Handicapped people face challenges every day, and a lack of handicapped parking spaces in downtown Wilmington does not help. Downtown Wilmington lost several of those spaces when Front Street went two-way about a year and a half ago. A handicapped Castle Hayne man contacted WWAY to help clear up some confusion about paying to park downtown. Jerry Errico of Castle Hayne depends on his wheelchair. He is still very independent, and like many people, likes to go downtown on the weekends. But when it comes to parking, it can get tricky. "My only choice was to either go into the parking garage or risk getting hit by a car trying to get my wheelchair out of my car," said Errico. Jerry chooses to park in the decks, which charge a flat rate of five dollars on the weekends. Ever since Front Street went two-way, handicapped drivers do not have to pay to park in downtown's metered spaces, since the construction eliminated some handicapped spots. But when Errico parks in the decks, and shows his handicapped placard, he gets charged. Errico said, "Since basically the mayor's traffic plan eliminated all the handicapped parking on the streets, I have no choice. I'm basically being forced to pay. I don't even have a choice in the matter anymore." He wrote to Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo on our Ask the Mayor segment and got this response: "If you do have a handicapped sticker or placecard, you can park anywhere in the city for free. An example would be the parking decks. We do have ADA handicapped parking spaces in those decks.” Errico said, "After I heard that, that same weekend, I went back downtown and confronted the guy in the booth at the parking area and he said he didn't know what I was talking about." WWAY tagged along with Errico one night to see first hand. He was asked to pay five dollars at the Market Street Deck and the Second Street deck. When asked about the mix-up, Mayor Saffo admits to misspeaking during the Ask the Mayor segment. It turns out everyone is required to pay to park in the decks, even the handicapped. There are several spaces for them inside the garages. But the mayor wants to change that, and says this is a topic he is passionate about. "I think it's only fair that we look at putting some free parking in the decks for folks that are handicapped, if not the entire deck. Then at least, the amount of spaces that we displaced on Front Street," said Saffo. Mayor Saffo asked his Committee for People with Disabilities to look into working with the Parking Advisory Committee to make recommendations to city council about changing the regulations.
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