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DRAFT Accessibility Guidance for Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities, Recreational Trails, and Transportation Enhancement Activities

Draft October 27, 2008 for discussion purposes. This document needs review from the USDOT Disability Law Coordinating Council.

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Current Accessibility Standards

Several Federal laws require public facilities and federally funded projects to ensure access for people who have disabilities. These laws require that new facilities be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, and reference an accessibility standard as a measure of minimum compliance in new construction. The standards include special provisions for alterations and historic facilities. The three most significant Federal laws that affect design, construction, alteration, and operation of pedestrian and bicycle facilities, recreational trails, and transportation enhancement projects are:

Regulations implementing section 504 and the ADA contain requirements that apply to existing program operations and adopt technical standards to guide new construction and alterations. Although specific technical standards have not yet been finalized for public rights-of-way, shared use paths, outdoor recreation access routes, or recreational trails, State and local government agencies and private sector entities nevertheless have statutory responsibilities to provide opportunities for people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) Preamble to the Title III Regulation states: "To the extent that a particular type or element of a facility is not specifically addressed by the standards, the language of this section is the safest guide." See Section 36.401, General Substantive Requirements of the New Construction Provisions. This section explains that new and altered facilities must be "readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities" (phrase used repeatedly in the USDOJ regulation: 28 CFR Part 36).

In addition, each State building code references an accessibility standard, either an adaptation of ADAAG, a unique State-developed code, or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117.1 standard incorporated in the International Building Code (IBC). See

Where a standard does not fully address or is silent on any situation, practitioners should use the most relevant pending standards or best practices. For example:

Pending Standards

ABA and ADA Accessibility Guidelines

The U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) published ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities, in the Federal Register on July 23, 2004, and published technical amendments on August 5, 2005. The USDOJ has given notice of its intent to adopt these guidelines as the standards for new construction under the ADA, which sets design requirements for the construction and alteration of places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and State and local government facilities. See (The U.S. DOT has adopted these guidelines, as noted above.)

The ABA ensures access to facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with Federal funds. On November 8, 2005, the General Services Administration (GSA) adopted these accessibility standards for federally funded facilities (the U.S. DOT is a client agency of GSA). These standards will take effect as the standard agencies adopt the new ADA/ABA Guidelines and other guidelines that are currently under development. The U.S. DOT's Accessibility Regulations are 49 CFR Part 37--Transportation Services for Individuals with Disabilities, amended in the Federal Register, Vol 71, No. 209, Monday, October 30, 2006, Page 63263, and effective November 26, 2006. HTML / PDF.

Until the Access Board's guidelines are adopted as standards by Federal rulemaking agencies, the current standards set the minimum requirements for compliance. Where relevant standards do not exist, agencies must determine what constitutes the required accessible design. Access Board guidelines in development or pending adoption are a good source of guidance.

Guidelines Under Development

The Access Board is developing guidelines of particular importance to FHWA-funded projects:

Program Accessibility

The concept of program accessibility (established in regulations implementing the Rehabilitation Act and extended to State and local governments under title II of the ADA, irrespective of Federal funding), should guide the planning, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of federally funded programs and facilities. Projects using Federal funds must ensure access for people with disabilities to the extent feasible. Program accessibility prohibits discrimination in programs, services, or activities. Program accessibility does not necessarily require excessive retrofitting of existing facilities, if the program can be offered through alternative methods. For example, a public meeting to discuss a Federal-aid project may be moved from an inaccessible location to an accessible location to maintain program access.

Project sponsors must not install barriers or other features that would make it more difficult for people with disabilities to use a facility.

Accessibility and Historic Preservation

Both the current and pending standards include special technical provisions and scoping for historic facilities. See ADAAG 4.1.7 for current standards and Sections 202.5 and F202.5 in the ADA/ABA-AG.

Accessibility Design Criteria for Sidewalks, Street Crossings, and Trails

[Excerpt from Clarification of FHWA's Oversight Role in Accessibility]

Sidewalks and Street Crossings

Where sidewalks are provided, public agencies shall provide pedestrian access features such as continuous, unobstructed sidewalks, and curb cuts with detectable warnings at highway and street crossings. 28 CFR 35.151(c), referencing 28 CFR Part 36, App. A, ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). The FHWA encourages the use of ADAAG standards. If pedestrian signals are provided, they must have a reasonable and consistent plan to be accessible to persons with visual disabilities.

Sidewalks and street crossings generally should use the guidelines the Access Board is proposing for public rights-of-way. The FHWA distributed an information memorandum on November 20, 2001, stating that Designing Sidewalks and Trails, Part II, Best Practices Design Guide can be used to design and construct accessible pedestrian facilities. This report provides information on how to implement the requirements of Title II of the ADA. Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access is the most comprehensive report available for designing sidewalks and street crossings and contains compatible information on providing accessibility with information published by the Access Board in the ADAAG. This report can be found at

When the Access Board completes guidelines for public rights-of-way and they are adopted by the United States Department of Transportation and DOJ as standards under the ADA and Section 504, they will supersede the currently used standards and criteria.

When Federal-aid highway program funds are used for parking facilities, or buildings such as transit facilities, rest areas, information centers, transportation museums, historic preservation projects, or other projects where pedestrians are expected, the project must meet the current applicable accessibility standards, whether or not the project is within the public right-of-way. The ADAAG includes special provisions for building alterations and for historic preservation projects.

Shared Use Paths and Trails

The design standards for shared use paths and trails are specific to the function of the path or trail:

Most trailside and trailhead structural facilities (parking areas, restrooms) must meet the ADAAG standards.
[End excerpt.]

Additional Guidance for Shared Use Paths and Other Trails

Public and private entities that provide shared use paths and other trails must make sure they maintain program accessibility regardless of the funding source for trails. Failure to provide some kind of program of accessible transportation and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities may constitute discrimination. FHWA funding programs for trails and nonmotorized transportation facilities provide opportunities for States to plan, develop, reconstruct, and maintain trails. See Links.

Planners and designers of shared use paths and trails should seek opportunities to incorporate accessible features and elements, and include trail routings that meet accessibility criteria to ensure that there are transportation and recreation opportunities for a variety of users within an overall trails program. For example, although some mountain ridge trails cannot be made accessible, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy has developed several accessible segments to provide program accessibility.

Where trail-related facilities, such as parking, shelters, toilets, drinking fountains, and other features are provided on or along an accessible trail site, they must provide some level of accessibility and be served by an accessible route. Trail planners and designers should accommodate people with disabilities who may access trail facilities by horse, ATV, snowmobile, or by other means.

Other facilities, including transportation connections and trailside and trailhead facilities, also must be constructed, altered, and operated to be accessible to people with disabilities. Transportation and pedestrian links serving or intersecting accessible recreational trails should contain accessible elements, including sidewalks, curb ramps, detectable warnings, and similar features.

Where shared use paths and pedestrian trails cross highways or streets, the crossing must meet the same requirements as street crossings, including the provision of detectable warnings. Where shared use paths and pedestrian trails cross highways on bridges or other structures, the structures and their ramps should meet the Access Board's guidance for pedestrian overpasses and underpasses (see R302.3 - 302.7) and for ramps (see R407).

Note: The U.S. DOT rule for Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance is 49 CFR Part 27. The section for FHWA-funded facilities, 49 CFR 27.75, has not been updated since 1986, and does not incorporate the ADA, ADAAG, or ADA/ABA guidelines. Where Part 27.75 does not conflict with the ADA or guidelines based on the ADA/ABA, Part 27.75 remains in effect. Section 27.75(a)(3) allows pedestrian overpasses and underpasses (for example, over and under highways or railroads) to have gradients no steeper than 10 percent. Therefore, because there are no specific regulations under the ADA/ABA that specify a standard for overpasses, underpasses, or bridges, the FHWA regulation establishes a maximum grade of 10 percent. However, FHWA recommends that structures and their ramps should promote best practices for accessible facilities, and meet the Access Board's guidance for pedestrian overpasses and underpasses ( and for ramps (

Project sponsors must not install barriers or other features that would make it more difficult for people with disabilities to use a trail. For example, waterbars are inaccessible constructed features that must not be used on shared use paths or accessible trails. Grates can be dangerous for any user with narrow wheels or for people who use canes.


Bollards, Gates, and other Barriers

The section on Bollards, Gates, and other Barriers has been moved to a new location. Please see: bollards_access.cfm

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Updated: 11/30/2016
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