Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation, infrastructure, and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles, GOOD, L.A. Review of Books, and beyond.
Short term: Have holograms of people with disabilities pop up. Long term: Let's rethink parking entirely.
It's time to talk about abusing dedicated parking for the disabled. It's despicable, and it's rampant in cities across the country: Able-bodied folks see an empty space with unlimited free parking time and snap it up, failing to think about the person who may actually need it. Disabled placard fraud is also a huge problem. As CityLab has previously noted, a 2010 investigation by NBC News found that, in a 10-block radius in downtown Los Angeles, 80 percent of parked cars had disabled parking passes.
But researchers have found a powerful deterrent to such parking abuse: Seeing a real person using a wheelchair near a reserved space. That's partly what inspired a Russian advocacy group to project a powerful message to parking-spot offenders.
In the lots of shopping malls and business centers across Moscow, Dislife set up a hologram of a man using a wheelchair to project onto reserved spaces every time non-disabled drivers tried to use them. "Special cameras verified the presence of the disabled sticker on their windshields, and if no sticker was detected, the hologram would appear to confront the driver," reports Digital Synoposis. As the video above captures, it is a strong confrontation—and a powerful reminder of the real lives impacted by thoughtless decisions.
Having holograms of disabled folks patrolling parking garages isn't a practical, long-term solution to parking abuse. And some, including parking guru Donald Shoup, argue that eliminating free parking for disabled placard holders would disincentivize these kinds of abuses. (Shoup advocates increasing accessible parking, but says that "accessible is not the same as free.") Others say that eliminating placards entirely and using the money saved to improve programs such as paratransit service would do more good. It's an issue that demands consideration, and this video is a good place to start.