By: Katie Behrens
The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) has delivered a long-awaited milestone for accessibility in the United States. On September 7, 2023, a final rule known as PROWAG (Public Right-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines) was officially put into effect. This rule provides essential guidelines for the accessibility of pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way, impacting sidewalks, crosswalks, shared-use paths, and more. Its implications extend to federal, state, and local government facilities, promising significant improvements in accessibility for people with disabilities.
A Decades-Long Wait Ends
For more than 30 years, state and local governments have been eagerly anticipating these guidelines. The PROWAG rule aims to ensure that pedestrian facilities, such as sidewalks and crosswalks, constructed or altered by government entities, are easily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities. It addresses a significant inequity in the United States where people with disabilities have faced challenges in their daily travels due to the inaccessibility of essential pedestrian infrastructure.
Sachin Pavithran, Executive Director of the Access Board, emphasized the importance of these guidelines, stating, “Equal access to pedestrian facilities is crucial because pedestrian travel is the principal means of independent transportation for many people with disabilities.”
What the PROWAG Rule Encompasses
The PROWAG rule encompasses a wide range of pedestrian facilities and features, setting minimum scoping and technical requirements to ensure accessibility. Some of the highlights include:
- Pedestrian Access Routes: Ensuring sidewalks are accessible, even when the main route is closed for maintenance or construction
- Accessible Pedestrian Signals: Enhancing safety and accessibility at crossings
- Curb Ramps and Blended Transitions: Ensuring smooth transitions between sidewalks and streets
- Detectable Warning Surfaces: Providing tactile cues for individuals with visual impairments
- Crosswalks at Roundabouts: Implementing traffic control signals, pedestrian signal heads, pedestrian hybrid beacons (PHBs), pedestrian-actuated RRFBs, or raised crossings for safer navigation
- On-Street Parking: Making parking spaces accessible to all
- Transit Stops: Ensuring accessibility at public transportation stops
- Shared Use Paths: Creating pathways for bicyclists, pedestrians, and other authorized users
The PROWAG rule applies to alterations and additions to existing pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way, as well as newly constructed facilities covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These guidelines are poised to bring substantial improvements in accessibility, addressing the needs of those who depend on these facilities for their daily mobility.
Mandatory Enforcement and Audible Pedestrian Push Buttons
The guidelines, while now officially in effect, will become mandatory upon adoption for enforcement by various federal agencies. Title II of the ADA mandates enforcement by the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation. Federal rights-of-way will also require compliance under the ABA, including the General Services Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Postal Service. These measures will ensure that facilities built or leased by the Federal government are accessible to people with disabilities.
Notably, the new rule also mandates the use of audible and vibrotactile walk indicators on pedestrian push buttons, eliminating the option for agencies to opt out of installing audible push buttons. This enhancement in tactile feedback will further improve the accessibility and safety of pedestrian crossings.
In conclusion, the PROWAG rule represents a significant leap forward in ensuring equal access to pedestrian facilities in the United States. By providing clear guidelines and mandating their enforcement, it promises a more inclusive and accessible public right-of-way for everyone, irrespective of their abilities. The rule’s meticulous requirements, from accessible pedestrian signals to detectable warning surfaces, embody a collective effort to create a public right-of-way that is universally accessible. The mandatory enforcement by various federal agencies ensures accountability, underlining a commitment to making facilities built or leased by the federal government truly accessible to all. As audible and vibrotactile walk indicators become standard on pedestrian push buttons, the PROWAG rule not only improves accessibility but also prioritizes safety at pedestrian crossings. In essence, this rule marks a significant stride towards a more equitable and accessible future for all pedestrians, reinforcing the principle that every individual, regardless of ability, deserves the right to navigate public spaces with dignity and independence. As these changes continue to take shape, they mark a positive step towards a more equitable and accessible future for all pedestrians.