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American Trails Board of Directors submitted the following comments on the "Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines of the Architectural Barriers Act for Outdoor Developed Areas" from the U.S. Access board


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Comments by American Trails on Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines

From the Board of Directors of American Trails


photo of wheelchair

Boardwalk on Rocky Mountain Arsenal

national Wildlife Refuge

December 17, 2009

Dear Members of the Access Board,

The Board of Directors of American Trails (a national nonprofit trails organization working for the benefit of all trail users, including non-motorized, motorized, and shared-use constituencies) has reviewed the October 19, 2009 Draft Final Accessibility Guidelines of the Architectural Barriers Act for Outdoor Developed Areas (DFAG). 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, we offer the following comments on the portions of these guidelines which directly apply to trails and access routes:

Trail alteration and maintenance is not well defined, some general definition should be given in the Guidelines.

In 1016.1 (Exceptions 1 & 2), 1017.1, 1018.1 and any other location in the DFAG where the term maximum extent feasible is used; the DFAG states that when a condition or exception is used, the portion of the trail not included in them should comply with the technical provisions to the maximum extent feasible. This is a change from the earlier proposed rule making which used the term fundamentally alter instead of maximum extent feasible.

We could only find one location in the DFAG where maximum extent feasible is defined:   “…that portion of the trail can depart from the technical provision for running slope to the extent necessary to address the condition.” That definition is unclear and subjective. We realize that this term is used to be consistent with existing accessibility laws and to provide trail builders with the ability to apply their professional opinion. We are comfortable with either term we just suggest that there is an objective, reasonable, and useable definition in the guidelines.

In 1017.1, Exception 1, it states, "The entity shall document the basis for the determination, and shall maintain the documentation with the records for the construction or alteration project." We recommend that a simple form with questions that agencies can complete by referencing their agency specific analysis is all that is recommended. If such a form is used, some reference to this form should be in the DFAG although the actual form could be developed at a later time.
In reference to Exception 2, we recommend that F201.4.1 regarding Federal agencies notifying the Access Board when an entire trail is exempted based on Exception 2 in 1017.1 or an entire beach access route is exempted based on Exception 2 in 1018.1 be excluded from the DFAG. It is our understanding that the Access Board wishes to use this reporting requirement to gather information for future improvements to the guidelines. Instead of a reporting requirement, another recommendation is that, if this is the case, the Access Board could do an annual survey of Federal agencies to determine when decisions were made to not make a trail accessible and why.

In 1019.2, condition for departure #4 that is the basis for using the exceptions to the requirements in Chapter 10 has changed from the NPRM wording: “Compliance would require construction methods or materials that are prohibited by Federal, State, or local regulations or statutes…Compliance would cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics.” The new conditions for departure in the DFAG now list specific laws. This implies to some trail managers that an analysis will be required by the board in addition to any analysis required by the referenced laws. This could become an added burden of very specific reporting. We recommend that the wording in the DFAG assures trail managers that an additional analysis and reporting process will not be required by the Access Board.

The two exceptions described in section 1017.1 of the DFAG have been changed dramatically from the 2007 Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM). Several of our board members have been teaching accessibility using the 2007 NPRM and find that the new proposed definitions for Exceptions 1 & 2 are less clear than the 2007 NPRM exceptions. We recommend that the four general exceptions in the NPRM 303.2 replace the general exceptions in 1017 with the following modification:

Cross slope for drainage of 1:33. The maximum allowable cross slope on unpaved surfaces is held at 1:33 for all facilities except for recreation trails (which are allowed 1:20). This regulation is completely inappropriate. The access barriers that are created when water runs along the path surface (rather than quickly off to the side) or that sits on the surface until it is absorbed are far greater than the barriers resulting from cross slopes of 1:10 or less. Slopes of 1:20 are permitted for any length, so clearly they are slopes that people can easily manage for a long time. Although cross slope is perpendicular, the energy demands are the same (actually research on the Access Board website indicates energy demands are ½ for cross slope relative to a comparable grade).

To provide the best accessible surface, water should be able to drain quickly off of the surface that the user will be standing/wheeling on. Depending on the surface and arrangement of features, providing adequate drainage may require a cross slope that exceeds the running slope (or vice versa). While you can drain hard surfaces with 1:50 or 1:33, a natural soil surface will typically require at least 1:20, sometimes more, to prevent the water from being absorbed and saturating the surface material (making it extremely soft rather than firm and stable). As soon as the surface also has a running slope, a restriction to 1:33 would be completely useless. Furthermore, all of the published research investigating cross slope accessibility have found that cross slopes of up to 1:10 for short distances pose no accessibility barriers whatsoever (contrary to the ardent beliefs of many individuals).

Restricting slopes to 1:33 will create tremendous accessibility barriers from water absorbing into unpaved surfaces. All of the slope requirements (except for the paved/boardwalk surfaces specified separately) should allow slopes (running or cross slope) of up to 1:10, but specify that the slope should be as minimal as possible and for the shortest distance necessary in order to provide the drainage required to maintain a firm and stable surface.

Following are our issues with the two exceptions in 1017.1 of the DFAG:

As mentioned in #2 above, maximum extent feasible is a vague, unclear term and should be better defined in the DFAG or use and define the term fundamentally alter.

The four conditions for departure in the general exceptions section for trails that is used in the NPRM provide points of reference for trail managers and users that are clear and concise. By removing these points of reference, it is likely that trail managers will not choose to make a new or modified trail accessible. By using the General Exceptions from the NPRM 303.2, managers would likely make major portions of a new or reconstructed trail accessible. This would provide more fully accessible trails in this country than would be provided using the DFAG general exceptions in 1017.1. It is possible, though, that the DFAG would result in providing more accessible trails for persons with disability that are able to travel trails that are not fully accessible. We feel that the trade off here should be to have slightly more guidance (as provided in the NPRM) so the opportunity for more fully accessible trails is increased.

DFAG General Exception #2 allows land managers to simply choose that a trail “…is impracticable for an entire trail to comply with 1017.” And upon that decision not make a trail accessible. Our board has discussed this exception with land managers and found that some land managers are uncomfortable with making a call as to whether or not a trail should be made accessible without specific points of references as existed in the NPRM 303.2 to guide them. Without guidance, land managers are placed in the position of making a subjective call on whether or not a trail should be made accessible knowing that the decision would be subject to Access Board review and possible blocking of agency funds if the Board feels the decision is incorrect. This is an unfair and unproductive position to place land managers in and could result in fewer accessible trails being provided.

Using the NPRM general exceptions (as described in b. above) would likely make trail managers’ decisions more defensible. From discussions with those involved in preparing the final guidelines, we understand that their intent is to have a consultation process for agencies when they determine that a trail will not be made accessible because of “…a condition in 1019 does not permit full compliance with a specific requirement to the maximum extent feasible” (1017.1, Exception 1). Some reference to a consultation process should be mentioned in the DFAG. This would assure trail managers that they could consult with the Access Board in order to check their decisions and to make defensible decisions. Also, the quote in 1017.1 above is a little confusing and could use some re-wording to make it clearer.

20% of facilities required to be accessible. The document states correctly that the US Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife already require 100% of features to be accessible (although not all have to be on an ORAR). We recommend that this standard should be 100% of features (e.g., picnic tables) for all federal agencies, with 20% also on an accessible route. For agencies to be able to not install 100% accessible designs this could limit participation of people with disabilities. People with and without disabilities can use the accessible design features equally well, so there is no disadvantage to going to 100% (there is no discernible cost difference if volume is increased to a comparable level).

Removable beach access routes. Removable beach access routes should not be exempt from the slope and rest area requirements (1018.1 Exception 3). This could become an “easy out” for any beach owner to use a removable format so they don’t have to worry about complying. It also suggests that the standards for slope and rest areas on fixed beach routes are not required or defensible if a removal beach route can be considered “accessible” without those features.
Handrails/edge protection on elevated dune crossings. The need for handrails or edge protection on elevated dune crossings is no different than the need for handrails or edge protection on a boardwalk or other types of elevated trail. Whether or not handrails or edge protection is required is a decision based on safety criteria, not accessibility. That is, a person with a disability is no more likely to fall off the boardwalk than any other user. Provision 1018.1 should be removed and the need for handrails or edge protection should be determined by applicable safety laws or agency policy.

Federal grant funded projects subject to Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). American Trails believes that new construction funded with federal grants should also have to comply with the current standard. It is hard to imagine why the draft guidelines should only apply to a select sub-group of projects that are currently required to comply with the ABA. If these guidelines are to replace or supplement the ABA accessibility requirements, then all features and facilities required to comply with the ABA should have to comply with these new guidelines.

Suggestions to Provide Greater Clarity:
The initial description of changes to the scoping provisions specifies “at least 20% of outdoor constructed features provided…” must comply with the provisions. The wording in the preamble is not clear, and could be interpreted to mean only 1 among 5 different types of features. The actual provision in the standard specifies 20% of each type of feature. It would be helpful to have similar wording in the preamble as well.
The preamble explanation of when a trail or trail segment is required to comply with the DFAG indicates that the trail must connect to a compliant trailhead before the trail must comply with the DFAG. F247.1 of the DFAG states that a trail must comply with 247 where the trail is directly connected to either a trailhead or another trail compliant with 1017 of the DFAG. The preamble should be revised to indicate clearly that any connection to a trailhead (accessible or not) requires the trail segment to comply.

Positive Comments – Things to Keep:
Providing separate specifications for paved and boardwalk surfaces (e.g., 1016.5) is excellent. These surfaces can easily be built to a much higher level of access and should be required to do so.
The requirement for signage (F247.4.1) specifying grade, etc. on newly constructed or altered trails is excellent. However, trails that comply with the standard are probably the ones that would least need such signage since the on-trail conditions will be quite standardized (at least within the allowable range). Similar signage should also be recommended for segments that do not comply or for trails connecting to the same trailhead or to the accessible trail that does not comply so that people will know how the conditions will differ.
Gates on trails (1017.1). It is great to specify something in relation to the gates, but it would be helpful to have information in this document about what the requirements refer to. It would also be helpful to indicate how conflicts for trail barriers should be resolved. There is also good guidance on how to design accessible gates/barriers for trails available from the Forest Service. A note to guide the reader to the USFS technical assistance materials would be very helpful.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to comment on the DFAG. We realize that the Board has spent many hours and resources in getting to this point, and we appreciate your effort. You have a difficult job to do and have come a long way towards developing guidelines for accessibility for the outdoor environment. We commend you for the work you have done to date and American Trails feels that you are very close to providing excellent accessibility guidelines for trail managers. If you have any questions regarding our comments, please contact us at (530) 547-2060.

Best regards,

Robert Searns, Chair
American Trails Board of Directors

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