The ADA and Parking
SUMMARY: Accessible parking is a common feature in parking lots—and a common topic in questions posed on the Northeast ADA Center hotline. This article explains why accessible parking matters and answers parking-related questions.
Accessible parking spaces are extremely important to many people with disabilities. Accessible parking spaces provide ease of access to many places that are part of civic and community life. Imagine if a parking lot at a grocery store or movie theater did not provide accessible parking spaces. The journey from the outer reaches of the parking lot to the entrance of the grocery store or movie theater could be a barrier for many people with disabilities—a barrier that prevents them from shopping for food or enjoying a show.
Parking lots are often a first point of contact for drivers when they are out and about in the community. The same is true for drivers with disabilities and their family and friends. Accessible parking spaces are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when parking is provided. Accessible parking also helps to create a good first impression that lets people know that their business and participation is welcome.
The Northeast ADA Center receives many questions about accessible parking for places of public accommodation (i.e. public parking lots, retail stores, doctor’s offices, restaurants, and so on). We also get a lot of questions about parking at state and local government sites (public entities, Title III). These questions come from various points of view: people with disabilities, business owners, and more. This FAQ article summarizes the answers to common questions about accessible parking in New Jersey and New York State.
Because the ADA (which is a federal civil rights law) and state regulations both apply to accessible parking, this FAQ addresses ADA requirements that apply nationwide, as well as specific requirements for and New York State and New Jersey.
Let’s get started!
Are accessible parking spaces required?
Yes. Where parking is provided, accessible parking must be provided for people with disabilities.
Exceptions are when parking spaces are used exclusively for buses, trucks, other delivery vehicles, and law enforcement vehicles. More exceptions are vehicular impound lots and motor pool lots, where if the lot is accessed by the public, an accessible passenger loading zone must be provided. In all these exceptions, accessible parking spaces are not required as these are not typical parking areas used by the public, though if there is public access, an accessible loading zone must be provided.
How many accessible parking spaces are required in a facility?
The required number of accessible parking spaces is calculated separately for each parking facility. A parking facility could be a parking lot or a parking structure. For example, a large retail mall may have multiple parking areas. It may also have parking structures. The required number of accessible parking spaces is based on the number of parking spaces in each parking facility, not the total number of parking spaces on the site.
Accessibility regulations never dictate how many parking spaces are needed at a facility. This is determined by the enforcing authority with jurisdiction (typically it is a function of local zoning codes). Once you know how many spaces are required, you can determine how many of those parking spaces must be car- or van-accessible parking spaces.
You can use the table, “Minimum Number of Accessible Parking Spaces,” found in Chapter 5 of the Guide to ADA Standards, published by the US Access Board. In Section 208.2, it shows how many accessible parking spaces are required by the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Note that New York State requires a higher level of accessibility for accessible parking than what is required under the ADA. New York State requires that all accessible parking spaces be van accessible (meaning an access aisle at least 8-feet wide is available to each space).
Is the number of required accessible parking spaces different for medical facilities?
Yes. Hospital outpatient facilities need 10% of patient/visitor spaces to be accessible.
Rehabilitation facilities that specialize in treating mobility-related conditions and outpatient physical therapy facilities need 20% of patient/visitor spaces to be accessible.
What about valet parking?
Valet parking causes uncertainty about regulations because in some cases valet parking does provide excellent accessibility. However, valet parking is not sufficient for accessibility, and that’s for two reasons. The first is because valet parking isn’t necessarily available at all times when a parking facility is open. The second is because a vehicle that is customized for a person with a disability may be difficult for others to use. In fact, facilities that provide valet parking must also provide accessible parking spaces, as well as an accessible passenger loading zone.
Where should accessible parking spaces be located?
Accessible parking spaces must be located on the shortest accessible route of travel to an accessible facility entrance (see next question for additional information). Where buildings have multiple accessible entrances with adjacent parking, the accessible parking spaces must be dispersed and located closest to the accessible entrances. For example, if a shopping center has a row of 15 stores, the accessible parking spaces may not all be located at one end of the shopping center; instead, the spaces should be spread out to best serve all the stores.
In some cases, depending on the site and parking scenario, accessible parking spaces may be clustered in one or more facilities if equivalent or greater accessibility is provided in terms of distance from the accessible entrance, parking fees, and convenience.
What do you mean by “shortest accessible route of travel to an accessible facility entrance”?
An accessible route of travel must always be provided from the accessible parking space(s) to the accessible entrance(s) served by the parking area.
An accessible route never has curbs or stairs, and it must be at least 3-feet wide. It also must have a firm, stable, slip-resistant surface. The running slope along the accessible route (the slope in the direction of travel) should not be greater than 1:20 (5%) for a walking surface, or greater than 1:12 (8.33%) for ramps that are part of the accessible path of travel. Keeping all this in mind, sometimes the shortest route of travel may not be the shortest accessible route of travel.
How long and wide must accessible parking spaces be? What is the difference between car-accessible and van-accessible parking spaces?
The ADA standards do not dictate the length of accessible parking spaces, as that is typically a function of state/local motor vehicle codes. Accessibility standards do regulate the width of accessible parking spaces and access aisles. The width of access aisles varies for car- and van-accessible parking spaces as explained below.
Car-accessible Parking Spaces
The ADA standards require that accessible parking spaces for cars must be at least 8 feet wide. These spaces must also be served by an access aisle (the striped area adjacent to the accessible parking space) that is at least 5 feet wide. Two spaces may share an access aisle. The access aisle is used by people entering or exiting their vehicles and is especially useful for individuals who are transferring to or from mobility devices.
Van-accessible Parking Spaces
For van-accessible parking spaces, the ADA standards provide two design options. Both options provide parking spaces with enough room for people who need additional space when entering and exiting vehicles that may be equipped with lifts or ramps. One design option is an 8-foot wide parking space with an adjacent access aisle that is at least 8 feet wide. The other option is for the parking space to be 11 feet wide with an adjacent access aisle that is at least 5 feet wide.
Many people with disabilities prefer the larger (11-foot wide) parking space option, as it helps to prevent people from illegally parking in the access aisle. This is a common complaint among users of van-accessible parking spaces—that they park their van and exit it successfully, but when it’s time to leave, someone has illegally parked in the larger access aisle. This can leave someone with a disability trapped until the illegally parked car moves. For this reason, many people with disabilities prefer the 11-foot design option. Having said that, both options for van-accessible parking spaces are permitted by the ADA standards.
What are the unique requirements for the width of accessible parking spaces and access aisles in New York State?
In New York State, all accessible spaces must be van accessible with an access aisle that is at least 8 feet wide. This rule is from the Building Code of NYS Section 1106.1.1. The code states:
Access aisles. Accessible parking spaces shall be in conformance with ICC/ANSI A117.1 except that spaces shall be provided with access aisles at least 8 feet in width.
So an accessible parking space in New York State must be at least 8 feet wide, and all access aisles must also be at least 8 feet wide.
How should accessible parking spaces be marked or identified?
To answer this question, we’ll start with ADA requirements and then look at New Jersey and New York State requirements.
The color of the striping used on the pavement is not dictated by accessibility regulations in the ADA, New Jersey, or New York State, but the color used must contrast with the pavement color. Blue is typically used, although that is not the only color that may be used.
The ADA requires that all accessible parking spaces be identified with the International Symbol of Accessibility, and for van-accessible spaces, with language that states “Van Accessible”—but, if a facility has a total of four or fewer parking spaces (including any accessible parking spaces), identification of any accessible spaces with these signs is not required. These signs should be installed so they are visible by someone driving a vehicle, at least 60 inches above grade, measured to the bottom of the lowest sign.
In addition to the signs mentioned above, New Jersey requires penalty signage that indicates fines for offenses. The penalty for the first offense is $250. The penalty for subsequent offenses is a $250 minimum fine and/or up to 90 days community service.
Additionally, the NJ Building Code requires that the penalty sign be centered and mounted at the head of each accessible parking space. How high should the penalty sign be? It depends. If the sign is parallel to the sidewalk, the bottom of the lowest sign must be at least 60 inches above the parking lot or sidewalk surface. But if the sign is perpendicular to the sidewalk, then the bottom must be approximately 72 inches above the parking lot or sidewalk.
New York State
In addition to the International Symbol of Accessibility that must be provided at all accessible parking spaces, the New York State Building Code requires that each access aisle have a sign that says “NO PARKING ANYTIME”. These signs must be permanently installed between 60 inches and 84 inches above grade, and they cannot interfere with someone’s accessible route when using the access aisle. Since all access aisles in New York State are van accessible (because they must be at least 8 feet wide), “Van Accessible” signs are not required.
What should I do if a patron complains about someone parking illegally in an accessible parking space? What about blocked access aisles?
Remember that many people have disabilities that may not be obvious. These disabilities are often referred to as hidden disabilities. Not everyone who uses accessible parking spaces uses a wheelchair or other mobility device, so it is best to not rush to judge whether someone is abusing accessible parking privileges. In order to park in accessible spaces, a vehicle must display valid state/city issued accessible parking placards or plates.
Parking violations like these are local matters and should be reported to the proper local law enforcement authorities. If the local police are responsible for addressing violations, they should be notified as soon as possible. In the case of a business, you can alert the manager or owner and they can contact the local police. If a local security company patrols your parking area, they should be notified.
What if accessible parking spaces are in disrepair or not maintained properly (i.e. snow is dumped into the spaces)?
Accessible parking spaces, like other accessible features, must be maintained in good working order so they can be used by individuals with disabilities. Access to parking spaces includes the access aisles, and routes serving these parking spaces must be maintained in good repair and kept clear of snow, ice, and fallen leaves.
The New Jersey Snow Removal Act (C.394:4-207.9) requires that snow and ice be removed from accessible parking spaces within 48 hours of the time that the weather clears. The fine for breaking this law is $200–$500.
New York State
Legislation under the New York State vehicle and traffic code prohibits dumping snow onto accessible parking spaces. Section 1203-e of the code states,
Any person who knowingly dumps or shovels snow onto a parking place for people with disabilities rendering such place unusable for parking purposes shall be subject to a fine of twenty-five dollars for the first offense and a fine not to exceed one hundred dollars for every offense thereafter. However, a local or municipal government may, by local law or ordinance, establish fines higher than those established in this section, but in no instance shall the fines exceed fifty dollars for the first offense or two hundred dollars for the second or subsequent offense.
What about parking for people with disabilities in New York City? Is anything different compared to the rest of New York State?
Yes. The NYC Department of Transportation administers NYC specific parking permits for people with disabilities. Unlike the New York State permit, the New York City (NYC) permit entitles drivers to park only in New York City.
Specifically, the NYC permit allows the driver to park in these locations:
- Most curbsides on city streets, including in all “No Parking” zones (except those marked as taxi stands)
- In “No Parking,” “No Standing,” or “Authorized Vehicles Only” spaces authorized for doctors, press, diplomats and government agencies
- At metered parking without paying
- In “No Standing, Trucks Loading and Unloading,” or “Truck Loading Only” zones, except for specified restricted hours.
Note that the NYC permit cannot be used in any "No Stopping" zones, in any "No Standing" zones other than those listed above, in front of fire hydrants, at bus stops, or on crosswalks. Double parking is never allowed. The unique parking privileges that come with the NYC Parking Permit for people with disabilities are exclusive to New York City and do not apply elsewhere.
To learn more about this parking permit, visit the Parking Permits for People with Disabilities page at the NYC DOT website.
Does the ADA regulate how accessible parking permits are issued?
The ADA does not regulate how accessible parking permits are issued. Instead, each state establishes its own criteria and procedures. Permits are often in the form of distinctive license plates or placards.
How do I request an accessible parking permit?
You can start this process on the web as follows:
- New Jersey: Go to the Disability Plates and Placards page at the DMV.ORG website.
- New York State: Visit the Parking for people with disabilities page at the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles website.
What if I have a question that this article didn’t answer?
Staff at the NEADA Center hotline are happy to assist you with questions about accessible parking. We also recommend these resources:
- The Parking Spaces topic in Chapter 5 of the Guide to ADA Standards, published by the United States Access Board
- 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design