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.

June 17, 2002 Release of Draft Guidelines
An ad hoc group of Board members reviewed the committee’s report in depth and crafted a set of draft guidelines based on the committee’s recommendations. Because the draft guidelines departed from the advisory committee’s report in several areas, the Board made an advance draft of the guidelines available for comment by the public. The notice of availability of the draft guidelines was published in the Federal Register on June 17, 2002. The Board requested information and feedback on the draft guidelines, including usability and cost data. In addition to seeking written comment, the Board held a public hearing in Portland, Oregon.

Over 1,400 comments were received from the public in response to the publication of the draft. Of this total, almost 900 comments were tabulated from persons with disabilities and groups representing them; the great preponderance of comments in this category came from people who indicated that they were blind or had low vision. Slightly over 200 comments were submitted by respondents from the transportation industry: design engineers and consultants, State and local government departments of transportation, and the organizations and groups that represent them. Another 100 were received from State and local government administrative agencies.

Almost all of the commenters from the two major blindness organizations, the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and persons who were not affiliated with either organization addressed only the use of detectable warnings and/or accessible pedestrian signals (APS) and virtually all of them supported the requirement for these features in at least some locations (detectable warnings at islands and medians and at all low-slope sidewalk connections to the street; APS at complex intersections, irregular intersections, intersections with compound turning movements, and intersections with leading pedestrian intervals). Some commenters misunderstood the effect of the scoping provisions for these features, believing that all intersections would have to be retrofitted at tremendous cost. In fact, only future new projects would be subject to these guidelines. With respect to APS in particular, only pedestrian crossings that provide pedestrian signals would be required to include APS. Some commenters, expressing concerns about the noise output of APS, were apparently unfamiliar with the quiet, pedbutton-integrated devices now available in the United States (these devices are installed at the departure curb, near the listening user, rather than overhead).

Ten key issues from comment were identified for detailed analysis: crosswalk width; on-street parking; walking speed and pedestrian signal phase timing; elevators at pedestrian overpasses and underpasses; same-side alternate circulation routes; cross slope in crosswalks; detectable warnings; accessible pedestrian signals; roundabouts and roundabout signalization; and alterations. These issues have been addressed in this second draft. Changes include the following:

  • referenced Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) for crosswalk width;
  • reduced scoping in on-street parking to be consistent with parking lots;
  • set walking speed at 3.5 fps (consistent with new recommendations currently under consideration by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices);
  • eliminated the provision requiring elevators to provide pedestrian access at overpasses and underpasses (either ramps, lifts, or elevators may be used);
  • modified scoping and technical provisions for alternate circulation routes to be consistent with current MUTCD requirements and alterations requirements, which would permit opposite side routes if same-side routes are not feasible;
  • provided relief (up to 5%) for maximum cross slope limits in pedestrian crosswalks at midblock and through-street locations where the roadway slope will necessarily exceed 2%;
  • clarified the placement of detectable warnings on curb ramps, landings, and blended transitions;
  • clarified the scoping in new construction and alterations of accessible pedestrian signals (APS);
  • limited pedestrian signalization at roundabouts and channelized turn lanes to pedestrian crossings (to the splitter) of two lanes of traffic or more; and
  • clarified the scope of alterations to include only that work included in the limits, boundaries, or scope of a planned project; clarified that there is no obligation in the guidelines to expand the scope or limits of a project to include other or adjacent work.

Other changes included the addition of significant advisory material throughout the document. Advisory notes are for informational purposes only.

The Board also considered industry recommendations that the guidelines be re-formatted to use transportation metrics and language and to be better coordinated with industry standards and documents, particularly the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

This draft is now formatted as a stand-alone document that expresses its dimensioning requirements first in international units, as is done in other industry documents. Its provisions have been harmonized with current MUTCD standards, support, options, and guidance. Industry terms and phrases have been adopted, and industry practices recognized where feasible.

The Board is placing the revised draft in the docket to facilitate the gathering of cost data necessary for the next step in this rulemaking which is the preparation of a regulatory assessment for government review and approval prior to issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). In order to develop an accurate picture of the potential costs and benefits of this rulemaking, the Board must work closely with the transportation industry representatives who have data on both current cost and industry practices and the knowledge and skills to assess potential effects.

The Board is not seeking comments on this draft. Readers will have an opportunity to provide input when the NPRM is published. Additional figures will be included in the NPRM.

Rulemaking Process
The Board reviewed the comments received to the draft guidelines and revised the guidelines in accordance with the comments received. The revisions are briefly discussed below in the section-by-section analysis.

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
Relationship to ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines/Format
On July 23, 2004, the Board completed 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. On the same date, the Board updated its ABA Accessibility Guidelines along similar lines so that both of the documents are more consistent. The revised ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines may be found on the Board’s website at www.access-board.gov/ada-aba/index.htm.

The draft guidelines for public rights-of-way published on June 17, 2002 were formatted to supplement the ADA and ABA guidelines and not as a stand-alone document. The guidelines were intended to ultimately comprise a new chapter on public rights-of-way. The current draft guidelines made available in this document are now formatted as a stand-alone document using transportation industry standards, terms, and measures in response to recommendations in industry comments. The document is identified by the prefix R in its provisions and has four chapters:

Chapter R1: Application and Administration covers purpose, effect on existing facilities, equivalent facilitation, conventions, figures, units of measurement, referenced documents, and definitions, harmonized with transportation industry usage.

Chapter R2: Scoping Requirements address what items of new construction and alteration are covered by this document and references technical sections that follow in Chapters R3 and R4. Key scoping provisions in R2 include: R204 Pedestrian Access Route; R205 Alternate Pedestrian Access Route; R206 Pedestrian Crossings; R207 Curb Ramps and Blended Transitions; R208 Accessible Pedestrian Signals; R209 Protruding Objects; R210 Pedestrian Signs; R211 Street Furniture; R212 Bus Stops; R213 Stairways; R214 Handrails; R215 Vertical Access; R216 On-street Parking; R217 Passenger Loading Zones; R218 Call Boxes; R219 Transit Platforms; R220 Escalators; R221 Detectable Warning Surfaces; and R222 Doors, Doorways, and Gates.

Coverage extends to temporary as well as permanent facilities. Chapter R2 also includes special provisions for historic facilities and contains a limited series of general exemptions from accessibility.

Chapter R3: Technical Provisions contains detailed specifications for new construction and alterations scoping in Chapter R2. Construction detailed in Chapter R3 is specific to public sidewalk, street crossing, and roadway projects, and covers the building blocks of pedestrian accessibility: the pedestrian access route (analogous to the accessible route on a site), curb ramps and blended transitions, pedestrian crossings (including those at roundabouts and channelized turn lanes), pedestrian signals, street furniture, and parking.

Chapter R4: Supplementary Technical Provisions include specifications adapted from the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines (2004) for rights-of-way application, including such features as maneuvering clearances at doorways; drinking fountain, and telephone provisions; reach ranges; operable parts; handrails; and other items of broader application.