Access aisles and parking spaces: What's mandated and what should be

Submit A Comment | View Comments

  Question: Is it required that the access route from the parking lot must be a path or walk in front of the vehicles? Also, what other considerations are needed for the access route from the parking lot?
— Karen, California.

Answer: The access route does not have to be in front of parked vehicles. However, both the 1994/1990 ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG; see Figure 9) and the 502.3 Advisory of the 2010 ADA Standards state that the preferred location for the pedestrian access route is in front of the parked vehicles.

How I wish parking lot designs would keep the accessible pedestrian route in front of the vehicles! People in wheelchairs, children, and little people typically cannot be seen from the rear window. Every time I have to pass behind parked vehicles I say a quick prayer that someone doesn’t suddenly pull out of their space and hit me. With SUVs and trucks, it’s even worse. To demonstrate the dangers, I’ve seen many a news station gather together a group of children behind an SUV — none could be seen from the vehicle’s rear window.


Figure 9 in the 1990/1994 ADAAG regulations shows the access route across the front of the parking spaces.

The pedestrian access route is located in front of the parked vehicle. Photos: Michele Ohmes

Other ADA guidelines and standards for access routes include:

When dealing with narrow sidewalks

The following photo and graphics show examples of narrow sidewalks with parallel curb ramps versus one with a perpendicular curb ramp (i.e., with flared sides). The photo shows how the simple parallel ramp solution flows easily — eliminating the warping problem that comes with flared-sided ramps — for the wheelchair user trying to turn left or right on the sidewalk. The graphics are from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) manuals Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access (Part I and Part II).

Parallel curb ramps with gentle slopes are easy for wheelchair users to navigate.


A curb ramp with flared sides may be difficult for wheelchair users to traverse if it does not have a level landing behind the ramp. This is a major problem that I see often on narrow sidewalks.

On narrow sidewalks, perpendicular curb ramps often do not have enough landing space — a level area of sidewalk at the top of a curb ramp facing the ramp path. Thus, wheelchair users cannot avoid the changing grade or cross slope of the ramp while turning or crossing through (see graphic above). This can cause stability or tipping issues with the wheelchair.

The parallel ramp works for both public sidewalks and for exiting from a facility’s access aisle to narrow sidewalks. Although the FWHA manuals point out that with the parallel curb ramp people are forced to navigate two ramps, if the ramps have a gentle slope the problem becomes minimal versus the warped situation of flared sides with no landing space for the wheelchair user — especially the manual wheelchair user.

Navigating islands in parking areas

Another issue is the presence of islands at parking locations. If the island has a sidewalk with curbs, a wheelchair user cannot take advantage of the shortest route (see image below). The solution: cut-through or curb ramps at islands (see examples in below graphic).

This island has a sidewalk with curbs, which prevents a wheelchair user from using the shortest route from the parking area to the facility/access route.

At left is a cut-through island and at right is a ramped island. Both are ideal solutions to keep islands in parking areas accessible. Source: 2010 ADA Standards, Figure 406.7.

The following are best practices to consider for access from parking locations:

    1. Place the path in front of vehicles versus behind
    2. The continuous path should be on the shortest route possible
    3. Place the entrance curb ramps closest to the actual entrance, instead of down the walkway from the entrance
    4. Where a sidewalk on an island exists from the parking location, be sure to have it ramped or designed with a complete cut-through.

This is just the tip of the process, but I hope it gets you thinking about the importance of putting yourself in the situation as an end-user and then thinking through the design process.



Be the first to add a comment to this post.

Comment on this Post

Post your comment below. If you wish, enter a username and password though they are not required. Please read our Content Guidelines before posting.


Enter the code shown in the image

Username is optional


Enter a password if you want a username


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.