Editor's note: While cities are working to make sidewalks more accessible, many are learning that their curb ramps don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This article, the second in a three-part series, discusses product options. Part three will cover real-world examples.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires curb ramps on streets or roads “wherever there are curbs or barriers to entry from a pedestrian walkway.” This means that all sidewalks—whether they're part of new road construction or a reconstruction—must have curb ramps.
To be considered compliant, curb ramps must include a ramp and a landing at the top—each with specified cross-slopes and running slopes. They must provide a smooth transition onto the sidewalk and crosswalk, and prevent water from ponding in the gutter. In some circumstances, street-level landings are required. Wherever pedestrians must cross a ramp, it must have side flares with specified slopes to prevent people from tripping.
Curb ramps also are required where a sidewalk intersects with the road. These ramps are designed primarily to allow those with mobility impairments safe access to sidewalks and other pedestrian areas. While all new construction must include curb ramps, alteration projects may not require curb ramps to be retrofitted to existing sidewalks.
For instance, if you resurface a street or sidewalk it is considered an “alteration” under the ADA and therefore requires the addition of curb ramps, while simply filling potholes is considered maintenance and doesn't require the installation of new curb ramps.
Whether curb ramps that are not undergoing other alterations at the time are retrofitted to sidewalks is left up to the discretion of city governments. One way to ensure the proper integration of curb ramps throughout a city is to set a series of milestones for curb ramp compliance in the city's transition plan. It also may be appropriate for a city government to establish an ongoing procedure to install curb ramps (see October 2006, page 67, for an example).
Conversely, certain projects do not require curb ramp construction, such as maintenance projects of any kind within the public right of way, including those that replace an insignificant portion of the roadway surface or sidewalks near an intersection that includes existing sidewalks. New roadway construction or an alteration in areas where there are no existing sidewalks or other pedestrian facilities does not require curb ramp construction. A curb cut may be required to make the path accessible if there is an existing unimproved pedestrian path. This applies with or without the presence of curbs.
— Sexton is construction manager with H.R. Gray, Columbus, Ohio.