Question: Spring is almost here! My parks and recreation employees work hard to get trails, playgrounds, and other facilities ready. How should we prioritize efforts to ensure they’re accessible to everyone? – Carol, Indiana
Answer: Just the thought of spring brings a surge of happy thoughts for me. Yes, I do have some suggestions, beginning with a general rule of thumb: Start from the outside and work inward.
1. Is your entrance well signed and accessible for both vehicles and pedestrians?
2. Do parking lots provide accessible, level spaces that are close to amenities? Do they meet surface guidelines as outlined in Section 302 and Chapter 5 of the 2010 ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)? Note that Section 502.4 prohibits extending curb ramps into access aisles (a common mistake).
3. Have you upgraded trails that aren’t hard surfaced to ADAAG Section 302 standards? I repeat them so often, you’ve probably memorized them. But if not:
- 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.
4. Do pathways have barriers intended to keep out motorcycles, four-wheelers, and other recreational vehicles? If so, are they at least 36 inches wide (with one exception, per Figure 403.5.1/Clear Width of Access Route below, of 32 inches when the trail is 24 feet deep)?
5. Are restroom approaches and entrances level? When the door opens, does it infringe on the required interior space? This is just one example of a restroom a wheelchair user can’t use.
6. If you have pathways that lead to picnic tables, outlooks, playgrounds, or other amenities, are they surfaced in some way? In bad weather, grass is not a wheelchair’s friend.
7. Are entrance and exit plantings low enough for drivers to see oncoming traffic and pedestrians?
8. Do medians provide adequate sightlines for drivers? At intersections the pedestrian crosswalk protection barrier and planting height are critical in ensuring visual clarity for both pedestrians and drivers. Remember that most protected pedestrian median barriers are at ground level, not raised to the curbed height of the median, thus increasing the planting obstruction.
9. Do trail sign graphics clearly indicate degree of difficulty? I prefer that signs provide a warning or explanation of trail topography rather than bar wheelchair users outright so people can decide for themselves whether or not to venture forth.
10. Have all pathways and assets (playground equipment, picnic tables, benches, etc.) been inspected and, if necessary, repaired or upgraded? Don’t assume amenities that were accessible last year are still in good condition. Overgrowth is an all-too-common problem I encounter when doing surveys or just trying to enjoy a sidewalk or park trail.
Hopefully, your budget allows you to address all these considerations. Many, though, are less a money matter than a matter of routine inspections, maintenance, and follow-up.
I hope you have a successful spring that brings new hope and joy due to the beautiful trees, flowers, and outdoor activities for all to enjoy! Wishing you the best outcomes as you proceed, and I’m here to answer any of your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.