The Board of Directors of American Trails (a national trails advocacy organization representing all trail users, including motorized, non-motorized and shared-use constituencies) has reviewed the proposed guidelines of the Architectural Barriers Act for Outdoor Developed Areas. In general, American Trails is fully supportive of these new guidelines, and appreciates the effort and time that has gone into their development. Based on the experience of several of our board constituencies, as well as the Reg Neg representative from American Trails, we offer the following comments on the portions of these guidelines which directly apply to trails and access routes.
American Trails does not believe the other approaches described in the question should be considered. It should be completely unacceptable to make priority decisions that accessibility doesn’t need to be considered in certain situations. The suggestion that new facilities could be built and operated even though those facilities were specifically designated to exclude certain racial groups (for example), would never even be considered, yet the same suggestion is exactly what is offered by the other approaches cited. If people with disabilities are to have the same access to our outdoor developed areas, then those areas need to be developed in a way that provides access to people with disabilities except in the rare circumstances when to do so would require the destruction of or irreparable damage to an important natural resource. To arbitrarily state that some areas are automatically exempt, or that providing only partial access in some areas is acceptable, is contrary to everything in the ADA.
We do not think “practicable” should be added, as the two terms seem mutually exclusive. If something is “reasonable to do” then it is “practicable”. Conversely, something that is “practicable” must require only a reasonable amount of effort. We can easily see situations in the backcountry where trail groups would say it’s not worth their effort (i.e., practicable) to provide a 36" tread width, even though it is easy to do. Again, these allowances only invite discriminatory practices by providing people who make stereotypical, biased judgments about “what people with disabilities will/will not do” with the option of carrying out their misinformed actions to the detriment of the provision of equal opportunities that include people with disabilities.
A symbol (not the ISA) should be created that identifies facilities that comply with the outdoor guidelines. All facilities that fully comply with the guidelines need only be identified by the appropriate symbol. The hiker + ISA combination may be suitable for pedestrian trails, but it would not seem to be appropriate for other outdoor recreation facilities (e.g., water taps, bathrooms). We would prefer either a unique, simple graphic that designates all outdoor facilities (and we don’t have a specific choice in mind – we would leave that to a professional graphic artist) or a standard modification to the existing symbols used for outdoor recreation. For example, a solid dark border completely surrounding the graphic could be used to identify inaccessible facilities (the border would represent a barrier around the facility). Using this system, the hiker symbol would designate a trail that complies with the guidelines. Trails that do not comply would be designated by the hiker symbol within a solid barrier/border. The same system could be used for picnic areas, campgrounds, etc.
The provision of detailed information about the on-trail conditions (e.g., grade, cross slope, surface, width) should be required only for those facilities that do not comply with the standards. Since the FSTAG standard already specifies that this type of information be included, it would seem difficult to substantiate that it is unnecessary or “over kill”. There are plenty of sign options and examples of how this information can be provided in an effective manner. Examples include Craters of the Moon (NPS), Lake Tahoe Interpretive Trail, and others.
Although we realize that a measurable height is required in the legal standard, the question seems fundamentally flawed. No matter what height you choose, the boardwalk need only be constructed 1 inch higher to be exempt. We believe the intention of this exemption was if the boardwalk was constructed in such a way that it was not intended to provide beach access for anyone (e.g., an elevated boardwalk with handrails). Beach access routes are required across the beach where a pedestrian route is constructed to bring people to the edge of the beach (with the assumption that they can then walk across the sand). Does that mean that if such a route is constructed and a 7" drop off is left at the end, then an access route across the sand is not required? Beach access routes should not be required if the pedestrian route is constructed to provide a view of the beach but not access to it (i.e., there are railings that are intended to prevent people from having access to the beach). We think the setting of an arbitrary height is inappropriate.
The width of beach access routes and passing spaces should be consistent with other outdoor recreation access routes. If the cited widths are what is required for the access routes to other facilities, then they should be sufficient for beaches.
Absolutely yes! Facilities that are required to be accessible must be on an outdoor recreation access route. There is no point in having the facility if no one can get to it.
The measurement of surface firmness and stability should conform to the Access Board Technical Bulletin on Accessible Surfacing, which indicates how to check for firmness and stability of surfaces. Values of 0.35 inches of maximum penetration for firmness and 0.55 inches of maximum penetration for stability should be used. (0.35 allows rounding down to 0.3 as noted in the report and 0.55 allows rounding down to 0.5 as noted in the report). Final procedures for standardized testing of surface firmness and stability are currently being developed by ASTM and, once finalized, these should form the basis of the assessment. Trail surfaces should all be firm and stable. However, it must be strongly emphasized that “firm and stable” does not equate to hard, paved, asphalt or concrete. It is very possible and feasible to build trails suitable for equestrian use that retain an accessible (i.e., firm and stable) surface. Moderately firm and/or moderately stable surfaces are not suitable for trails. In our research and programmatic experience, surface firmness and stability is by far and away the most critical variable in determining accessibility. Although disability advocates usually pay much more attention to grade and cross slope, the impact of those factors is relatively negligible (except when slopes exceed 15%) as long as the surface is firm and stable. Moderately firm surfaces should be permitted on tent pads, etc. to facilitate comfortable sleeping and the installation of tent pegs.
In our opinion, any newly constructed facility should be of an accessible design, regardless of what people believe the current trail conditions offer in terms of accessibility. Technology changes, trails get re-routed or upgraded, and accessibility varies greatly by season (i.e., snow pack) in many areas of the country. The USFS accessibility guidelines require 100% scoping. That fact in itself clearly demonstrates that achieving requiring all facilities to be of an accessible design is readily achievable without any extraordinary costs.
Scoping should be 100% for all facilities (e.g., picnic tables, fire rings). If the USFS guidelines (FSORAG) require 100% there appears to be no justification for less than 100% by other agencies as well. The proposed scoping for access routes to the facilities (40% but not less than 2) appears appropriate (and is equivalent to the ORAR scoping in the FSORAG) as requiring all facilities to be connected by an access route would seem prohibitive. Enabling agencies to install facilities of an inaccessible design is also counterproductive to increasing accessibility. As long as inaccessibly-designed facilities are permitted, manufacturers will continue to charge a premium for the “special” accessible designs making accessible facilities much more costly. If all new facilities must be accessible, the production of accessible designs would increase and the resulting costs of new facilities would be similar to the current “standard” designs.
Hardening of trail surfaces should be specified as an example of maintenance under certain conditions. It should not always trigger the provisions for alterations. For example, the installation of a short section of boardwalk over a new seep or opening in the trail should not trigger alteration provisions. This will encourage the improvement of surface along sections of the trail and clarify that such work does not trigger full accessibility requirements on the entire trail. However, any new sections of boardwalk or trail need to be built to accessible standards even though the alteration of the full trail is not triggered.
Exemptions to the provisions for ORARs should be permitted on the basis of the conditions for departure. While a recreation trail can be totally exempt from a provision, this is not the case for ORARs. ORARs have more stringent accessibility guidelines because they are intended to provide a higher level of access. However, the ABA guidelines need to address the possibility of what happens when the ORAR cannot be made to comply. The fact that the ORAR cannot be made to comply should not preclude building the facility.
Conversely, there should be no blanket exception for compliance with the ORAR specifications. The FSORAG/FSTAG do not require ORARs in undeveloped areas (e.g., general forest areas). This type of blanket exemption from accessibility provisions, based solely on the land management designation of an area, cannot be allowed. If facilities are provided in these areas they should be of an accessible design and there should be a path of travel to/between those facilities. While the route should not have to comply with the ORAR standards if access to the area is via another means (e.g., trail, waterway), the path of travel should at least comply with the standards for a recreation trail rather than being completely exempt from any attempt at compliance. Allowing a blanket exemption sanctions a situation where someone with a disability travels by canoe to a designated campsite on a lake which offers an accessible toilet and picnic table/fire ring for protection of the natural resource but there may be no way to get from the picnic table/fire ring to the toilet. Since toilet facilities must be set well back from bodies of water, there must be a route provided to the toilet that could be used by most people with disabilities.
Exemptions to the provisions for beach access routes should be permitted on the basis of the conditions for departure. While a recreation trail can be totally exempt from a provision, this is not the case for beach access routes. ORARs and beach access routes have more stringent accessibility guidelines because they are intended to provide a higher level of access. However, the ABA guidelines need to address the possibility of what happens when the beach access route cannot be made to fully comply. The fact that the beach access route cannot be made to fully comply should not preclude building the facility.
American Trails believes that all signs should include Trail Access Information. The proposed ABA states only that signs shall be posted at the trailhead of newly constructed or altered trails and trail segments that meet the guidelines. It is equally, if not more important, to have signs on trails that do not comply with the guidelines. If a trail fully meets the guidelines it will provide users with a predictable environment in relation to accessibility characteristics (e.g., grade, cross slope, surface, width). However, since very few trails will fully comply with the guidelines (i.e., the number of newly constructed trails will be miniscule relative to the number of existing trails), people with disabilities will continue to be “stuck” with only a few options. All newly constructed trails, whether or not they fully comply with the guidelines, should provide basic information about the accessibility conditions (see technical specs for signs). If a new trail meets a condition for departure, that information should be conveyed to users through signage rather than having no sign or using one sign/symbol only to designate trails that fully comply or comply via conditions for departure. There could be substantial accessibility barriers on trails that meet conditions for departure, and it is essential that information about those conditions be made available to users.
It is specifically noted that changes to the wording of Condition of Departure #2 similar to those incorporated into the FSORAG/FSTAG should not be tolerated.
The wording in the proposed ABA must be retained. Edits (such as those in the FSORAG/FSTAG) that include references to changes in trail classification or category should not be allowed. These edits ultimately enable a land management agency to specify design criteria for certain classes/categories of facilities which would automatically exempt any consideration of access (e.g., the design standard for trail width in rural or backcountry areas are 24" while in urban areas the width is 60"; as a result any attempt to increase the width of the “backcountry” trail to a 36" standard would automatically move it out of the backcountry classification and therefore the need for the width is exempt even if it can be readily achieved without significant impact to the backcountry area). Constructing a trail that complies with ABA provisions may make it possible for that trail to be assigned a different class or be used by different user groups, however the potential for those changes should not be an exemption to compliance. Otherwise people with disabilities will only be able to use highly developed/urban trails because any trail built to comply with ABA would probably meet those criteria. The goal of these provisions is to give all people, including those with disabilities, access to the full range of recreation opportunities. Similarly, conflicts resulting from the lack of accessibility consideration in the development of a forest management plan should not be used as a basis for an exemption from accessibility requirements. Both FSTAG and FSORAG provide a condition for departure if the accessibility requirements would conflict with the existing forest management plan. However, many forest management plans were developed with limited knowledge and expertise related to accessibility. Therefore, it is highly probable that implementing FSTAG and FSORAG will result in conflicts with those management plans.
There are five specific situations which trigger a general exception. During the Reg Neg meetings, these extreme numbers chosen were intended as a starting point for further discussions. They were never intended, necessarily, to be the actual values incorporated into the standard. Unfortunately, no further discussion occurred at the Reg Neg meeting and the numbers that were initially generated to be an extreme illustration have been inappropriately retained in ADAAG. Conditions 2, 3 and 5 are acceptable in their current form. Discussions have arisen because the FSORAG/FSTAG have different values specified for Conditions 1 and 4. It is suggested that Condition 4 be changed to “any trail that is less than 18 inches wide for a length of 40 ft”, as this more accurately represents the trail widths and distances that constitute a significant access barrier for most people who use mobility devices. It is also recommended that Condition 1 be retained in its proposed form (grade and cross slope of 40% or more). The FSORAG/FSTAG alternative (grade + cross slope of 20%) results in a situation where any trail that exceeds the allowable grades/cross slopes (e.g., 11% cross slope plus 10% grade) would automatically be completely exempt from that point forward. This was not the intent of the general exception (they were intended to represent conditions that were very substantially beyond the accessibility guidelines).
1000 feet is exceptionally long for someone to have to back up when it is not possible to pass on-coming trail users. Suggest that the passing space required be reduced to 500 feet. Based on our experience in building trails, it is often very easy to find areas of potential passing space on a well designed and built trail within distances far less than 500 feet.
The specifications for grade and cross slope represent the greatest area of controversy and the greatest potential barrier to accessibility of all of the proposed standards. Many in the disability community focus on grade and cross slope as being the most significant barriers to access (a point that is reinforced through statements in the FSORAG/FSTAG that grade and cross slope are more important than other factors). Research conducted by Beneficial Designs and others (e.g., Texas DOT) has clearly demonstrated that high (i.e., 15% or more) grade and cross slope values can be safely tolerated over short distances as long as the surface is firm and stable. In the built environment, a firm and stable surface is typically assumed (although experience with plush carpets in recent years is forcing people to re-examine this assumption even in the built environment). A firm and stable surface cannot be assumed in outdoor environments, even if it is constructed of concrete or asphalt. The actions of frost, seismic activity, etc. can dramatically alter the slopes of asphalt, concrete, wood plank and bedrock surfaces which are assumed to be firm and stable. All other surfaces are subject to water flow patterns.
In order to maintain accessible trails, natural drainage patterns must be maintained. If they are interrupted, water will accumulate in some areas while other areas dry out. This pattern of altered water flow can result in significant damage to the natural environment (and therefore an exception under condition for departure #2). Altered patterns of water flow virtually always result in more water being directed onto or down the trail surface (which is compacted and therefore lower and offers less resistance). Water flowing down the trail causes erosion (with dramatic changes in slopes and protruding objects). Water ponding on the trail results in soft, muddy surfaces which are a far greater access barrier than slopes of up to 15%. There is no doubt that a 15% slope requires significant effort for some people with disabilities. However, in our experience the effort required for slopes of even 15% requires less energy than negotiating a “soft” or other similarly eroded surface (a moderately firm and stable surface for example is equivalent to a 7% grade).
During the Reg Neg discussions, Kim Beasley presented a chart indicating the amount of cross slope required to drain water off of a surface. The amount of cross slope required increases with the grade (simple physics using vectors of water force). The proposal to allow a maximum of 5% cross slope is untenable and cannot be supported. It will result in one of two outcomes: a) water accumulation on the trail tread that will soften the tread surface, or b) water flowing down the trail tread that will enhance erosion and the appearance of tread obstacles and steep slopes within the trail tread. In either situation, access will be significantly compromised. Research has also demonstrated that 75% of sidewalks have cross slopes of 4-5% or more. Since there is no recognition that the majority of existing sidewalks are not accessible, it is clear that 5% cross slope is highly accessible if the surface is firm and stable. During the Reg Neg meetings, the need to maintain 3% cross slope was justified because “on sidewalks you allow 2% and you get 5%, if we allow 5% we’ll get 10%”. This rationale actually supports the need for higher cross slope allowances. First, it admits that 5% is common and occurs without significantly affecting accessibility. Second, it ignores the reason that sidewalk cross slopes often must exceed 2% (to allow adequate drainage). If 5% is required to drain sidewalks, then higher cross slopes are essential to prevent water from being absorbed into or ponding on natural surfaces.
The regulation for slopes must allow cross slope to exceed grade where it is essential in order to maintain drainage. There is no doubt that allowing significant cross slopes in combination with significant grades will create significant barriers to access. However, in these areas of steep terrain, there really is no other option. Significant changes to the natural drainage patterns will result in widespread, significant damage to the environment. Not only is this a specified condition for departure, people with disabilities strongly conveyed the need to maintain a wide range of environments and experiences during the Reg Neg meetings. If people with disabilities are to have access to the full spectrum of outdoor environments, the ABA standards must ensure that the full spectrum of environments can be maintained in its natural state.
The severe restrictions on cross slope currently proposed will not allow trails to be built in a wide variety of areas because of the damage resulting from alterations to natural drainage patterns. Not only will this deprive people with disabilities of the opportunity to visit those areas, the restrictions unnecessarily result from erroneous perceptions of the difficulty associated with navigating cross slopes. Cross slopes are perceived as difficult because the majority of effort is focused on one side of the body (one arm). However, trail designers can incorporate significant cross slopes in a number of ways that would minimize the perceived difficulty and yet allow the required drainage. For example, a crown in the trail with significant cross slopes to each side would pose no accessibility limitation whatsoever because trail users could position themselves over the centre of the crown so that they have, in effect, no cross slope whatsoever. Cross slopes will also typically vary from side to side, and the magnitude of the cross slope will vary continuously with the slopes on the surrounding terrain.
In conclusion, given that the current 5% maximum cross slope:
The explanation of the need for steps as an alternative to steeply sloped treads should also indicate that, if built appropriate, the steps can be used as transfer steps and may also be preferred by people who use mobility devices (even if they are not ambulatory). Refer to “Ontario’s Best Trails: Guidelines for the Design, Construction, and Maintenance of Sustainable Trails for All Ontarians” for specifics on incorporating transfer step functions into trail stairs.
There is no exception provided for tread width. The same exception provided for outdoor recreation access routes (304.3) should be provided for beach access routes.
These specifications describe the dimensions required for the passing space but not the required slopes. Slopes in a maneuvering space should not exceed 1:33 unless required for drainage when 1:20 would be permitted. It is not appropriate to have a passing space with a 10% or 12% grade (as would be permitted under the guidelines as written).
At a minimum, the information on signs should include the typical and maximum trail grade, typical and maximum cross-slope, typical and minimum clear tread width, surface type, firmness and stability, and obstacles. In addition, the signs should state that the information they provide reflects the condition of the trail when it was constructed. These provisions are required on signs in FSTAG and therefore should be suitable for other agencies. However, the FSTAG applies these conditions only to signs in highly developed areas. Highly to fully developed trails are totally constructed and therefore should fully comply with ABA. Therefore, while providing specific signage on grade, cross slope, etc. on these trails is helpful, it is somewhat redundant since the trail conditions are specified by the existing standards. It is critically important that the signage requirement apply to all types of trails, not only those in highly developed areas. Florida (Office of Trails and Greenways) already requires the provision of detailed trail access information on all newly constructed trail projects that receive RTP funding (i.e., are funded by that office). Therefore, it seems reasonable for the much larger agencies covered by the ABA to achieve a similar standard.
We would like to note that signage containing trail access information is more important for trails that do not comply with accessibility standards than for trails that do comply with accessibility standards. While the use of a single symbol is suitable for trails that fully comply with the guidelines, significant opportunities for accessibility will be lost if no signage is required on trails that do not fully comply. Consider a trail that meets a condition for exception and therefore has a 10-foot section with a 6% cross slope. The symbol cannot be used because the trail does not comply with the guidelines (and does not provide the consistent environment specified by the guidelines). However, unless users can have information on what does not comply, and the degree of deviation from the standard, the trail would be assumed to be “not accessible” when in fact the difference would be negligible for 99.99% of trail users with disabilities. Therefore Trail Access Information must be provided for all trails that do not comply with accessibility standards and is recommended for trails that meet accessibility standards.
There is currently no provision for outdoor recreation environments to be exempted from the no protruding object or provide a warning barrier. The FSORAG incorporate an additional exemption for those specific situations where the protruding object cannot be removed and a barrier cannot be erected. The examples given as justification are a narrow walkway through a cave or through specific types of trees (i.e. the walk through the historic cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC). A similar exception should be incorporated into the ABA. It should be possible to provide warning information in a format accessible to someone with a visual disability if an appropriate warning barrier cannot be provided, and the lack of a total exemption would preclude the construction of facilities in these special areas.
A stipulation should be added to the regulation specifying that, where provided, all gates used at trailheads must be accessible to personal mobility devices. Currently, people with disabilities who use personal mobility devises, such as scooters and wheelchairs, are often prevented from using trails built as accessible because the gates used to prohibit motorized vehicles also prevent the passage of a personal mobility device.
There will be many comments submitted about the difference between Shared Use Paths and Outdoor Recreation Trails and the need to create definitions and separate requirements for each. We would propose that there continue to be only one definition for an Outdoor Recreation Trail, and that it include shared use paths.
However, we would propose that there be a distinction between the standards for paved and unpaved trails. The reason that different standards is recommended is that surface firmness and stability is such a dramatic factor for accessibility, that we can allow for another set of standards only when the surface is paved. It is suggested that for paved trails only, the ABA be harmonized with the ASHTO standards. The reasoning for this is that an unpaved surface that is firm and stable and level will cause a typical user of a mobility device to have to exert the same energy as rolling up a 3% to 4% slope. For the same grades, paved surfaces require much less energy to negotiate.
Therefore, it is recommended that for paved surfaces only, the grade/running slope distances specified in the current AASHTO guidelines be permitted. Paved trails would still need to meet all of the other ABA guidelines. This would also mean that shared use paths without paving would be required to meet the ABA guidelines.
Equestrian Community Comments (these comments would apply to shared use paths allowing pedestrian and equestrian use simultaneously):
There are many forms of disability, as is recognized by the broad scope of the Americans With Disabilities Act. When considering access to trail and natural places, any significant medical condition that impairs a person’s ability to gain such access deserves consideration. While some accommodations are impractical, those accommodations that apply to large numbers of people and are commonly in use and which require a minimum of additional cost or interference with other user’s access – deserve high priority. As pointed out in the proposed rule, when people with physical limitations do have access through some accommodation, rules concerning access must protect such continued access.
While the proposed rule goes into great detail regarding means of augmenting access for people who use wheelchairs, it pays little attention to the much larger numbers of people with limited mobility due to arthritis, heart disease, lung problems, peripheral vascular disease and a wide variety of other medical problems that do not leave them in a wheelchair. The rule also generally ignores the desire of people to reach points of interest miles from a trailhead or otherwise gain access to back country far from locations accessible by automobile.
Many Americans with these various physical impairments who do regularly visit trails and backcountry do so on horseback. The horse is a common and environmentally friendly means of access to trails for physically challenged individuals. In fact, when on a horse, most physically impaired individuals are indistinguishable from others and enjoy the same degree of mobility as their less challenged companions. Yet the proposed rule does not contain the words “horse” or “equine” and mentions equestrians only to point out exceptions to rules and requirements.
The proposed rule should be amended to recognize equines as a vital means of access to trails by physically challenged individuals and should encourage land managers to consider the role of equines when formulating plans to accommodate physically impaired individuals. The importance of preserving existing equine access to cross country and backcountry trails to maintain their accessibility to physically impaired individuals should also be recognized. While no one is suggesting horses be added to trails where their presence would be inappropriate, the vital role of the horse in providing access to trails and backcountry for large numbers of physically impaired Americans is undeniable.
Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Community Comments (these comments would apply to shared use paths allowing pedestrian and motorized use simultaneously):
Off-highway vehicles are also a means of transport for persons with disabilities and provide additional opportunities for them to get into the backcountry. While no one is suggesting OHVs be added to trails where their presence would be inappropriate, the vital role of the OHVs in providing access to trails and backcountry for large numbers of physically impaired Americans is undeniable.