Slings and Arrows: A Disabled Parking Dilemma for Adelaide Uni

The University of Adelaide’s new 12-storey Health and Medical Sciences building on North Terrace boasts precisely one parking spot for disabled drivers. Ash Whitefly ponders on how this among other shortfalls were rubber stamped.

Policy disabled

A big South Australian trend in the past two decades has been the high level of attention paid to disabled workers and provision of best workplace facilities. It’s subject to various laws, including the commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act, and everyone takes the topic very seriously. The University of Adelaide recently opened its 12-level clinical school on North Terrace, a slim but soaring tower of architectural chutzpah blocking city West End views north to the railway lines and park lands. Of its 1250 staff and students ( with growth potential for up to 320 staff and 2000 students), a number are disabled, but in terms of getting to their workplaces via their own car only one gets lucky. One. That’s because of the building’s vast car parking capacity of five (!) there is only one space for disabled drivers.

The 2013 excuse was that the city development plan didn’t specify parking space numbers “for university educational establishments”. This was one fabulous lucky break for the university bureaucrats planning the build, because the teensy weensy land plot on which the tower sits ruled out any more anyway. Notably, however, within this limitation, the university’s generosity spilled over and it set a target of five spaces, and since the development plan stipulated that 20 per cent of any allocation ought to be for the disabled, one car park was the inexorable mathematical conclusion. Ash is considering the following quote from the City Council’s 2013 analysis for a special award. “As the development plan does not require any parking to be provided at all, the provision of one space accessible for the disabled is considered appropriate.” The development was rubber stamped by the government’s Development Assessment Commission.

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The University of Adelaide’s Health and Medical Sciences Building (image: Facebook)

Who knew?

One factor behind the enthusiasm to approve might have been that not one complaint had been lodged under the DD Act, complaints being the only lawful trigger for action. That’s because disabled staff didn’t know about the car parking problem because the building hadn’t been erected. There is no truth to the rumour that there’s a daily staff lottery, with one lucky disabled driver’s name picked from a chemistry lab beaker. Not quite the scientific method.

Bike business

The university’s planning bureaucrats also got lucky about new-building provisions for bicycle parking. On the existing staff numbers, it ought to have provided 232 spaces, but it reckoned (on statistics from other campuses) that 75 would do. Even that fell short, with provision for only 62. In 2013, as the blueprints were being rubber-stamped, the advice was that the shortfall could be taken up by using existing bike spaces at the Festival Plaza. Four years later, the school is up and running, but the Plaza idea is quietly forgotten. After all, it’s a demolition site, with all access blocked for a year. Adds a whole new meaning to the oft-quoted phrase ‘On yer bike’.

Space business

University bureaucrats remain chuffed at how much building got squeezed onto such a tiny North Terrace plot, and how fast it was done, with a minimum of media fuss. Around the time plans were being finalised it had advertised for Senior Space Planners (Infrastructure) who had skills in “space analysis and space planning methodologies”. This project must have gone to the top of the in-tray. The lucky candidates must be extraordinary people. The advert called for “Supreme engagement skills with an empathetic and pragmatic service-oriented approach”, which apparently was to be “pivotal for success”. On any score, however, it would appear that in relation to car and bike access, the approach was less empathetic and more plain old pragmatism. Even in space analysis, practice trumps theory every time.

Lost in space

Diligent readers will recall Ash’s May 2016 column, which revealed an obscure study that noted a 1790 car-park-space shortfall (by comparison to existing spaces around the old RAH) at and around North Terrace’s new RAH. Now they can add a further loss of another 20 spaces, not there, but at the nearest other state-based car park, The ‘Riverbank Car Park’ at the Convention Centre (CC), just 350 metres east. Building contractors for the CC had occupied part of its third floor (temporarily taking up about 20 spaces). Now, Adelaide Venue Management, the state team that runs the Centre (and others) are assuming the space. The deal went quietly through city council on April 19. This is how it was presented: “The permanent loss of car parking is not a planning issue because there are no minimum car parking requirements within the Riverbank Zone.” There was no reference to the needs of families requiring car parks to attend to the ill and dying just up the road.

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