The public right-of-way is an ancient concept, as old as the notion of owning land. The commerce of humankind requires circulation, and since the days of the earliest cities, the public street has served as the venue and vessel for the exchange of ideas, opinions, services and goods. For centuries, public rights-of-way ensured the right to passage of all users, humble or grand, on foot or by any other mode.

However, only within the latter half of the last century has serious thought been given to the right to access for those who, historically, had never been considered at all in the built environment. Within the public right-of-way, efforts to accommodate people with disabilities have been accomplished on a state-by-state basis with guidance from various code-writing organizations, but there has been no single national set of guidelines for accommodating people with disabilities in the public right-of-way.

Public rights-of-way harbor many transportation activities, including walking and rolling, bicycling, transit, freight movement, and automobile travel. They house the hardware, such as traffic signals and street lights, that supports those activities. In many cases they contain public and private utilities. With so many diverse functions to be supported, the streetscape within the public right-of-way is often created over a period of time by a variety of minds and hands.

For the individual user the streetscape must work at an intimate level. Details at the individual scale can appear seamless and coherent if they are done right. As David Sucher notes in his book, City Comforts, "An ordinary, even banal structure, can and will be transformed into a marvel if the designer and builder have thought through the users' needs and reflect those needs in the details."

The following report is a recommendation for a new national set of guidelines that define the details necessary to make the streetscapes in public rights-of-way accessible to all users. This report has been prepared by the Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC), convened by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board) to address access to public rights-of-way for people with disabilities.

The members of the PROWAAC represent a broad cross-section of design professionals, transportation industry professionals, implementing agencies, and a diverse range of advocates and users groups. This knowledgeable and representative advisory committee shared a commitment to this fundamental principle: that all users of all abilities have the right to equal access to public rights-of-way.

To that end, the PROWAAC developed a toolbox approach to defining standards which will provide that equal access to public rights-of-way. The goal of the toolbox approach is to aid implementing agencies and the designers who work in the public right-of-way to understand the needs of all users and design accordingly. Accessibility is not an afterthought. The design of a coherent corridor of accessible travel should be the starting point for every project in the public right-of-way. If these recommended standards are implemented, then over time public rights-of-way will achieve consistency and equal access for all users.

The guidelines proposed in this report do not call for a minor adjustment here and there, they ask for a dramatic change from the way public rights-of-way have been designed in the past. However, they do not require dramatic changes to streets that were built in the past. It is important to understand that the recommended standards, if adopted, will apply whenever new streets are created and whenever existing streets are reconstructed or otherwise altered in ways that affect their usability by pedestrians. Implementation of these recommendations will not require jurisdictions to rebuild existing streets solely to meet these standards.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination against people who have disabilities. Under the ADA, designing and constructing facilities for public use that are not usable by people who have disabilities constitutes discrimination.

The ADA covers a wide range of disability, from physical conditions affecting mobility, stamina, sight, hearing, and speech to conditions such as emotional illness and learning disorders. Such disabilities may or may not be evident to others. The percentage of the US population affected by a condition that constitutes a disability under the ADA is expected to increase over the coming decades, in part due to the growing numbers of the elderly.

The ADA addresses access to the workplace (title I), state and local government services (title II), and places of public accommodation and commercial facilities (title III). It also requires telephone companies to provide telecommunications relay services for people who have hearing or speech impairments (title IV) and miscellaneous instructions to Federal agencies that enforce the law (title V).

Public rights-of-way are covered by the ADA under title II, subpart A. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has rulemaking authority and enforcement responsibility for title II, while the Department of Transportation (DOT) has been designated to implement compliance procedures relating to transportation, including those for highways, streets and traffic management. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Civil Rights oversees the DOT mandate in these areas.

The Access Board is an independent Federal agency responsible for developing accessibility guidelines under the ADA to ensure that new construction and alterations covered by titles II and III of the ADA are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. The Access Board initially issued the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) in 1991 (36 CFR 1191, Appendix A). ADAAG consists of general sections (ADAAG 1 to 4) that apply to all types of buildings and facilities, and special sections (ADAAG 5 to 12, and 15) that contain additional requirements for certain types of buildings and facilities.

The regulations issued by DOJ and DOT must include accessibility standards for newly constructed and altered facilities covered by title II. The standards must be consistent with the guidelines issued by the Access Board.

Rulemaking History

The Access Board published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in December 1992, proposing to add four special application sections to ADAAG applicable to certain types of state and local government buildings and facilities covered by title II of the ADA. One of the proposed sections was 14, Public Rights-of Way. The NPRM also proposed requirements and asked questions regarding the addition of miscellaneous provisions specifically applicable to state and local government facilities.

In June 1994, the Access Board published an interim final rule in the Federal Register that added several sections, including section 14, to ADAAG, along with miscellaneous other provisions. The interim final rule sought comment on the added sections and the miscellaneous provisions.

Many commenters, including public works agencies, transportation departments and traffic consultants, expressed concern that section 14 provisions would require wholesale rebuilding of existing developed rights-of-way. Others were concerned that the section 14 provisions were not reasonable because they did not adequately take into account the way jurisdictions construct and manage facilities in the public right-of-way. In January 1998, the Board published final rules for state and local governments, but decided to reserve section 14, due in large measure to concerns of the transportation community expressed in comments to the Board on the proposed and interim final rules.

The response to both the NPRM and the interim final rule clearly indicated the need for substantial education and outreach regarding the application of guidelines in this area. Rather than finalizing the guidelines for public rights-of-way, the Board embarked upon an ambitious outreach plan to the transportation industry. This outreach included producing a series of videotapes, an accessibility checklist, a synthesis syntheses on accessible pedestrian signals and on detectable warnings installations in the U.S. and abroad, and a design guide on accessible public rights-of-way. In addition, the Board has been actively involved with transportation industry organizations and has closely worked with the Federal Highway Administration on these issues.

In early 1999, the Access Board reviewed its education and outreach program and the impact on state and local government regulatory efforts in this area, and concluded that the development of final requirements for accessibility in the public right-of-way was appropriate. At its May 1999 meeting, the Access Board voted to reinitiate rulemaking on accessible pedestrian facilities in public rights-of-way by convening a Federal advisory committee to develop recommendations for guidelines for public rights-of-way covered by the ADA and the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.

Establishing an Advisory Committee

The Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC) was established in October 1999 as the first step in developing additional ADAAG provisions and special application sections. A notice of intent to form an advisory committee was published in the Federal Register on August 12, 1999. The notice proposed a committee membership and requested applications. Committee members represented the diverse interests of those affected by this rulemaking including persons with disabilities, federal, state, and local public works and transportation agencies, organizations representing design professionals, pedestrian and bicycle organizations, standard-setting organizations, and organizations representing the access needs of individuals with disabilities. The committee worked in a professional and collegial manner to establish this recommendation in a short period of time. The final membership of the committee is listed in Appendix A.

The committee met six times between December 1999 and December 2000 as a full committee. In addition, several subcommittees met physically, by telephone, and by e-mail to gather information or develop recommendations for the full committee. The committee participated in tours and informational presentations as part of their meetings. Committee members sought input from the public on issues related to accessibility of public rights-of-way. The meetings were held in different locations across the country and were attended by more than 100 members of the public. A formal public comment period was held at the end of each day of the full committee meetings. Among the issues that were brought to the attention of the committee were the effects of traffic calming devices, particularly vertical deflection devices such as speed humps, on people who suffer pain; the effects of weed control strategies on people with multiple chemical sensitivities; the need of people with hearing disabilities for accessible communication in the public right-of-way; the need of some blind people for unambiguous information presented in an audible and/or tactile format; and the ability of some blind people to use existing cues to travel independently, without the need for additional information.

The committee began its work by reviewing available information related to providing access for persons with disabilities in public rights-of-way. The committee reviewed the section 14 document included in ADAAG under the Access Board's interim final rule issued in June 1994, the Board's Accessible Rights-of-Way Design Guide, the Federal Highway Administration's Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, and other similar information. They also examined and discussed approaches used by states and local governments to meet access responsibilities in the absence of specific ADAAG guidance, and discussed pending design documents such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) Pedestrian Design Guide.

Basic Principles

The committee's discussions were guided by basic principles. PROWAAC members believed that accessibility standards for pedestrian facilities in public rights-of-way should:

  • Provide for equal opportunity
  • Maximize accessibility for all users
  • Be reasonable
  • Be clear, simple and understandable
  • Be enforceable and measurable
  • Be constructible and maintainable within today's technological capabilities
  • Address safety for both pedestrians and motor vehicle operators
  • Provide guidance for implementing agencies and the public
  • Be flexible enough to include future technologies
  • Be consistent with ADAAG
  • Support independent use by persons with disabilities

The advisory committee explored many approaches and compromised in many areas to reach agreement on recommended accessibility standards for new and altered public rights-of-way covered by the ADA. The standards proposed by the committee and presented in this report include consideration of the latest available information and design and construction practices.

The PROWAAC presents this report to the Access Board at the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) annual meeting in January, 2001. The report addresses the variety of facilities in the public right-of-way and identifies the features of each facility not adequately addressed by ADAAG. This report presents the recommendations of the PROWAAC for accessibility standards for those features.

What's next

The Access Board will consider these recommendations and write a proposed rule, which will be published in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Interested parties will then have a chance to comment on the NPRM before the Department of Justice and/or the Department of Transportation considers whether to issue a final rule.

Some agencies may begin to use the recommendations in this report as guidance even before a final rule is adopted. These recommendations represent the best judgment of the committee on a very large number of issues as developed in a relatively short period of time. However, it should be noted that, inevitably, there are some recommendations in this report, as well as some issues for which recommendations were reserved, where the outcome might have been different had there been more time for the committee to discuss and test what is proposed. The period for public comment will allow these recommended standards to be further refined into a final rule that truly embodies the basic principles that guided the committee.


The need for larger dimensions in the public right-of-way
While fully understanding that the standards must require the minimum dimensions necessary for access, rather than setting desirable or preferred dimensions, PROWAAC members considered the possibility that larger dimensions were necessary in public rights-of-way to provide adequate accessibility.

The committee recognized that maneuvering clearances needed in the public right-of-way may be greater than the clearances needed in a building or facility. Travel in the public right-of-way is generally faster and often may take place under circumstances requiring larger mobility aids. Pedestrians, including persons with disabilities, are much more likely to travel side-by-side or in groups in the public right-of-way. The committee recognized that some people who use crutches require as much as 42 inches (1065mm) of usable width to support travel, and people with service animals or sighted guides will use a minimum of 48 inches (1220mm). The committee also considered that at least 60 inches (1525mm) of width are required for a variety of wheelchairs currently in use to turn or pass; and that 72 inches (1830mm) are required for two wheelchair users to travel side-by-side.

What to call the "corridor of accessible travel" in the public right-of-way
PROWAAC members spent considerable time working to identify a term that would represent an analog in the public right-of-way to the term "accessible route," the basic unit of accessibility for title III entities under ADAAG. This concept was called "continuous passage" in proposed section 14.

The committee discussed the notion of a three-dimensional corridor through which sidewalk travelers could easily move. Designers should understand this as a spatial concept, not just a given expanse of concrete or asphalt. This continuous corridor of accessible travel, threading its way along sidewalks and across driveways and roadways, free of abrupt changes in level, with a clear width of at least sixty inches and a clear height of at least eighty inches, assures access for all sidewalk travelers, from those who use wheelchairs to those who push strollers to those who find their way with a cane.

In searching for the right name for this corridor, the committee took into account the concern that any term very similar to "accessible route," or incorporating the phrase, might lead to confusion. The committee recognized that a corridor in the public right-of-way will have different requirements than the "accessible route" on a site. Creating a distinct name helps avoid any confusion between the requirements proposed for the public right-of-way and those requirements already in existence that apply to a site.

A further concern was to avoid disrespect to any sidewalk travelers. After much debate, the majority of the committee supported the term pedestrian access route, and that term is used throughout this report. However, some members felt strongly that the word pedestrian, although defined in this report and commonly used among designers to denote all sidewalk travelers, has its roots in the Latin word for feet, and thus is not the best choice to describe those who use wheelchairs for mobility.

Wayfinding in public rights-of-way for blind persons or those with low vision
PROWAAC members recognized there is a significant need for wayfinding for pedestrians who are blind or have low vision. The committee's recommendations to the Access Board include a number of proposed standards that will, if adopted, provide additional guidance about signs, street crossing controls, pedestrian signals, crossing times and other items. The committee also recognizes that technological changes are occurring rapidly, with the potential to greatly improve access for persons with visual impairments over time. The committee recommends continual review of technology in this area to provide advisory guidance to communities in establishing wayfinding systems.

Flexibility of the standards with respect to emerging technologies
PROWAAC members understood that new technologies are constantly emerging. These recommended standards are intended to be flexible enough to accommodate new technologies, particularly wayfinding technologies, but also new mobility devices, new signal technologies and other technologies that may emerge to increase access and mobility for pedestrians who have disabilities.

The variety of needs, sometimes competing, of users with diverse disabilities
PROWAAC members gave great attention to the needs of all users of public rights-of-way who have disabilities. The committee recognized that efforts to increase access and usability for some pedestrians have caused, or may cause, problems for others with different disabilities. For example, the proliferation of curb ramps in the public rights-of-way has greatly increased access for pedestrians using wheelchairs, scooters and other wheeled mobility aids. However, the curb formerly provided an important cue to blind pedestrians, and where curb ramps are installed that cue has now been lost or diminished. The recommendations for detectable warnings at curb ramps and flush landings are an example of the committee's desire to address these issues.

Extension of the pedestrian access route into the roadway at crosswalks
PROWAAC members recognized that travel by pedestrians with disabilities in public rights-of-way is not limited to sidewalks, and that crosswalks in the roadway are an integral part of the pedestrian access route. The committee worked to develop reasonable standards for crosswalks in new roadways that will foster access for all users.

The need for pedestrian access on all urban roadways
PROWAAC members conceded that the ADA does not require the construction of sidewalks in public rights-of-way, but only requires that, where provided, such facilities meet the standards for accessibility, and that it is not within the purview of this committee to alter the scope of the law. However, in support of the rights of all users, including those who do not use motor vehicles, to access destinations via public rights-of-way, the committee adopted a resolution to express their support for identifying a mechanism to require that sidewalks be included whenever a road is constructed or reconstructed in a public right-of-way in an urban area. (See Appendix C)

Maintenance of pedestrian access routes and accessible features
PROWAAC members recognized the importance of maintaining pedestrian access routes and features such as crosswalk locators and signals, railings, pavement markings and surfaces intended for use by people with disabilities. The committee also recognizes that state and local governments have a maintenance responsibility under the Department of Justice's rules barring discrimination on the basis of disability in state and local government services. However, the committee also recognizes that municipalities differ in how things are accomplished. For example, in some communities, adjacent property owners are required to construct sidewalks, to repair and maintain them, and to clear snow or other hazards from sidewalks. Some communities have the ability to establish proactive programs that look for problems and fix them, while others may only respond to citizen complaints.

Attempting to codify how and when state and local governments must identify problems and resolve them is beyond the scope of the committee. Public entities are encouraged to establish procedures that will assure that maintenance activities are undertaken by the responsible individuals and entities in ways that minimize inconveniences to individuals with disabilities, consistent with Department of Justice regulations.

The committee also attempted to provide information for temporary facilities and construction in the pedestrian access route, including options for warnings, signage and barricades, and alternate circulation paths. Examples of construction barricading standards which maintain pedestrian access routes during construction are available from communities such as San Francisco, California.

Consistency with other reports
PROWAAC members attempted to be consistent with the recent recommendations of other Access Board subcommittees, such as the Recreation Access Advisory Committee and the Regulatory Negotiating Committee for Outdoor Developed Areas, regarding elements that are commonly found in parks, recreation areas, and related public rights-of-way. Some examples include benches, tables, trash receptacles, and artwork. The committee also attempted to be consistent with proposed ADAAG and used it as the reference standard to the extent practicable.

The committee identified some potential gray areas, such as whether the guidelines for the public rights-of-way or guidelines for recreation access should be applied in cases of shared use paths or trails within public rights-of-way. The Access Board will need to decide where each set of guidelines applies.

The committee coordinated their efforts with those of national transportation standard-setting organizations like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and federal agencies such as the United States Department of Transportation to assure that recommendations are consistent with generally accepted practice among design professionals.


The recommendations of the PROWAAC for standards for construction in the public right-of-way are found in Part III of this report. These recommendations are briefly summarized in Part II, Executive Summary of Recommended Standards. Within the recommendations, information is provided in the form of recommended standards followed by a discussion section, as described below. Numbering has been done using a generic "X" to represent the number of the chapters that will eventually be assigned to the public rights-of-way accessibility guidelines. Where cross references to material in these recommendations or in proposed ADAAG are given, the sections are referenced. Terms that are defined in X01.2 are generally italicized the first time they appear in a numbered provision.

Executive Summary
An executive summary is provided that highlights the recommended standards in this report and the list of recommended research. Each summary is a short list of the basic technical provisions of the associated standard. The summaries are provided for convenience; however, readers are strongly advised to consult the complete text of the standard language and its associated discussion section for a full understanding of the recommended requirements.

Recommended Standards
These are recommendations from the PROWAAC to the Access Board on requirements to achieve accessibility in the public right-of-way. Standards are numbered and arranged according to a hierarchy: some standards have many sub-elements; others do not. Each standard or sub-element of a standard includes the following parts:

Scoping Provisions
This part describes where the standard applies and which elements must meet the technical provisions.

Technical Provisions
This part describes the specifications to meet the standard. Measurements in the technical provisions are provided in both English and metric units.

A standard or sub-element of a standard may also include the following elements:

Figures are provided as an aid to understanding the technical provisions. No technical provisions are specified in the figures that are not also specified in the text of the technical provisions.

Advisory Notes
Advisories provide clarification and intent concerning the standards. In some cases, non-mandatory recommendations are included as guidance. With further research or discussion, these recommendations could be forwarded to the proposed rulemaking process.

The discussion for each standard offers insight for those who may draft proposed rules, as well as designers and end users, regarding issues that the committee considered and the rationale for their decision whether or not to include a recommended standard. This may be of interest particularly for those standards where full agreement among the committee was not achieved.

The discussion also includes issues that were considered to be "frontier issues," or issues requiring resolution, along with recommendations for additional action, in the form of further research or in the form of questions for the Access Board to ask in rulemaking.

Frontier issues are defined as those issues identified by PROWAAC members for future study and rulemaking by the Access Board, which could not be addressed due to committee time constraints or need for additional research. Examples of these frontier issues include: final recommendations for applicability of new construction standards to alterations, and detailed definition of alterations; and acceptable surface treatments within and outside the pedestrian access route.

Eleven appendices to this report are provided. The first two appendices include information regarding the structure and function of the PROWAAC. The rest of the appendices provide clarification, or voice specific concerns which either reflect the consensus of the committee or minority opinions. Appendix C is a resolution urging those with the power to do so to mandate construction of sidewalks. Appendix D identifies preliminary concepts for applying the new construction standards in this report to alterations of existing work. Appendix E consolidates references within the body of the report regarding research needs, recommended questions, and frontier issues. Appendix F is a list of the acronyms and abbreviations used in this report. Subsequent appendices represent minority reports from individuals or groups represented on the committee who wished to highlight their concerns about specific issues.