All Together NowJuly 14, 2010 by: Samuel Scheib
“Always do more than is required of you.” General George S. Patton
Time was, some folks did not get out as much as they may have liked. Sidewalks were obstacle courses, parking lots deserts, and staircases mountains. Getting around could be very difficult for people with disabilities. They got some relief with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which required bathroom stalls to have turn radii that could accommodate wheelchairs, elevators instead of just stairs, curb cuts on sidewalks, and perhaps most famously handicapped parking spaces.
There were requirements for transit as well, namely that vehicles and facilities become accessible. Vehicle ramps and wheelchair straps blossomed. Stations were adjusted and new bus shelters were placed on improved concrete pads. But nearly twenty years after the landmark legislation went into effect there are still questions about what is required at the lowly bus stop level. ADA is the source of some trepidation here: it is a civil rights law and not to be trifled with. Let’s have a look to see what transit agencies are required to do.
ADA has a few things to say about the places where transit vehicles stop. The word “facility” is the trigger; any time a stop is a facility, the full complement of ADA accessibility applies. From 49 CFR Part 37, § 37.3, definitions, a facility is:
all or any portion of buildings, structures, sites, complexes, equipment, roads, walks, passageways, parking lots, or other real or personal property, including the site where the building, property, structure, or equipment is located.
This is a pretty clear definition that still leaves two questions: what is “equipment,” and where do bus stops fit? Shelters, regional transfer centers, and metro stations are certainly “facilities,” but there is no definition of equipment. Does a bench count? Well, benches are specifically listed (at 4.37) in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) and the requirement for a “firm, stable, slip resistant surface” would obligate a property to put a new one on a pad. Let’s call a bench equipment.
Are bus stops (that is, a pole in the dirt) equipment or otherwise covered by ADA? In Part 37, bus stops are not specifically mentioned until appendix D of a 90-page document. Section 37.9, Standards for Transportation Facilities, provides some clarity:
“The final Access Board standard (found at section 10.2.1(1) of appendix A to part 37) has been rewritten slightly to clear up confusion about the perceived necessary construction of a bus stop pad. Section 10.2.1(1) does not require that anyone build a bus stop pad; it does specify what a bus stop pad must look like, if it is constructed. The further clarifying language in § 37.9(c) explains that public entities must exert control over the construction of bus stop pads if they have the ability to do so. The Access Board, as well as DOT, recognizes that most physical improvements related to bus stops are out of the control of the transit provider.” [emphasis added]
This might be a good time to touch on the difference between the ADA legislation and the accessibility guidelines (ADAAG) from the Access Board. ADA is like a cookbook telling you what you can make from an ADA perspective; ADAAG is the recipes. Baking a light rail station? Sure, that is in the cookbook. ADAAG tells us you will need, among other ingredients, a ramp with a slope of no greater than 1:12, at least one ADA compliant entrance, a maximum gap of 3 inches between the platform and a stopped rail car, signs in Braille with raised letters located 48” above the floor from the center of the sign, and—common as salt—a firm, stable, slip-resistant surface. Combine all ingredients, let sit two weeks to dry, add light rail vehicle. Bon appetit.
ADAAG does not tell you to build bus shelters, it tells you what to do if you decide to build one. ADAAG does not insist you place route numbers on bus stop signs, but tells you the sizes they would have to be if you decided to place them. (And you do not have to. Clarification from an FTA letter to the Memphis Area Transit Authority (May 13, 2009): “In fact, while not required by the ADA, including route numbers (that are sufficiently large as described in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines) on the stop signs is helpful to waiting passengers.”) (FTA undersells them here. They are extremely helpful, especially in downtowns where routes on parallel streets are difficult to discern on a map).
This cookbook-recipe relationship is the cause of some confusion. Because ADA has so little to say about bus stops, it has been hard for transit providers to know what they are required to have for accessibility. The long and the short of it is, the Access Board realizes most transit agencies are not public works agencies and cannot be expected to build sidewalks and pads for what could amount to thousands of bus stops. Any influence the transit agency does have, however, should be exerted in that pursuit and of course any improvements (called “alterations” and also covered in the definitions in the legislation) to a stop require complete ADAAG accessibility.
If a transit property is expanding service to areas without sidewalks, that agency can do so by putting a sign in the dirt without building pads or sidewalks. That is, however, a minimum standard. The better a stop is the better it reflects on the transit agency and accessibility benefits everyone including the elderly, parents with strollers, and able-bodied single individuals who would find transit more attractive if the trip did not begin with a wait in the mud. The improvements targeted at the disabled should have been there all along; ADA just got a good thing going.
This story first appeared in the Spring 2010 Amenities issue of Trip Planner Magazine.