Back-Seat Driver

Sacramento’s too-tall parking meters cut down to legal size

Some parking meters in downtown Sacramento are too tall to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and are being cut down to size.
Some parking meters in downtown Sacramento are too tall to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and are being cut down to size. Sacramento Bee file

Beatriz Kovacevich made an upsetting discovery this week when she tried to pay for parking at one of the city of Sacramento’s new meters. She couldn’t see the buttons and instructions. The meter was too tall.

Kovacevich stands a bit under 5 feet. She was able to insert her credit card in the slot, she said, but had to accept the default credit cart option, which generally is an hour on the meter. This is a problem, she thought. “I’m not the only short person.”

City officials confirmed her discovery of too-tall meters, but said the situation is temporary. The city is finishing up this month installing the last of 4,000 new “smart” parking meters that allow drivers to use credit cards and a variety of coins, including dimes, nickels, quarters, 50-cent pieces and dollar coins.

But the new meter heads are about 6 inches taller than the old meter heads. As crews replace the heads, they have to saw 6 inches off the poles that the heads sit on. City parking official Mike King said a private vendor is installing the meters, and then city crews come in a few days later and cut the poles to the right height.

That sounds like double duty. But King says that turns out to be the most efficient route, given crew workload logistics and meter security issues, King said.

Kovacevich happened to show up at a meter the day it was installed, he said, but two days before city crews got there to cut the pole down.

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility law, the meters have to be set at about 48 inches above the ground, said city ADA coordinator Neal Albritton. Albritton, who is 4 feet, 6 inches tall, has gone out with King to oversee the meter height cuts to make sure they comply with federal rules.

The incident caused Kovacevich to ask: Can shorter people who cannot see the meter read-out screen get a disabled placard? In California, people with disabled placards do not have to pay for metered parking.

The answer appears to be yes, depending on circumstances. It’s a matter, though, between a little person and his or her doctor, a spokeswoman for the Little People of America organization said. Many people with dwarfism have orthopedic issues, the organization says. If the person’s doctor determines that the person has a disability, the doctor can note that in forms to state motor vehicle officials, qualifying the person for a placard.

Leah Smith, spokeswoman for Little People of America, said some get placards to park close to store doors in parking lots, so they can avoid having to walk through the parking lot where they may not be seen easily by drivers who are backing up.

Albritton, the city of Sacramento’s ADA coordinator, said some shorter people also use special tools, such as reach extenders, to deal with meters. And one person in Sacramento told us he holds his cellphone up to take a picture of the meter screen to see how much time he has.

To blare or not to blare?

Car alarms were a hot topic around here this week. Reader Kevin McHugh wrote to complain about how obnoxious they can be, startling sleeping neighborhoods awake often for no reason at 2 a.m. And suddenly going off on the street outside a sidewalk restaurant.

In contrast, another Sacramento resident complained this week on a local online site that his car was broken into at night, and that he was disappointed that none of the neighbors appeared to have investigated when his car alarm went off.

It made us wonder: Are car alarms effective in stopping a car theft? Or stopping someone from breaking into the car and stealing something inside it?

We haven’t found any direct studies about it. Some experts we talked to say car alarms are helpful but are far from foolproof.

Richard Arca, an analyst from car-shopping site, says a car alarm may deter thieves who don’t know how to disable it, and who don’t want to do the quick “smash, grab and run” type of theft when it causes the alarm to blare.

“A car alarm basically adds another one or two more steps a skilled car thief has to overcome until he eventually steals your car,” Arca wrote. “If the thief wants it, he is going to get it.”

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee