Board Holds Briefing on Proposed Rights-of-Way Guidelines

July 28, 2011

   Briefing presenters:  Scott Windley, Hans Van Winkle, and Board Chair Nancy Starnes
  Presenters at the briefing included (l-r) Scott Windley, Hans Van Winkle, and Board Chair Nancy Starnes.

On July 26, the Access Board conducted a public briefing on its proposed accessibility guidelines for public rights-of-way which were recently published for comment. Provided here is a summary of the event and Board responses to questions posed by attendees.

Opening Remarks and Background

Nancy Starnes, Chair of the Board welcomed members of the public and the press, and introduced Board presenters. She also recognized two former Board staff members, Dennis Cannon and Lois Thibault, who were long active in this rulemaking.

Access Board member Hans Van Winkle outlined the history of this rulemaking. Requirements of the Board's proposal stem from recommendations developed by the Board's Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee. The proposed guidelines also incorporate public feedback received in response to earlier drafts released in 2002 and 2005 and will be finalized based on the input received during this official comment period.

Overview of Proposed Rule and Major Issues

Scott Windley, the lead Board staff member for this rulemaking, detailed the scope of the guidelines, which apply only to newly constructed or altered portions of public rights-of-ways, outlined how the rule is organized, and summarized key requirements and issues. Provisions noted include those for:

  • Pedestrian access routes ( including width, grade, and cross slope) and alternate routes
  • Curb ramps and blended transitions
  • Street crossings
  • Transit stops and shelters
  • Street furniture
  • On-street parking

Issue areas noted include:

  • Detectable warnings
  • Accessible pedestrian signals
  • Tabling of intersections (to achieve street crossings with compliant slopes)
  • Multi-lane roundabouts

Information was also provided on options for submitting comments, including at two public hearings the Board will hold in Dallas and Washington, DC during the 120-day comment period. (An overview of the rule is also available on the Board's website).

Questions and Answers

Following the briefing, the Board invited questions from the audience which included transportation engineers and consultants, officials from public works/ transportation departments, accessibility compliance officers, representatives from advocacy organizations and others. Questions addressed a range of topics, including the scope of the guidelines, pedestrian access routes, on-street parking, detectable warnings, and research. They are summarized here along with the Board's responses to them.

General/ Scope and Application

What is the name or reference for these requirements?

The Board commonly refers to the requirements of this rulemaking as the "Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines" (or PROWAG). However, the official title of the current proposal is "Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way."

Will the guidelines apply to private property open to the public?

As proposed, the guidelines would apply only to public land or property. The guidelines define the type of public rights-of-way covered as "public land or property, usually in interconnected corridors, that is acquired for or dedicated to transportation purposes."

If an alteration project is limited to one area, such as a single corner of an intersection, must the project be expanded to address all corners of the intersection?

The guidelines are intended to apply primarily within the planned scope of a project. Some aspects of compliance may expand the project, but not necessarily to all portions of an intersection where discreet projects are limited to only one portion. The guidelines do not address unaltered portions of existing public rights-of-way. Other obligations regulated by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice may require retrofits or access improvements at existing public rights-of-way, including those not undergoing any alterations.

Do the guidelines address optimum or desired results above the specified minimum?

No. This rulemaking, consistent with the Board's authority, sets minimum guidelines and design requirements. Best practice recommendations may be offered in supplementary, non-mandatory guidance provided by the Board.

What degree of compliance is expected or required at this time for work occurring now?

Current public rights-of-way projects must incorporate accessibility but are not required to meet the provisions of the proposed guidelines. Compliance with the requirements of this rulemaking will not be mandatory until the guidelines are finalized and implemented as standards (and will apply only to those projects occurring after the effective date). In the interim, guidance and resources on accessible rights-of-way design are available from the Board and its website. The Board also routinely provides technical assistance and training on this subject to the public upon request.

Pedestrian Access Routes

What is the basis for the minimum width (4') of pedestrian access routes?

The proposed 4' minimum width provides additional space for maneuvering, sway, and leeway which is considered important in this environment due to potential hazards such as nearby curb drop-offs and vehicular traffic. It exceeds the 3' minimum width generally specified for accessible routes in the Board's guidelines for buildings and facilities, but is less than the 5' minimum recommended by the Board's Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Advisory Committee. It is also consistent with some industry sources, such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Green Book, a leading reference on highway geometric design. The guidelines include a requirement for wheelchair passing space 5' by 5' minimum at intervals of 200' maximum.

Will the guidelines permit utility poles in public rights-of-way?

Yes, but utility poles and other elements cannot obstruct pedestrian access routes. In alterations, some allowances may be permissible where certain existing constraints make full compliance effectively impracticable.

Surfaces

Will the Board address surface roughness?

The proposed guidelines include requirements for changes in elevation and openings in accessible surfaces, but they do not specify overall smoothness. The Board is aware of concerns about surface roughness and impacts on people who use wheeled mobility aids and is currently sponsoring research on this issue that may help inform a "roughness index" (in a manner similar to that for roadways and vehicle traffic). This project is underway and subject testing is to begin in the fall.

Will the results of this research be made available for comment?

As is the case for all Board research, the Board will make the results public. Any supplementary provisions to the guidelines, including any deriving from this research, would be made available for public comment.

Can stamped asphalt/ concrete be used to provide compliant surfaces?

Various materials and construction methods would be permitted by the guidelines so long as they meet the applicable specifications, including those for changes in level and surface openings. The Board's research project on surface smoothness may provide further guidance on this subject.

Parking

Do the proposed guidelines address or impact local parking policies governing use of accessible spaces such as time limits or parking rates?

The proposed guidelines, consistent with the Board's rulemaking authority, only address the design features of accessible parking spaces. The Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice have purview over matters outside design and construction, including jurisdictional policies and practices governing public parking.

Will the visibility of parking meter or pay station visual displays be addressed or pay-by-phone access for people who are hard of hearing?

The guidelines do not address these topics. The Board is addressing access to various types of self-service machines and interactive transaction machines in separate rulemaking as part of its update of requirements for information and communication technologies.

How is the minimum number of accessible parking spaces addressed?

The guidelines specify a minimum number based on the total number along a block perimeter (the amount of spaces provided on all four sides of a typical block).

Pedestrian Signals

Would all intersections be required to have accessible pedestrian signals?

No. Only those intersections equipped with pedestrian signals are required to meet referenced criteria for accessible pedestrian signals. Intersections with vehicle traffic signals only or no signals would not be subject to this requirement (except for certain multi-lane roundabouts and channelized turn lanes).

How do accessible pedestrian signals address access for people with low vision or who are deaf-blind?

Accessible signals have a discreet audible tone for locating push buttons and vibrotactile indicators of walk cycles.

Roundabouts

Are other access solutions for navigating roundabouts by people with vision impairments to be recognized or considered in this rulemaking?

The proposed guidelines require pedestrian-activated signals at roundabouts with multiple traffic lanes that accommodate pedestrian traffic (and also to multi-lane channelized turn lanes). As written, the guidelines allow different means of providing these types of signals. Alternative methods might be possible if they provide an equivalent level of accessibility. The guidelines also require tactile barriers or warnings along portions of sidewalks flush against the curb where pedestrian crossing is not intended.

Research

Is research that informs the Board's proposed rule available to the public?

The results of research sponsored by the Board, including projects on detectable warnings, accessible pedestrian signals, and roundabouts, are available on the Board's website. The Board also helps coordinate and promote research through the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and its National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP). Research conducted through this program is available on TRB's website.

Detectable Warnings

Is a minimum level of color contrast between detectable warning areas and surrounding areas specified?

The proposed guidelines only require a light-on-dark or dark-on-light contrast between these areas. Specifying quantitative values for the degree of contrast poses compliance and enforcement issues since measuring the degree of contrast is impacted by ambient conditions.

Can borders around detectable warning areas be used to provide contrast?

Research sponsored by the Board indicates the effectiveness of various types of color contrasts often found in this environment. A report from this project, which also tested some border color designs, is available on the Board's website.

How are such warnings detected by people who are color blind?

Specifications for detectable warnings require a distinct raised texture that is detectable underfoot as well as by cane.

Bus Stops

Will sidewalks be required to serve accessible bus stops in areas where no sidewalks are provided?

The proposed guidelines do not require that sidewalks be constructed where none is planned. However, connecting bus stops to pedestrian networks either by design and construction or location selection ensures greater usability.