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Federal Highway Administration

Subject: INFORMATION: Research and Guidance Report: Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part II, Best Practices Design Guide

// Original signed by //
Mary E. Peters
Federal Highway Administrator

CBU Program Managers
SBU Directors
Directors of Field Services
Resource Center Managers
Division Administrators

Date: November 20, 2001

Reply to: HCR-1

I am pleased to transmit the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part II, Best Practices Design Guide. It is the latest in a series of technical guides issued to the field and State DOTs to assist in integrating bicycle and pedestrian projects into the transportation system mainstream, while ensuring the transportation system is inclusive to all users. This report is the second phase of the companion report, Designing Sidewalks and Trails, Part I, Review of Existing Guidelines and Practices, which was transmitted in August 1999. These reports provide information on how to implement the requirements of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)(1990) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973). Part II, Best Practices Design Guide should be used to design and construct accessible pedestrian facilities.

The research for the reports began in 1997. Its aim was to develop tools to help the FHWA, and State and local governments meet their responsibilities under Title II and Section 504, while reducing their vulnerability to complaints and suits filed under the ADA. The information in the Best Practices Design Guide is based on current research and recognized best practices on accessible designs and usable information formats for people with mobility and sensory disabilities. It also incorporates the information in the September 1999, U.S. Access Board report of the Regulatory Negotiation Committee on Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas, with proposed guidelines for designing trails.

Pedestrian travel is a key element to our Nation's transportation system, and almost every trip has a pedestrian component. Routinely providing appropriate facilities for pedestrian travel was called for in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), reinforced by Transportation Equity Act for the 21 Century (TEA-21), and is part of the FHWA and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) policies. Both the Guidance on Bicycle and Pedestrian Provisions of the Federal-aid Program (February 24, 1999) and the report, Design Guidance, Accommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel: A Recommended Approach (February 28, 2000) which was required by Section 1202(b) of TEA-21, express a strong commitment to improving pedestrian conditions. Both call for fair considerations in decisionmaking for pedestrian issues, and define a leadership role for FHWA in working with our partners to make this happen. The 1999 DOT Accessibility Policy Statement states: "We must demonstrate through our own programs and actions that a fully accessible transportation system--pedestrian,rail, transit, highway, water and air--is not only essential, but attainable." I wholeheartedly support this policy. Federal-aid funds are available for construction and alterations of pedestrian systems through almost all major FHWA funding programs.

Headquarters will distribute copies of the report directly to the State DOTs. More copies of the Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access, Part II, Best Practices Design Guide and Part I, Review of Existing Guidelines and Practices may be obtained by faxing a request to the FHWA Report Center at 301-577-1421.

If you have questions on information in these reports, you may contact Barbara McMillen, or Bill Prosser, Contact Christopher Douwes for questions on trail design and funding, A course is being developed on the requirements of the ADA and how to apply best practices to new and altered facilities. The course will be available in early 2002 and more information will follow on the availability.


The U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers and Compliance Board's (U.S. Access Board) Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC) developed recommendations for new ADA design standards for pedestrian rights-of-way. These recommendations were compiled in a report, Building A True Community. The draft of the Best Practices Design Guide, as well as the report, Accessible Rights-of-Way: A Design Guide (1999) was used by the PROWAAC for developing their recommendations. The committee presented these recommendations at the January 2001 Annual Transportation Research Board Meeting. [See also: Revised Draft Guidelines for Accessible Public Rights-of-Way - November 23, 2005]

The FHWA's Designing Sidewalks and Trails, Part II, Best Practices Design Guide is the most comprehensive of all the reports above mentioned, and contains compatible information on providing accessibility.

The U.S. Access Board is responsible for developing minimum standards for accessible design. The accessible design regulations are in the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessible Guidelines (ADAAG). The ADAAG is based on the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117.1-1980 and -1986. It provides specific information on the minimum dimensions and details for new construction and alterations. The ADAAG is an evolving regulation and contains some standards for building sidewalks and curb ramps. But the guidelines do not have all the design standards needed to meet the pedestrian accessibility requirements of the Title II regulation. Still, State and local governments are required to meet their obligations of accessible features regardless of whether ADAAG has developed a standard for those specific pedestrian features. The Best Practices Design Guide is a tool to help responsible entities meet their Title II and 504 requirements.

The ADA provides comprehensive civil rights protection to people with disabilities. Title II of the ADA regulates State and local government services. Title II is based on section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973), and it extends the same antidiscriminatory prohibition for State and local governments. State and local governments "must ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from services, programs(pedestrian facilities such as sidewalks and curb ramps fall under the definition of government programs), and activities because facilities are inaccessible." State and local program activities under Title II must be constructed, altered, and maintained to be accessible. The DOT is a designated implementing agency under Title II with the responsibility of ensuring that people with disabilities are not discriminated against in all State and local government "programs, services, and regulatory activities relating to transportation." The ADA, Title II requirements, and DOT oversight are not tied to the type of funding used.

The U.S. Access Board will be issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in 2002 for minimum pedestrian rights-of-way designs for inclusion into ADAAG, and will use the PROWAAC recommendations as the foundation for the rulemaking. FHWA will collaborate with and assist the Access Board in developing this rulemaking. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.

Updated: 12/9/2016
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