The last five years of our trail evaluation efforts in Duluth, Minnesota, has been a great lead up to the final enactment of the 1999 Proposed Trail Accessibility Guidelines into law. We have used the 1999 Proposed Trail Guidelines for three years, and find most of the initial guidelines (without the exceptions and conditions) to be exactly what would make future trails safe and accessible to trail users with disabilities and/or health limitations. The act will allow people with disabilities and/or health limitations to travel new outdoor trails as safely and enjoyably as it is for able bodied trail users. The Wheels On Trails Organization is happy to report to its trail users with disabilities and/or health limits that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is finally moving outside after 16 years. While we realize that the (NPRM) rulemaking process only applies to Federal Government facilities at present, at least the process of equitable outdoor treatment for people with health limits and/or disabilities has started.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s it took a number of violent actions by the black community before the majority responded with appropriate Civil Rights action and Legislation. Now, the process of moving toward outdoor equitability has started after about 11 years of procrastination by the majority. While the 1999 Proposed Guidelines are a compromise necessitated by a majority of the negotiating committee being able bodied, it definitely is a step in the direction towards trail access for the 7% to 19% of our population that is disabled or have physical and/or health limitations.
The Wheels On Trails Organization carefully review of the 1999 Proposal Guidelines and the NPRM proposal, and agree that if the intent of making trails and parks accessible is followed — we can support the efforts to move the Accessibility Standards from the inside of buildings to the outside environment. The following is our specific responses to the MPRM questions:
Question 1: The difficulty in reaching consensus and alternative approaches?
Answer 1: Wheels On Trails (WOT) believes that the consensus reached in 1999 may be the best result that can be expected under the circumstances, considering high trail costs and the existing non-accessible experience base of trail managers and developers. Our WOT Analysis of the ‘negotiating committee’ deliberations indicates that the process was structured to be bias towards the ‘able bodied’ trail user (majority groups involved in 1999 were able bodied). The consensus reached by this group resulted in a rule that is clear as to intent — to move towards universal trails for all. But, the proposal has so many exceptions and conditions built in by ‘able bodied’ trail groups, that any trail manager or builder could find a way to continue to build trails that were inaccessible if he did not support the intent of the law.
Question 2: Condition 4 — exceptions where it would not be feasible due to terrain or construction practices?
Answer 2: There is a significant issue as to how and who will interpret Condition #4 (not feasible do to terrain or construction practices). The WOT looked at both conditions as follows: 1) Terrain — This should be dealt with on a trail-by-trail basis, with the decision process to include one or more persons with a disability (The old ‘equal rights’ rule that says any action that effects a minority — that minority needs to be included in the decision process). The language of “practicable” or “reasonably do-able” needs to be applied on a trail-by-trail basis, with a person with disabilities being part of the decision process. 2) Construction Practices — This allow a trail developer/ builder that has used hand methods for years, to continue with their dated methods and ignore access issues. Many times trail construction by machine process could make a trail more accessible, or the use of new surface technologies would allow a soft sand surface to be consolidated. Condition #4 is viewed by WOT as a universal escape clause in a contract, where if the trail does not meet Conditions #1, #2, or #3 — then it obviously meets Condition #4 — so it can be built without consideration of accessibility.
Question 3: Display a symbol designating the trail as accessible?
Answer 3: The requirement for trail signs that show which trails are accessible is an obvious need. Wheels On Trails (WOT) experience found that any sign is better than none. We found few signs on the trails we have evaluated, and none that have indicated an accessible trail. So, we spent some of our time coming up with a ‘trail’ related Symbol of Accessibility as shown below:
This symbol is identical to the International Symbol, but has a sloped line to indicate a natural surface! This symbol alone does not give enough information for safe and enjoyable travel by itself.
Answer 3 Cont. (Information): All trail users need more information in order to have safe and enjoyable trail experiences. The Wheels On Trails Organization (WOT) is using the UTAP (Universal Trail Assessment Process) process to assess trails and generate information, which seems to produce what trail managers, builders, and users need. The UTAP data also generates the information needed to produce some very clear signage The only limit we have found in the UTAP output is that the trail user with a disability needs to know exactly where any trail problems are located, such as an extreme grade or cross slope (and this is not presently in the UTAP sign output). Wheels On Trails has had some safety issues that were based on the lack of trail signs on existing trails, so we would recommend to error on the side of providing too much information.
Trail users with disabilities and/or health limits need better information on signs and in kiosks in order to have a safer and more enjoyable trail experience, not just a single ambiguous accessibility symbol. Due to ongoing problems with vandalism, it appears that clear and simple signage is important — but is only part of the solution. The idea to use a trail head kiosk to deliver total trail information, will reduce the need to more detailed signs at waypoints. The use of Internet based information now also offers…
Question 4: Beach access routes from boardwalks?
Answer 4: The need for beach access is an equity issue for people with disabilities, that Wheels On Trails Organization (WOT) has experienced while evaluating local boardwalks. When traveling local boardwalks we observe children and adults in activities on the beach, but no equitable access for our carts and chairs. A child in a wheelchair should be able to skip a rock on the beach of Lake Superior in Duluth, just like a able bodied child can. We also realize that the changing nature of beach dunes in Duluth can easily cover any 6 inch height boardwalk, so higher boardwalks are required in Duluth. This height issue should not be taken as a reason to limit beach access for people with disabilities and/or health limits. This exception (#6) needs to be abandoned, and beach access required at intervals on boardwalks.
Question 5: Size of beach access routes and passing space?
Answer 5: Wheels On Trails (WOT) believes that a 36" width is adequate, provided a passing space (turn around space) is available at least once on even a short trail. If the passing space (turn around space) is not provided, it becomes very difficult to back up the access route with a chair or cart because of the grade.
Question 6: Beach access routes connecting facilities?
Answer 6: The Wheels On Trails (WOT) supports the need for a beach access route to extend the water. It is also necessary for people with disabilities and/or health limits to a have access to other elements and spaces, just like able bodied individuals. It is necessary for builders to provide access to the elements and spaces that are on the beach, so that people with disabilities and/or health limits can play volleyball, get first aid, rent flotation equipment, purchase an ice cream cone, etc.
Question 7: The height of the cooking surface?
Answer 7: The Wheels On Trails (WOT) supports the need for a raised grill surface, though we have found that cart users may be able to reach much lower than chair users. The height range will have to be tested over time to see if it is too low, as a powered chair user sits much higher than a regular chair or a cart user. An adjustable height cooking surface would solve this issue, as long as it was adjustable within the 15 inch to 34 inch range.
Question 8: The number of elements required to be accessible?
Answer 8: Wheels On Trails (WOT) supports the need for designated accessible elements within parks. The definition of Area will need to be determined on a case to case basis. This determination process needs to include one or more persons with a disability (The old ‘equal rights’ rule that says any action that effects a minority — that minority needs to be included in the decision process) in order to be considered equitable.
Question 9: Firmness and stability of a trail surface?
Answer 9: Wheels On Trails WOT supports the need for a surface to be firm and stable in order to handle wheelchair and cart traffic. Any reduction in this requirement will limit access for conventional wheel chairs. The UTAP (Universal Trail Assessment Process) test for a firm and stable surface (rotational penetrometer) uses a standard wheelchair wheel, and seems to work well to measure the ‘firm’ value.
The irregularity caused by equestrian use of the same trail could limit access to chairs and carts. We recommend that equestrian travel be on the opposite side of the trail where trail width permits. Where trail width is at the 36 inch minimum, the trail needs to be firm enough to support equestrian travel without causing irregularities that would eliminate trail use by people with disabilities and/or health limits.
The ‘stable’ issue seems to require actual travel by a chair on the trail, as trail surfaces may vary greatly because of weather or other natural conditions. This is another situation where this should be dealt with on a trail-by-trail basis, with the decision process to include one or more persons with a disability (The old ‘equal rights’ rule that says any action that effects a minority — that minority needs to be included in the decision process). The “firm” and “stable” judgment needs to be applied on a trail-by-trail basis, with a person with disabilities being part of the decision process.
Question 10: Connections between accessible elements?
Answer 10: It seems to be self evident that accessible outdoor elements need to be provided and to be connected by an access route. Wheels On Trails (WOT) supports the need for a minimum of 20% (40% to 50% seems high) of the elements to be accessible, and to be connected to an access route. Without the ‘access route’ connection, there would not be equitable access to these elements.
Question 11: Reach range of accessible elements?
Answer 11: Wheels On Trails (WOT) supports the need for outdoor elements to fit the ‘reach ranges’ of trail and park users with disabilities and/or health limits. Our experience shows that The 15 inch minimum is adequate, but anything much lower decreases accessibility. The high side reach should meet the 48 inch maximum, to be equitable. Again, we would recommend adjustable elements where that is achievable.
Reservations: Wheels On Trails (WOT) believes that the inclusion of ‘Exceptions’ and ‘Conditions’ to this rule, actually allow any future trail builder to circumvent the intent of the 1999 proposed Trail Guidelines. Only time will tell if the intent of the rule to make trails and parks accessible — will actually take place. WOT recommends that each future park and trail should be dealt with on a trail-by-trail and park-by-park basis, with the decision process to include one or more persons with a disability (The old ‘equal rights’ rule that says any action that effects a minority — that minority needs to be included in the decision process). We believe that person’s with disabilities need to be part of any and all decision processes. This involvement by trail and park users with disabilities and/or health limitations should go far to maintain reality and guarantee that the process be as inclusive as possible. This should result in more sustainable trails and parks for all users.