Is there such a thing as ADA-compliant gravel parking lots and paths?

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Question: Is there a spec for gravel that can be used to make an ADA-accessible route? We have a gravel boat landing that we are trying to upgrade. Or do we need an asphalt or concrete parking pad and path? — Phil, Wisconsin

Answer: Phil, for your situation I am going to say gravel is not acceptable. Although aggregate lime gravel, which becomes fairly solid, seems to work on park trails, the upkeep is endless due to quickly deteriorating conditions.

Below is the actual regulation for the 2010 ADA with the accompanying Advisory note. I have highlighted the section that gives you the answer you need. Gravel does not meet the specifications.

    Surfaces 302.1 General. Floor and ground surfaces shall be stable, firm, and slip resistant.”
    Advisory 302.1 General. A stable surface is one that remains unchanged by contaminants or applied force, so that when the contaminant or force is removed, the surface returns to its original condition. A firm surface resists deformation by either indentations or particles moving on its surface. A slip-resistant surface provides sufficient frictional counterforce to the forces exerted in walking to permit safe ambulation.

I realize that gravel is often used at parks and/or outdoor recreation areas such as local community sports activity complexes. However, this practice presents multiple problems for those with disabilities:

    1. Gravel parking lots do not have marked/protected access aisles. Therefore other vehicles often park too close to the parallel vehicles in the lots.

    2. The person who is transferring from the vehicle to a wheelchair can only hope the wheelchair will stay steady and not slip on the gravel. Those exiting from ramps or lifts also are at a disadvantage since the wheelchair is at a downward angle, forcing the chair to dig into the gravel before it can level out. This can cause the wheels to get stuck in the gravel with a sudden stop, which can potentially throw the person forward and out of the wheelchair.

    3. Re-entering the vehicle poses the same problems in reverse.

    4. Users of crutches, canes, and walkers have difficulties since the gravel is unstable. Crutches and canes can slip, and walker wheels can get stuck. Obviously, these problems can cause a fall and injuries.

    5. By the way, it is also a jarring ride for those using baby strollers. Take a stroller and roll it across a gravel lot. Watch how it bounces around. Then try it in a wheelchair. If didn’t have my neck and back brace on while on these lots, I would end up in serious condition and might even pass out from the jarring affect.

You should also consider the benefit-cost ratio of lawsuits for injuries versus choosing a more expensive paving material up front.

Wood chips are even worse

I must also tell you that I absolutely hate wood chips. I was recently traveling down a wood-chip path with my two grandchildren, and when I tried to turn my wheelchair around to go back it would not make the turn. It took all three of us at least 10 minutes to turn the chair around. I would rather work with the lime aggregate than wood chips any day.

Put yourself in our shoes

When I present my trainings I tell the engineers, architects, and other contractors to test what they are designing while using equipment those of us with disabilities have to use. And if tempted by a quick and, at times, less expensive option that may not comply with ADA standards, I tell them to ask themselves if they’d want their own family members to go through the resulting pain and difficulties of using that option.

Also remember that our children in strollers and the elderly are also exposed to so many difficulties if the wrong design approach is used.

I hope I have helped you with this information.



Comments (4 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 8:51 PM Monday, December 16, 2013

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 8:42 AM Thursday, August 01, 2013

    There are also pervious paving solutions - gap-graded asphalt, pervious concrete, and paver blocks that are pervious - more expensive than gravel or wood chips, but they can provide the ADA accessibilty.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 6:58 PM Wednesday, July 31, 2013

    I understand the need to make sure that surfaces are accessible and safe. However, the environmental impacts of impervious surfaces such as concrete and asphalt should also be considered. I certainly respect and appreciate the limitations of having a disability. However, to pave and/or provide concrete path ways everywhere is not only unrealistic from an initial cost and overall mainatence standpoint (not to mention a stormwater runoff standpoint. To do so would certainly cause more environmental degradation than we could possibly imagine. There needs to be some middle ground. In short, there may be areas where accessibility is limited. Should we turn a blind eye to the environment in order to allow more access to some?

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 5:12 PM Wednesday, July 31, 2013

    Another alternative (cheaper then asphalt pavement) is to apply a double chip seal. We have done this in our parks and it addresses all the issues raised above if the proper grading and compaction have been done prior to applying the double chip seal. City of Bonney Lake, WA.

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About the Blogger

Michele Ohmes

thumbnail image Michele S. Ohmes is an Americans with Disabilities Act specialist and wheelchair user who works with public works departments, facility managers, and contractors. Her design manual — ADA and Accessibility: Let's Get Practical — is available on CD-ROM through the American Public Works Association's Web site. Author's note: Michele & Associates does not render legal advice and has no enforcement authority regarding the ADA or other federal disability-rights legislation.