots that are closest are on an approximately 7% slope. While courtesy spots don’t have the same regulations as official ADA spots, Schwab pointed out that is a considerable slope angle that might be problematic for those with mobility issues.

Several amended motions

Council Member Mark Ziebarth immediately made a motion to approve the plans as presented, with the costs not to exceed $2300, which was seconded by Kersten Barfknecht-Conley.

During discussion, Council Member Bob Shogren voiced his opposition to the motion, restating the library is currently 100% ADA compliant, so the city would be spending additional money based on “complaints from a very, very small fraction of people.”  

“We seem to do that a lot,” Shogren said. “We seem to go to the squeaky wheel, so to speak, and throw money at it to fix it.”

Karen Lee, East Central Regional Library Board Friends of the Cambridge Public Library President, informed the council that library staff have fielded numerous complaints on this issue, including a recent phone call to the branch librarian that lasted over 30 minutes. She stated any sort of designation of spots in the east parking lot “would be an improvement.”

Mayor Jim Godfrey asked if Ziebarth and Barfknecht-Conley were willing to amend their motion to having only two courtesy parking spots, which they agreed.

Shogren also pointed out that without a sign, he believed the one handicapped spot wouldn’t be ADA compliant, which would render the handicapped designation as unenforceable.

Vogel suggested they could rephrase the motion to read “to authorize staff to make three spaces as accessible as possible,” with the understanding if the one spot couldn’t be made ADA compliant, then it would be made a third courtesy spot. That suggestion was also agreeable to Ziebarth and Barfknecht-Conley.

Shogren then questioned if there wasn’t going to be any signage at all, how would the spots be designated as courtesy reserved spots? Additionally, what would be the determining factors for who those spots would be reserved for?

While Godfrey indicated the council had originally agreed to keep the parameters for the reserved spots vague in order to not single out one class of people, he agreed with Shogren that additional research into how to convey this message would be implemented might be needed. Therefore, he asked to table the agenda item.

Ziebarth agreed to change his motion to tabling the agenda item, but emphasized he wanted something to be done sooner rather than later.

“We’ve been told there is a problem and it is our job to find a solution,” Ziebarth said. “I don’t have a problem tabling it, but I just want to make sure we are doing something. We have to do something prior to the weather changing. I would like to see something at our next council meeting in order to give staff enough time to implement (any changes) before winter.”

“We can’t have a certain group of our population feeling that they’re not welcome at the library,” added Barfknecht-Conley, “or from being deterred from going to the library. That’s the last thing I want.”

That final motion to table the agenda item to the next council meeting passed 4-0, with Shogren abstaining. “Does it matter (if I vote)?” he stated. 

Odds and ends

In other action, the council:

Approved a request from Timothy Newton to allow an interim use permit to install solar panels in the vacant lot located at 512 Main Street South. Newton indicated he is planning on purchasing the vacant lot in order to install the solar panels for his business, which is located adjacent to the vacant lot, at 600 Main Street South. The council approved the request pending his purchase of the lot.

Approved removing the barricades along 2nd Avenue SE by Sept. 8. The barricades were placed in order to allow for Sidelines and Chapala to offer outdoor dining while restrictions for indoor dining were still in place due to COVID. Schwab indicated those restrictions have been lifted and the barricades will interfere with Customer Appreciation Day activities on Sept. 17. The barricades were originally slated to be removed no later than Sept. 30.

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