Understanding accessibility guidelines and standards for pedestrian safety infrastructure

3 min. read

ADAAG. PROWAG. MUTCD. It might seem like we’re bashing on our keyboards, but in fact these seemingly random characters represent some of the most important sources when it comes to accessible transportation design.

Not sure what they stand for or what they mean for your traffic safety project? Not to worry. We frequently get questions about what it takes to be accessible and compliant, and today we thought we’d share some of that knowledge here. Let’s get to it.

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a broad civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. It covers everything from employment to communications to government services, and relevant to our purposes, it enshrines in law the right to access public transportation services and facilities for all people.

Generally, the ADA is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ if you want another acronym!), however when it comes to transportation issues, responsibility lies with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

What is the ADAAG?

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (or U.S. Access Board) is the federal agency charged with developing accessibility guidelines that comply with the ADA. It came out with its first set of guidelines—the Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)—in 1991, and updated them most recently in 2004.  It includes things like curb ramps, detectable warnings, and signage (as well as urinals, saunas, and telephones!).

The ADAAG applies to all new and altered facilities in the U.S. and became enforceable standards when they were adopted by the USDOT in 2006. (This means that ADA standards can now be applied to most public and private facilities nationwide, in addition to any applicable state or local codes).

What is PROWAG?

PROWAG—Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines—are the most recent set of recommended best practices relating to public rights-of-way. They recognize that “While [ADAAG] addresses certain features common to public sidewalks, such as curb ramps, further guidance is necessary to address conditions and constraints unique to public rights-of-way.”

Consequently, the latest draft of PROWAG (published in 2011) focuses largely on pedestrian access to sidewalks and streets, including crosswalks, pedestrian signals, street furnishings, and other components of public rights-of-way.

PROWAG is currently “proposed,” meaning that unlike ADAAG, they are not yet enforceable standards (this will happen once they are formally adopted by the USDOT). That said, PROWAG is regarded by many agencies as a recommended best practice for any issue not fully covered by ADAAG, and some states have already begun incorporating these guidelines into their own accessibility standards.

What about the MUTCD?

Both ADAAG and PROWAG reference the Federal Highway Association’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), a document used by transportation professionals to install and maintain traffic control devices on public roadways. According to PROWAG, this is “to ensure consistency and avoid redundancy,” especially when it comes to technical criteria for things like pavement markings, crossing times, and accessible pedestrian signals and pushbuttons. The MUTCD should therefore be consulted in addition to ADAAG/PROWAG prior to undertaking any traffic safety project.

What if I’m in Canada?

Just like in the U.S., Canada has its own public agency that sets out guidelines and standards for transportation accessibility: the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC). Additional guidelines are also provided by individual provinces and municipalities, so it’s important to do your research and understand all the regulations.

Want to see how all these guidelines and standards come together in one beautiful graphic? Don’t miss our brand-new accessibility requirements map, which combines accessibility specifications for all of the components of a midblock crosswalk.

>>>Learn more about crosswalk accessibility 

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