Sign confusion leads to parking ticket for disabled couple in downtown Knoxville

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – When you legally park in a space for the disabled, you don’t expect to get a ticket. That’s what happened to a couple who parked at night in Knoxville last month. They now want to warn others about some confusing signs marking parking spaces downtown.

You don’t have to pay to park on Gay Street in Knoxville. It’s free, which bring lots of people downtown. Signs say you can park for two hours from 6 a.m. until midnight for free, but if you violate the hours you could be ticketed or even towed.

There are, however, some parking spots that don’t display the hours like one on a space for the disabled right across from the Tennessee Theatre. Norman and Leonor Barrett parked in this spot last month.

Norman and Leonor Barrett
Norman and Leonor Barrett

Married for 32 years, they’re both retired pharmacists. Leonor Barrett, however, can’t go very far because she’s had both knees replaced. She also has Alzheimer’s that’s caused problems with her memory. Because of her disability, the Barretts display the familiar disabled blue parking placard from their car mirror.

As they visited the Tennessee Theatre to hear the Knoxville Symphony last month, Norman Barrett was able to park in a disabled parking space directly across from the theater. He doesn’t like to use the garage behind the theater that is free at night because he says the walk is too arduous for his wife who is 82.

The couple likes to arrive early to the theater around 6:15 so they can hear the conductor speak to the audience at 6:30. On November 19, they got to hear Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto Number One.

“She’s right with me when we buy the ticket. As soon as the door opens, we both go in,” said Norman Barrett, adding he never leaves her alone. “She has to have me keep an eye on her all the time. I don’t want her to wander; I don’t want her to fall.”

They both left the performance and theater around 9:30. They found a parking ticket on their windshield.

“Overtime parking. So that means he must have tagged my car, I’d say about 7 o’clock. It had a little chalk mark on the tire. Written at 9:17 p.m. in the evening, which is about thirteen minutes before we walked out,” said Norman Barrett. “I was actually outraged… because I got ticketed for having a handicapped placard.”

The Tennessee Theatre
The Tennessee Theatre

Jayne Burritt is the acting director of the Downtown Building Authority, or PBA, which has jurisdiction over parking on Gay Street. She says Gay Street has what is called “premier parking” to promote business downtown

“So the two hours we thought was enough time to get you into a business and do what ever you came downtown for,” said Burritt.

She says there is vigorous enforcement of the two hour limit, even after 6 p.m. when parking in the garages are free.

“We want to get those who come downtown for any length of time to go to the garages where we have the most room,” she said.

Officers don’t play favorites, as the Barretts found out. However, the sign at the space where Norman parked does not show the hours of enforcement and he’s parked there without trouble before.

“I think there is confusion. We should identify what we can do to help that,” said Burritt.

“I’ll pay it. It’s not about the $11,” said Norman Barrett.

He says the principle of the matter was making the city aware that the sign had incomplete information on it. He’s pleased to learn the PBA is going to clear it up.

“If they want to encourage people to do downtown they need to have a little bit of give and take, especially for people who have disabilities,” he said.

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