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A field technician checks the width of a sidewalk for compliance with ADA guidelines. Photo: Shawn Devereaux
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GIS was used to manage ADA non-compliance and prioritize construction and maintenance projects. Non-compliance sidewalk locations are displayed as red flags. Source: Andrew Rudin

The challenge: Austin aims to make all of its sidewalks ADA accessible. Collecting and analyzing data on these sidewalks proved to be time-consuming and tedious.

The solution: The city developed a Pedestrian Master Plan to address compliance issues. The plan uses a custom GIS toolset called the Pedestrian Infrastructure Management System that scores sidewalks on ADA compliance, giving the city an efficient way to rank construction or maintenance needs.

The cost: The two-year effort will cost $950,000.

Austin's sidewalks are winning awards. The awards, however, aren't pouring in for their decorative flair or for their concrete mix design, but rather for their compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards.

In 2005, Austin was the largest city to receive an award in the Accessible America competition by the National Organization on Disabilities. “In keeping with the city's continuing efforts to provide a barrier-free community, this state-of-the-art master plan development and its tools further enhance our ability to identify and provide these resources to our community,” says Sondra Creighton, P.E., Austin, Texas, director of public works.

Many cities struggle with identifying and managing pedestrian infrastructure for maintenance and construction. Public works departments now are facing increased pressure to determine cost-effective and efficient methods for compliance with ADA accessibility standards. Failure to properly manage ADA compliance has proven costly to many cities throughout the country due to an increasing amount of litigation.

The Austin public works department decided to take a progressive approach to managing and maintaining its pedestrian infrastructure while providing a mechanism for managing ADA compliance. The city teamed with local consulting firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Inc. (LAN) to develop a phased implementation of a Pedestrian Master Plan. It provides a better methodology for managing existing infrastructure, evaluating ADA compliance, and identifying new project locations while wrapping all these goals into a single prioritization process for identifying high-priority construction and maintenance locations.

The two-phase process, with each phase lasting 12 months, will cost the city $950,000. The project is being funded by bond money allocated for street and sidewalk projects.

Like most cities, Austin's approach to prioritizing project locations had been based on input from neighborhood associations, special interest groups, and business owners, along with anecdotal information from maintenance crews. While somewhat effective, the public works staff recognized that the city would be better served by developing a prioritization process based on objective data about each location's proximity to pedestrian attractors and risks. Austin also needed a process that took into account both the existing condition of the infrastructure and its compliance with ADA accessibility standards.

Working with city staff, the consultant determined that three criteria provide the best approach for prioritizing locations—proximity analysis to pedestrian attractors and risks, existing maintenance condition, and ADA compliance of the existing infrastructure. Once a location is assessed on these three criteria, a cumulative score for that location is determined on weighted values assigned to each factor.