Next steps toward the adoption of new PROW standards

Mark Macy, P.E.
Assistant Director of Public Works
City of Nashville, Tennessee
Member, APWA UPROW Committee

Background
In 1999, the U.S. Access Board chartered the Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC) to recommend new accessibility guidelines for sidewalks, street crossings, and related pedestrian facilities. PROWAAC comprised 33 members representing disability organizations, public works departments, transportation and traffic engineering groups—including APWA member Mary O'Connor, Scottsdale, AZ and alternate Michele Ohmes, Kansas City, MO—design professionals and civil engineers, government agencies, and standards-setting bodies.

The Committee's Report, "Building a True Community" (http://www.access-board.gov/prowac/commrept/index.htm), was delivered to the 80th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in 2001. In 2002, the Access Board published draft Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) based upon the report and sought public comment on key issues (over 1,400 comments were received; they are posted on the Board's website). A second PROWAG draft was published in November 2005 in response to public comment (http://www.access-board.gov/news/row-draft.htm).

The next step in PROWAG rulemaking is the development of a regulatory assessment, a cost-benefit analysis that the Office of Management and Budget will review prior to giving its approval to the publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The NPRM will seek further public comment on PROWAG provisions.

On July 26, 2006, a meeting was held at U.S. Access Board offices in Washington, D.C. to discuss transportation industry input to the regulatory assessment. Representatives of the American Public Works Association attended, along with ITE, FHWA, TRB, Texas DOT, and Access Board staff and presidential appointees. The draft PROWAG was reformatted into a tabular format to allow comparison between the current ADA standards, industry standards, policy and guidance, and draft provisions. Current practice in cities and towns across the country was also assessed through examples from state and local agencies. From these comparisons, Access Board staff estimated possible cost increases and decreases; participants were asked to consider what data might be available through industry organizations to support or challenge these staff assumptions.

Current standards vs. current practice
Although the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (ADAAG 1991) are acknowledged to set the minimum standards for new rights-of-way construction under the ADA, there was general agreement among the participants that current industry practice doesn't always conform. PROWAG provisions derived from ADAAG and adapted to industry policies and procedures offer both relief (for instance, relaxing running slope limits to allow sidewalks to take the grade of the adjacent roadway) and new requirements (requiring new pedestrian signals to incorporate APS).

An FHWA memorandum (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bikeped/prwaa.htm) dated January 23, 2006 encourages use of the draft where ADAAG, developed originally for buildings and sites, doesn't clearly address rights-of-way issues:

"The Draft Guidelines are not standards until adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The present standards to be followed are the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) standards. However, the Draft Guidelines are the currently recommended best practices, and can be considered the state of the practice that could be followed for areas not fully addressed by the present ADAAG standards. Further, the Draft Guidelines are consistent with the ADA's requirement that all new facilities (and altered facilities to the maximum extent feasible) be designed and constructed to be accessible to and useable by people with disabilities."

So the question at hand is...what is the difference between the current ADA standards and the draft PROWAG? And what are the impacts on current practice?

Overall, the draft PROWAG does not appear to have a substantial impact on public works agencies. While there are new requirements that will add costs to projects, there appear to be just as many cost-saving requirements. The draft guidelines adapt ADAAG to PROW use by filling in application, scoping, and technical gaps in the current standard to promote greater certainty and uniformity. Developed with rights-of-way issues in mind, PROWAG offers a range of solutions not available in ADAAG. Highlights follow:

  • The PROWAG scoping requirements for alterations apply to planned new work within the boundary or limits of a project and do not require any expansion of limits or boundaries to include additional work as required in the current standard (ADAAG 4.1.6[2]). This should result in a savings.

  • For street or highway grade, PROWAG permits sidewalk grade to follow the grade of the associated roadway, instead of a 5% maximum grade for walkways or an 8.3% maximum grade for ramps (ADAAG 4.3.7).

  • A potential new cost is associated with same-side (where feasible) temporary pedestrian routes through or past sidewalk or roadway construction. The new provision, also included in the MUTCD, is intended to discourage the use of opposite-side facilities, since most pedestrian accidents occur while crossing the street, a particular concern for pedestrians who have vision impairments.

  • Expense has been added to the cost of multi-lane pedestrian crossings at roundabouts, as the draft would require a pedestrian-activated signal for each segment of each crosswalk, including splitter islands.

  • Ramps that "chase grade" on sloping sidewalks can be limited to a 15-foot run under PROWAG, a savings.

  • A cost will be added to crosswalks with pedestrian signal indications to incorporate an accessible pedestrian signal which includes audible and vibrotactile indications of the WALK interval. Where a pedestrian pushbutton is provided, it shall be integrated into the accessible pedestrian signal.

  • Some savings are recognized for on-street accessible parking spaces, not all of which must be provided with access aisles.

  • Another savings...detectable warning surfaces need extend only 24 inches minimum in the direction of travel on a curb ramp, landing, or blended transition. Currently, ADAAG 4.7.7 Detectable Warnings requires that the detectable warning extend the full depth of the curb ramp.

Discussion suggested that rural roads remain a concern to industry. Where pedestrian use is anticipated on shoulders, cross slope cannot exceed 2%. While existing shoulders don't have to be rebuilt, newly-established roadway shoulders would have to comply. Concern was expressed that this might be burdensome.

What happens now?
First of all, if you are responsible for infrastructure such as crosswalks, curb ramps, pedestrian signals, and other pedestrian improvements, you need to make sure that new projects meet current requirements to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. The current standard offers a safe harbor. To make sure that issues not addressed in ADAAG don't trip you up, take FHWA's advice to apply PROWAG to fill the gaps.

And you need to stay plugged into the process. The draft PROWAG has been developed in response to industry concerns. Now the Access Board is preparing the regulatory assessment (costs, benefits, impacts) that is required for consideration by the Office of Management and Budget. When that has been completed, the Access Board will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for final public and industry review and comment. The Board's website will track progress; tune in at www.access-board.gov. The Board also publishes several useful technical assistance documents on roundabout accessibility, interfacing APS with traffic controllers, and detectable warnings.

Questions about the guidelines should be directed to Scott Windley of the Board at (202) 272-0025 (voice), (202) 272-0082 (TTY), or windley@access-board.gov.

Mark Macy is a member of APWA's Utilities and Public Right-of-Way (UPROW) Committee and SAFETEA-LU Task Force, and is also a member of the Common Ground Alliance. He can be reached at (615) 862-8764 or mark.macy@nashville.gov.