Access for all: Knitting together ADA and Complete Streets

By Mary Ebeling

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA 1990) was enacted to ensure equal participation for people of all abilities. These are evolving standards that provide guidance for making transportation facilities, such as sidewalks and transit, fully accessible, the same facilities that receive attention in Complete Streets (CS) policies and guides. As CS gains greater influence in street design, there is a clear opportunity to develop complementary efforts to address the accessibility of our transportation system, weaving ADA standards into CS policies and implementation that will benefit the entire community.

At the recent Rail-Volution conference in Minneapolis, the interaction between implementing a CS policy and complying with federal ADA regulations was discussed in some detail. As states and municipalities implement CS policies with increasing frequency, communities can use these projects in a way that accelerates compliance with ADA. CS policies seek to provide streets that address the needs of all users of the transportation system, and this should include removal of accessibility barriers as identified by ADA guidance. This is a compatible goal that will make a street truly complete. As America Walks discusses, designing accessible street crossings and sidewalks benefits all users of transportation infrastructure, regardless of a person’s ability.

According to Tony Hull, a respected planner formerly with Toole Design Group and a self-described nonmotorized transportation nerd, “For either initiative to truly succeed, Complete Streets and ADA implementation need to be integrated into all aspects of work in the public right-of way. By explicitly addressing ADA as part of a Complete Streets approach, a community can move towards a more accessible transportation system that better meets the intention of Complete Streets and ADA. Achieving this goal improves livability for everyone, regardless of mode or ability.”

Note: The presentations from Rail-Volution’s session on Complete Streets will be available by October 31. Please check here to access speaker presentations.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.