Accessibility is an important part of trail development, because it is key to ensuring that trails are available to all groups, including the young, elderly and people with disabilities. Because trails are transportation and recreation facilities, accessibility is mandated by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which requires certain design standards for facilities to be in compliance with the law. ADA compliance is important to keep in mind as a trail enters the design and construction phases. Many rail-trails are ADA compliant; for an example, see Ohio's Little Miami Scenic Trail.
New trails and those undergoing rehabilitation must be in compliance with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which determine width, surface, slope and other factors. Federal and federally funded facilities must also be in conformance with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards.
In 2013, the Access Board announced that it will supplement its rulemaking on public rights-of-way to include shared used paths—pedestrian and bicycle facilities designed for recreation and transportation that are physically separated from roadways (many rail-trails are considered shared use paths). The Board proposes to apply forthcoming guidelines to shared use paths to ensure these facilities are accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
Luckily, it’s not difficult for most rail-trails to be ADA compliant, and there are numerous resources to guide trail builders. As part of a presentation in 2007, Alta Planning + Design produced a short slideshow on ADA access for trails and greenways, which offers a helpful introduction to the subject. The Federal Highway Administration has published “Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access” (Part I and Part II), a useful guide to help navigate some of the details of ADA compliance. A good resource for more in-depth assistance is the ADA National Network, a coalition of 10 regional centers offering technical assistance on ADA issues. Finally, be sure to take a look at the “Additional Resources” box to the right for more sources of information.