July 26, 2019 commemorates the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)!


The ADA is an integral part of the design process for planning, construction, and maintaining communities and their transportation infrastructure. The goal is to create safe and connected sidewalks that can be easily navigated by all pedestrians – young, old, mothers with strollers, people with a disability, visually impaired individuals, and more.


Not everyone has an issue side-stepping a telephone pole that is anchored in the sidewalk without a bumpout. But for those in wheelchairs, a non-ADA compliant sidewalk could mean that you have to alter your entire route just to get where you’re going.


As a Transportation Designer in our Baltimore office, I have evaluated existing conditions on multiple Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) State Highway Administration (SHA) projects and proposed improvements to bring sidewalks, driveways, and sidewalk ramps to ADA compliance, which helps keep everyone safe.


Below are few key requirements that must be met to bring pedestrian facilities to full compliance.

  • Sidewalk Width – The minimum clear width for an ADA-compliant sidewalk without obstruction is five feet to provide adequate space for navigating and passing.
  • Detectable Warning Surface (DWS) – According to the MDOT SHA ADA guidelines, "a detectable warning surface is a standard feature built into the sidewalk or ramp that alerts visually impaired individuals to the presence of a hazard in the line of travel," such as before an approaching street crossing.
  • Slope – Steep slopes encountered when using a sidewalk, found often on sidewalk ramps or intersecting driveways, can be difficult and unsafe to navigate, especially for those using wheel chairs. ADA compliant design reduces steep slopes and provides level landing areas, which can be a challenge for designers when working in naturally hilly areas.
  • Ramp Orientation – When crossing a busy intersection, as a designer, we want to ensure the pedestrian is directed safely to the opposite side.
  • Pedestrian Push Buttons – Pedestrian push buttons at signalized intersections provide auditory and visual cues when passage is safe.