Detectable warnings at curb ramps are needed in the public right of way

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In November 2010, I wrote about detectable warnings — and why they aren’t included in the 2010 ADA regulations. The answer: upcoming public rights-of-way accessibility guidelines (PROWAG) will cover detectable warnings related to public streets and sidewalks. Published in the Federal Register July 2011, the guidelines were available for public comment until Feb. 2, 2012. If there’s still confusion, read on …

The question about detectable warning requirements is once again becoming rampant. This is because the 2010 ADA guidelines include a detectable warnings requirement only on transit platforms, which is located on page 216:

    “810.5.2 Detectable Warnings. Platform boarding edges not protected by platform screens or guards shall have detectable warnings complying with 705 along the full length of the public use area of the platform.”

Now, to understand the logic of 2010 ADA guidelines not including detectable warnings at curb ramps, I have below the preamble from the 2006 ADA-ABA guidelines (on which the 2010 guidelines are based) that states clearly that the PROWAG (referred to as PROW) will address detectable warnings, and not exclude them in public rights of way:

From 63264 Federal Register/Vol. 71, No. 209/Monday, Oct. 30, 2006/Rules and Regulations (ADA-ABA Guidelines):

    The Department is also adopting language that would continue in effect the current requirements of ADAAG concerning detectable warnings at curb ramps. Detectable warnings in curb ramps have long been required by ADAAG and DOT and DOJ regulatory standards that have long been, and remain, in effect. Currently, the Access Board is working on new public rights-of-way (PROW) guidelines, the current proposed version of which would retain a detectable warnings requirement. Because the Access Board is proposing this requirement in the PROW document, the July 2004 ADAAG did not include a parallel detectable warning requirement. The unintended consequence of the relationship between the Access Board’s timing with respect to the ADAAG and PROW issuances is that, if the Department adopts the new ADAAG, the current detectable warnings requirement for curb ramps would disappear, only to reappear in a few years if the current Access Board PROW proposal is adopted. (If the Access Board deletes or modifies its current proposal concerning detectable warnings in final PROW guidelines, the Department will modify part 37 accordingly.) The Department, along with an overwhelming majority of Access Board members, believes that detectable warnings are a very useful design feature that makes the built environment safer and more accessible for persons with impaired vision. It would be undesirable, as a policy matter to permit the Department’s current detectable warnings requirement to lapse, particularly since the Department has never sought or received comment on the merits of ending this existing requirement. The Department will therefore maintain the status quo with respect to detectable warnings in this rule. Doing so will not add any burdens for regulated parties, or create any new or increased costs for them: regulated parties will just continue complying with precisely the same requirements that have applied to them (with a brief interruption during a 1998–2001 suspension of these requirements) since 1991.

Next, I have an e-mail explaining this issue from Scott Windley of the Access Board. He responded to the following question from a consultant:

“Would you please let me know what accessibility standards apply to public rights of way? The 2010 standards for accessible design by the Department of Justice dated September 2010 does not require detectable warnings for curb ramps. Are detectable warnings required for curb ramps in public rights of way?

Scott’s full response is as follows:

    From: Windley, Scott
    Sent: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 5:16 PM
    Subject: RE: Detectable warning
    FHWA encourages you to use the draft public right-of-way guidelines.

    Here is the rundown on detectable warnings (DW). They were suspended from 1994-2001. During this time the Board had research done and looked at other research regarding effectiveness of different types of detectable warnings. The Board also started updating the building guidelines. That advisory committee decided to leave the detectable warning requirements for curb ramp to the PROW work. After 2001 FHWA issued a memo to the field that said they expected detectable warning to be installed at curb ramps on intersections. When ADAAG was updated in 2004 it did not have a DW requirement at curb ramps and it stated in the preamble that the DW issue would be addressed in PROWAG. When DOT adopted the new ADAAG they added a DW requirement to the curb ramp section to "bridge the gap" between now and when PROWAG is done. When DOJ adopted the new ADAAG they did not add DW to curb ramps; so the curb ramps on new or altered sites (like a walmart parking lot) are not required to have a DW. The new or altered intersection of F and 21st street would be required to have DWs because FHWA states that the PROW draft is to be used. Also, the NPRM will include DW requirements and should be published in July. Transit Platforms have always had and always will have DWs.

To summarize:

  • Detectable warnings on facility grounds are not required. Facilities and their adjoining amenities are covered by the 2010 ADA guidelines.
  • Detectable warnings on public streets and sidewalks are required, as outlined in the new PROWAG, which the Access Board hopes to have final approved and published by the end of 2012. Notice I said hoped.
  • However, remember that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) encourages you to use the existing draft public right-of-way guidelines

I have included a graphic from the PROWAG guidelines that clearly shows the detectable warnings with several different approach curb ramps:

Figure R305.1.4 

I hope this article clarifies the confusion, and sets you on the right road for installing detectable warnings on your public curb ramps, streets, and intersections.


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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.