Austan S. Librach, P.E., AICP
|October 28, 2002|
SUBJECT: The City of Austin’s Comments on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Draft Guidelines on Accessible Public Rights-of-Way
We are committed to the goal of making Austin an accessible city for all its citizens. The City of Austin welcomes the majority of the elements in the Proposed Guidelines. We feel that some of these elements will greatly contribute to our efforts in providing an accessible city. The City of Austin also recognizes the effort that the Access Board put forth in order to produce these Guidelines.
We would like to take this opportunity to register our comments and concerns regarding the Draft Rights-of-Way Guidelines released on June 17, 2002 by the Federal Access Board. The City of Austin formed a review committee to gather information from all relevant departments. Our concerns center primarily on the application of these standards to alteration/addition projects that deal with existing facilities.
Our comments, recommendations, and concerns are listed below:
1102.1 Scoping Requirements
Additional Comments/Questions: In Texas, construction and alteration projects are governed by the Texas Accessibility Standards (TAS) as enforced by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). On September 23, 1996 the US Department of Justice issued certification that the TAS and the Texas Architectural Barriers Act meet or exceed the requirements of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A brief summary of the current construction/alteration project process includes:
1. Submission of construction documents to TDLR for accessibility review within five (5) days of the drawings being sealed and dated
2. TDLR review and approval of submitted drawings
3. Construction of the facility
4. Accessibility inspection by a TDLR trained Registered Accessibility Specialist (RAS)
5. If approved, the project is certified as TAS compliant
6. If any portion of the project is deemed to be non-compliant with the TAS during the review, you must go through the variance process prior to construction as follows:
¨ Submit a variance request with $175 fee per variance requested
¨ If approved, the project has been certified as TAS compliant with an allowed variance
¨ If rejected, you may appeal the decision at several levels with a $200 fee per appeal
¨ The penalty for non-compliance is up to $5,000 per day per violation
¨ The fee associated with the variance and appeal forms is a minimal cost. There is extensive back-up material that is required with the variance application. The back-up material requires that the design engineer or project manager spend considerable time justifying the need for a variance.
This process is triggered whenever “technically infeasible” existing conditions are encountered such as roads that are at slopes exceeding 2%. We are requesting an expanded definition of the criteria for “technically infeasible” compliance, otherwise a disproportionate amount of public funds will be expended on variances. This is money that would be applied more appropriately toward actual construction of accessible facilities.
1102.1 Scoping Requirements
Additional Comments/Questions: Our review committee has expressed two fundamental differences regarding the interpretation of 1102.2.2, and the degree of compliance required in alterations/additions to existing conditions.
One interpretation is that full compliance with the Proposed Guidelines is defined by the limits of the alteration/addition project. Compliance with the Proposed Guidelines would only apply to the areas being altered/added and tied-in to the existing facilities. The existing facilities that were not “touched” do not have to be brought to full compliance with the Proposed Guidelines at the same time
The second interpretation is that all existing facilities in the right-of-way need to be brought into compliance with the Proposed Guidelines based on the reading of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A transition plan needs to be developed in order to provide full compliance.
The Discussion of Provisions of the Proposed Guidelines does not clearly mirror the actual Proposed Guidelines as currently written. We request that the Proposed Guidelines clearly identify the intent of the Scoping Requirements. Is it the intent of the Access Board to make the public rights-of-way compliant with the Proposed Guidelines as existing facilities are altered? Is it the intent of the Access Board to make all of the public rights-of-way compliant with the Proposed Guidelines immediately, even if existing facilities were compliant with the interim standards?
1102.1 Scoping Requirements – New Construction
Suggested Item Modifications: Clarification of the term “undeveloped areas ” used in the Discussion of Provisions.
Additional Comments/Questions: Does this term refer to parkland or recreational areas as well as the public right-of-way in inhabited areas?
1102.2.2 Scoping Requirements - Alterations
Suggested Item Modifications: “Altered” needs to be included in the definitions.
Additional Comments/Questions: The term “altered” can refer to a wide range of activities from routine maintenance to major reconstruction such as:
A. Light maintenance projects, such a seal coat or crack-seal project, that could affect crosswalk striping.
B. Medium maintenance projects such as hot-mix overlay, which could affect the angle between the curb ramp and the street pavement.
C. Routine maintenance for traffic control hardware or traffic signal programming such as timing, etc.
D. Heavy road/ street reconstruction in which road surfaces and curb/gutter are replaced.
Would a seal coat project trigger the alteration threshold? Would a hot-mix overlay require curb ramp reconstruction due to change in street elevation at the gutter transition? Would routine traffic control maintenance such as changing a pedestrian signal head require us to comply with proposed guidelines? This requirement could consequently result in a reduction of overall renovation activity if routine maintenance triggers compliance and funding is not available.
1102.2.2 Scoping Requirements - Alterations, Exception
Suggested Item Modifications: The Discussion of Provisions mentions a guide on how to apply the guidelines that is to be published in early 2003. This guide needs to set specific parameters regarding the extent to which addition/alteration projects shall have to comply. We propose that a minimum percentage of the project budget be required to be used in addressing compliance issues, similar to the 20% of the project budget required to be applied to accessibility compliance in existing building remodel/reconstruction.
Additional Comments/Questions: The Discussion of Provisions states that the scope of an addition/alteration project would determine the extent to which the guidelines apply. We believe that 1102.2.2 as written is too vague and should more clearly convey the intent as stated in the Discussion
of Provisions. We would like to minimize the misinterpretation of guidelines by TDLR officials. We request clarification as to extent of the accessibility work triggered by these various levels of “alteration”.
1102.2.2 Scoping Requirements - Alterations, Exception
Additional Comments/Questions: As an example of our need for clarification, a recent sidewalk project called for the replacement of approximately 13 linear feet of sidewalk to be tied-in to existing adjacent sidewalks. The existing adjacent sidewalks have a cross slope of approximately 5%. The replacement section was constructed to smoothly blend-in with the existing sidewalks and did not meet the 2% cross slope requirement. The TDLR inspector did not pass the sidewalk as compliant with the TAS. The project manager applied for a variance and fully described the situation. The variance application was denied because the sidewalk did not meet the 2% cross-slope requirement. The variance denial has been appealed and we are still waiting for a decision on a 13-foot stretch of sidewalk that was constructed in March 2002. The original estimated cost for the sidewalk segment was approximately $120 and the costs to-date is approximately $2,400 after all the time to apply for the variance and appeal.
We believe that this situation should have been classified as a maintenance/alteration, and been exempt from the 2% cross-slope requirement due to existing conditions.
1102.3 Scoping Requirements- Alternate Circulation Path
Suggested Item Modifications: “An alternate circulation path should be provided on the same side of the roadway, unless this would result in the alternate circulation path being constructed in a motor vehicle traffic lane.”
Additional Comments / Questions: There are times where due to space limitations the provision of an alternate circulation path on the same side of the street is not feasible / reasonable. There are many situations where due to safety considerations, pedestrians should not be allowed and must be relocated to the opposites side of the street or even around the block in the event of a complete street closure.
1102.14 On-Street Parking
Suggested Item Modifications: “Where on street parking is provided, in a Central Business District, at least one accessible on-street parking space shall be located on each block face and shall comply with 1109.”
Additional Comments / Questions: This should not apply in residential areas. Also, the requirement of one parking space per block face is excessive in many areas of the CBD where a block face may only have a few parking spaces. We recommend a minimum number of spaces per block face to trigger the requirement for an accessible space.
1102.15 Passenger Loading Zones
Suggested Item Modifications: Revise this requirement since it will require extensive modification of existing curb configurations in order to provide additional space to comply with the access aisle requirement and to limit the encroachment into vehicular travel lanes. The installation of passenger loading zones, in areas with limited ROW, will impact the adjacent sidewalk widths. This requirement will greatly restrict our ability to install passenger zones in a responsive manner.
Additional Comments / Questions: Passenger zones are used in order to reserve curb space for quick pick-up and drop-off areas. The requirement that these spaces become accessible spaces will eliminate our ability to quickly install or move passenger zones as area needs change. This should be a requirement only inside the Central Business District, or where there is limited right-of-way (similar to 1109.2).
1103.3 Pedestrian Access Route Clear Width
Suggested Item Modifications: A reduced width of less that 48” should be allowed in an alteration where the sidewalk crosses a driveway. The minimum width of 36” should remain a requirement for alterations, and 48” should only be required for new construction.
Additional Comments / Questions: In areas of roadway widening it is difficult to maintain a 36” wide sidewalk that complies with the 2% cross slope due to the crown of the street intersecting the driveway apron. Increasing the requirement to 48” will make this more difficult and increase the grade change between the roadway and the driveway apron.
1103.3 Pedestrian Access Changes in Level
Suggested Item Modifications: Need clarification of 30” minimum separation between level changes.
122.214.171.124 Perpendicular Curb Ramps - Cross Slope
Suggested Item Modifications: “The cross slope shall be within 2% of the slope of the gutter at the adjoining street.”
Additional Comments / Questions: The exception should apply to curb ramps at all intersections, not just at mid-block. Is it the intent of the guidelines that we be required to rebuild the street to make the crosswalk flat (2%) every time we build a curb ramp? If so, this requirement could make the cost of a curb ramp at an intersection increase from $500 to $50,000 or more.
1126.96.36.199 Parallel Curb Ramps - Running Slope, Exception
Suggested Item Modifications: “A parallel curb ramp shall not be required to exceed 15 feet in length for each segment of ramp.” As written this item could be interpreted to mean 15’ for the whole assembly of ramp and landing.
Add another EXCEPTION: “The running slope may exceed 1:12 if the grade of the adjacent roadway exceeds 1:12.”
Additional Comments / Questions: Without these suggested modifications, parallel curb ramps will be protruding out of the ground and will make a dangerous transition into the street if the street exceeds 1:12 slope.
1104.2.3 Curb Ramps - Blended Transitions
Suggested Item Modifications: “Blended transitions shall comply with 1104.3 and shall have running and cross slopes within 2% from the slope of the gutter in the adjacent street.”
Additional Comments / Questions: Without the suggested modification the transition between the blended transition and the street will be dangerous and require wheelchairs to go up on two wheels whenever the slope of the street exceeds 2%, (which is almost all streets in Austin).
1104.3.1 Common Elements - Width
Suggested Item Modifications: Add the following Exception: “Landings, blended transitions, and curb ramps constructed prior to the adoption of this standard are allowed to remain if they are at least 36” wide, unless the project is a Substantial Reconstruction of the sidewalk.”
Additional Comments / Questions: Without the suggested modification it means that approximately 99% of construction efforts towards completing the ADA Transition Plan will have to be torn out and re-worked, if the second interpretation of our first question on scoping requirements (1102.1) is correct.
1104.3.3 Common Elements - Surfaces
Suggested Item Modifications: This requirement is impractical when applied to existing conditions, particularly in CBD areas where there is an abundance of existing underground utilities. This item should only apply to new utility construction due to the high costs associated with altering existing utilities.
Additional Comments / Questions: This section of the proposed guidelines would require the relocation of existing utilities. For example, if an existing curb is extended further out to accommodate a wider sidewalk, an existing pull box or manhole may then be located in the “new” access route. Relocation of the pull box/manhole would require relocation of all underground lines entering the existing pull box/manhole. The cost of this utility relocation would then have to be included in the cost of widening the sidewalk, and could result in a decision to not make what would otherwise be a simple sidewalk improvement. The cost of installing a curb ramp could increase to the point of being prohibitive.
As long as the gratings, access covers, and other appurtenances comply with 302 (which references 303 Changes in Level) there is no reason to exclude these items from the curb ramps, landings, transitions, or gutter. In narrow strips of ROW (the most common condition) the curb ramps, landings, transitions and gutter will take up the entire corner. There is usually no other place to relocate these utilities. The need for the access covers is usually because there is a crossing in utilities. The crossing has to occur at the intersection. The utility relocation cost of this item alone will be more expensive than the rest of the entire new standard. When this gets adopted at the state level it will mean that we will also have an undue administrative burden in applying and justifying variance applications (based on the 20% rule from the ADA Technical Assistance Manual). Without the suggested change, the cost of building 2 curb ramps at an intersection (or one blended transition) will jump from being about $1,000 to be $50,000 or more. Since access covers that comply with 302 are readily available, we suggest that when relocation of access covers outside the accessible route will cost more than 20% of the total project budget, compliant covers be permitted in the route.
Suggested Item Modifications: Include an illustration of the area defined by this section.
1105.2.2 Pedestrian Crossings Cross Slope
Suggested Item Modifications: The cross slope should be allowed to equal, but not exceed the running slope of the perpendicular roadway.
Additional Comments / Questions: The construction of tables at intersections to achieve the 2% recommended cross slope will degrade the rideability of the roadway for vehicular traffic. In hilly terrain, achieving this cross slope may be difficult to achieve without requiring excessive cut and fill. Other considerations such as storm water management, utility relocation cost, traffic management, traffic safety, etc. should preclude full compliance with this section.
1105.3 Pedestrian Signal Phase Timing
Suggested Item Modifications: Recommend using a walk speed of 4.0 feet per second with a crossing width of curb to curb, unless there is a compelling reason to use the slower walking speed, such as around elementary schools, hospitals or assisted living facilities. We recommend examining individual “problem” intersections along with the disabled community to determine what adjustments are required.
Additional Comments / Questions: Requiring a calculated walk speed of 3.0 feet per second, and a crossing width measured to include the length of the ramps, will increase the signal cycle length at many intersections, particularly those that run “fixed time” such as in the downtown CBD area. This has the potential to hinder traffic signal synchronization, adding to traffic congestion and the resulting air quality degradation.
1105.5.3 Pedestrian Overpasses and Approach
Suggested Item Modifications: Delete the second sentence in the section.
Additional Comments / Questions: The costs associated with construction, maintenance and provision of 24 hour monitoring of elevators will preclude the building of any pedestrian overpasses or underpasses.
1105.6.1 Roundabouts - Separation
Suggested Item Modifications: A definition of “Continuous Barrier” is needed for clarification.
Additional Comments / Questions: The barrier should comply with industry standard for traffic control devices and other applicable standards.
1105.6.2 Roundabouts - Signals
Suggested Item Modifications: The requirement to signalize crosswalks at roundabouts should be eliminated.
Additional Comments / Questions: Roundabouts are used instead of traffic signals. Installing a traffic signal at a roundabout may cause problems from a driver expectation standpoint and result in an increase in accidents. In order to comply with the MUTCD, traffic signal warrants need to be satisfied before a traffic signal can be installed at any location.
1105.7 Turn Lanes at Intersections
Suggested Item Modifications: “Pedestrian crosswalks in areas of a concentrated decreased mobility population such as elementary schools, hospitals or assisted living facilities, or where deemed necessary to ensure pedestrian safety shall comply with the following: Where pedestrian crosswalks are provided at right or left turn slip lanes, a pedestrian activated traffic signal complying with 1106 sall be provided for each segment of the pedestrian crosswalk, including at the channelizing island.”
Additional Comments / Questions: “Free flow” right turn lanes are provided as a means to increase the vehicle capacity at signalized intersections. In addition to the greater cost of installing a traffic signal at a given intersection, by as much as twice in some cases, this requirement effectively defeats the whole purpose of installing right turn lanes. It has the potential to add to congestion and vehicle emissions by requiring all vehicles to stop at an intersection.
1106.2 Pedestrian Signal Devices
Suggested Item Modifications: Recommend removing this requirement.
Additional Comments / Questions: This item would require installation of audible and vibro-tactile indications of the walk signal. This would have a significant cost impact. We have also tried the “vibratory” push buttons, but abandoned the idea due to technical difficulties in the field. Need to define “. . . it shall be integrated into the signal device . . .”
1106.2.1 Accessible Pedestrian Signal Systems - Location
Suggested Item Modifications: The underground utilities that exist at all intersections will often conflict with the proposed signal location parameters. It is not always possible to locate a pedestrian signal within such strict limitations due to these utility conflicts. We propose adding a caveat that this is only the desired condition and shall be applied only where deemed practical.
Additional Comments / Questions: It also states a minimum 120” distance from other pedestrian signal devices. Will the most common case, where two pedestrian signals are placed on one pole, still be allowed? If not, this would double the cost of installing poles at an intersection.
1106.2.3 Audible Walk Indication
Suggested Item Modifications: Recommend modifying this requirement. These devices should be installed only where requested, or only activated at certain times during the day.
Additional Comments / Questions: We have experienced problems with the existing systems. It is worthy to note that our contacts at the Texas Commission for the Blind do not recommend these devices due to noise confusion.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide comment on the proposed guidelines. We look forward to the increased standardization of the guidelines. This will greatly enhance our ability to maximize the effectiveness of our funds. Clarification of the requirements will allow us to apply more money directly toward construction of accessible facilities, rather than diverting it through costly case by case review procedures.
On behalf of the City of Austin, submitted by:
Austan S. Librach, P.E., AICP
TRANSPORTATION, PLANNING & SUSTAINABILITY DEPARTMENT
City of Austin
index previous comment next comment