Background

The Need for Guidelines on Public Rights-of-Way
Local jurisdictions, and other entities covered by the ADA or ABA, must ensure that the facilities they build or alter are accessible to people with disabilities. The Board’s ADA and ABA accessibility guidelines specify the minimum level of accessibility in new construction and alteration projects and serve as the basis for enforceable standards maintained by other agencies. Currently, the Board’s guidelines, like the industry standards from which they derive, focus mainly on facilities on sites. While they address certain features common to public sidewalks, such as curb ramps, accessible routes, ground and floor surfaces, and bus stops and shelters, further guidance is necessary to address conditions unique to public rights-of-way. Various constraints posed by space limitations at sidewalks, roadway design practices, slope, and terrain raise valid questions on how and to what extent access can be achieved. Access for blind pedestrians at street crossings and wheelchair access to on-street parking are typical of the issues for which additional guidance is needed. In addition, new trends in roadway design, such as the growing use of traffic roundabouts, pose additional challenges to access, while various technological innovations, particularly those pertaining to pedestrian signaling devices, offer new solutions.

The Board previously proposed guidelines for public rights-of-way under the ADA which were published for public comment in 1992 and 1994. Based on the comments received, the Board determined that it should further coordinate with the transportation industry and State and local governments before continuing its rulemaking. Consequently, the Board undertook an outreach and training program on accessible public rights-of-way. Under this program, the Board developed a series of videos, an accessibility checklist, and a design guide on accessible public rights-of-way. In addition, the Board sponsored research on tactile warnings at street crossings, accessible pedestrian signals, and traffic roundabouts. The Board has made this information widely available to the public. The interest in these materials has underscored the need for criteria for public rights-of-way that are definitive and enforceable so that local jurisdictions and others are clear on their obligations when constructing or altering streets and sidewalks.

Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee
In resuming its rulemaking effort, the Board chartered an advisory committee in 1999 to develop recommendations on guidelines for accessible public rights-of-way. Use of advisory committees has become a standard practice in the Board’s process for developing and updating design requirements. Through such committees, interested groups, including those representing designers, industry, and people with disabilities, play a substantive role in recommending to the Board the content of the guidelines to be developed. These committees provide significant sources of expertise while enhancing the level of consensus among stakeholders in advance of proposing a rule for public comment.

The Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee was composed of 33 members representing disability organizations, public works departments, transportation and traffic engineering groups, design professionals and civil engineers, government agencies, and standards-setting bodies. The committee coordinated its efforts with leading trade organizations represented on the committee, such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and federal agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration, to ensure that its recommendations were consistent with generally accepted practice among design professionals. The committee organized several subcommittees focused on key issue areas. The subcommittee structure enabled members to continue work on a tight time schedule between meetings of the full committee and allowed for greater public participation in the process.

The advisory committee met regularly over a year’s time, usually in Washington, D.C. but also in Austin and San Francisco. Its work culminated in the issuance of a report, "Building a True Community," which was submitted to the Board in January 2001. The committee’s report provides criteria for the construction or alteration of public rights-of-way that reflects the broad spectrum of expertise represented by committee members. The report follows a "toolbox" approach to the establishment of guidelines designed to facilitate implementation and to promote an understanding of the needs of all users of public rights-of-ways. The report comprehensively covers the various components of public streets and sidewalks and provides criteria for sidewalks, street fixtures and furnishings, street crossings, vehicular ways, parking, and other components of public rights-of-way. In addition, the report includes advisory notes, figures, and discussion of issues that merit further study or special attention in the Board’s rulemaking.

Release of Draft Guidelines
An ad hoc group of Board members proceeded to review the committee’s report in depth and to craft a set of draft guidelines based on the committee’s recommendations. The draft guidelines depart from the advisory committee’s report in several areas, which are detailed in the following discussion. Because of these differences, the Board is making an advance draft of the guidelines available for comment by the public, including industry groups, State and local governments, and advisory committee members. The Board also seeks information and feedback, including usability and cost data. Instructions on providing comment in writing or at an information meeting to be held in Portland, Oregon, in October, are provided in a notice the Board published on the release of the draft guidelines.

Rulemaking Process
The Board is making these draft guidelines available for public review and comment to seek information and input for its use in developing a proposed rule. The proposed rule will provide another opportunity for public comment on the guidelines. The Board will then proceed to finalize the guidelines based on public comments received in response to the proposed rule. The Board’s guidelines serve as the basis for enforceable standards maintained by other agencies under the ADA and the ABA. The Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation maintain standards based on the Board’s guidelines that apply to facilities covered by the ADA. Design standards for federally funded facilities covered by the ABA are maintained by the Department of Defense, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the General Services Administration, and the U.S. Postal Service. These enforceable standards must be consistent with the Board’s guidelines.

Relationship to ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines
Currently, the Board is completing an update of ADAAG, the first comprehensive revision of the document since its publication in 1991. The revised ADAAG features a new format and numbering system and a host of updated scoping and technical provisions. The Board is updating its ABA Accessibility Guidelines along similar lines so that both of the documents are more consistent. The Board released a draft of the final ADA and ABA guidelines last April.

The draft guidelines for public rights-of-way are being developed as a supplement to the ADA and ABA guidelines and not as a stand-alone document. As such, they will ultimately comprise a new chapter on public rights-of-way. The Board has revised recommendations from the advisory committee in preparing these draft guidelines in order to facilitate their incorporation into the ADA and ABA guidelines. The draft guidelines presented here support the new format and structure of those documents. In addition, various provisions of this draft refer to provisions in the ADA and ABA guidelines to minimize redundancy. For simplicity, the following discussion refers to the draft final ADA and ABA guidelines released in April as "ADAAG," an acronym that has wide currency.