Providing Accessible Public Rights-of-Way

Sidewalks, street crossings, and other elements in the public right-of-way can pose challenges to accessibility. DOJ’s ADA (2010) Standards for Accessible Design became mandatory on March 15, 2012. Yet these guidelines primarily govern accessibility of buildings and facilities on sites and do not sufficiently address accessibility of pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way. The U.S. Access Board is developing new guidelines for public rights-of-way, which will also address accessibility of shared-use paths—pedestrian and bicycle facilities designed for both recreation and transportation.

Public Rights-of-Way

In 2011, the U.S. Access Board issued proposed guidelines that specifically address accessibility of pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way. The proposed guidelines define the public right-of-way to mean “public land or property, usually in interconnected corridors, that is acquired for or dedicated to transportation purposes.”

The new guidelines will address pedestrian access to sidewalks and streets. The guidelines ensure that sidewalks, pedestrian street crossings, pedestrian signals, and other facilities for pedestrian circulation and use constructed or altered in the public right-of-way by state and local governments are readily accessible to and usable by pedestrians with disabilities. An overview of the proposed guidelines lists the following facilities in the public right of way that need to be accessible and usable:

  • Sidewalks, pedestrian overpasses and underpasses, and other pedestrian circulation paths, including requirements for pedestrian access routes, alternate pedestrian access routes when pedestrian circulation paths are temporarily closed, and protruding objects along or overhanging pedestrian circulation paths;
  • Pedestrian street crossings, medians, and pedestrian refuge islands, including requirements for curb ramps or blended transitions, and detectable warning surfaces;
  • Pedestrian street crossings at roundabouts, including requirements for detectable edge treatments where pedestrian crossing is not intended, and pedestrian activated signals at multi-lane pedestrian street crossings;
  • Pedestrian street crossings at multi-lane channelized turn lanes at roundabouts and at other signalized intersections, including requirements for pedestrian activated signals
  • Pedestrian signals, including requirements for accessible pedestrian signals and pedestrian pushbuttons;
  • Transit stops and transit shelters for buses and light rail vehicles, including requirements for boarding and alighting areas at sidewalk or street level, boarding platforms, and route signs;
  • Pedestrian at-grade rail crossings;
  • On-street parking that is marked or metered, and passenger loading zones;
  • Pedestrian signs, including requirements for visible characters on signs and alternative requirements or audible sign systems and other technologies;
  • Street furniture for pedestrian use, including drinking fountains, public toilet facilities, tables, counters, and benches; and
  • Ramps, stairways, escalators, handrails, doors, doorways, and gates.

In addition to the U.S. Access Board’s proposed guidelines, the T² Center at the University of Delaware has prepared a technical brief on physical sidewalk requirements under ADA. It provides specific ADA sidewalk accessibility requirements for sidewalk width, ramp widths, sidewalk slopes, ramp slopes, and construction tolerances. It is especially important to keep pedestrian walkways safe when updates or construction projects are taking place on or around pedestrian facilities. The American Traffic Services Association (ATSSA) created a checklist to ensure that all pedestrians, including those with disabilities, can have safe access to pedestrian facilities during the planning, design and construction phases of projects.

Shared Use Paths

In 2013, the Access Board announced that it will supplement its rulemaking on public rights-of-way to include shared-use paths—pedestrian and bicycle facilities designed for recreation and transportation that are physically separated from roadways (many rail-trails are considered shared use paths). The new accessibility guidelines will apply to the design, construction, and alteration of pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way, including shared- use paths.


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