Published in 2021
Each year, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) invests millions of dollars retrofitting curb ramps to put them in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2019, VDOT’s Traffic Engineering Division (TED) completed an inventory of accessibility barriers, finding that approximately 80%of VDOT’s 80,000 curb ramps were noncompliant. As part of its Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan, VDOT has developed a plan to retrofit these curb ramps. To prioritize ramp improvements, TED uses a functional condition rating system that is based on ramp width, type of detectable warning surface, and material condition. The purpose of this study was to identify—for a curb ramp improvement program—best practices in prioritization, investment, and program management. The scope was limited to curb ramps, with the prioritization of sidewalk improvements generally falling outside that scope.
The study entailed the following seven tasks: (1) reviewing existing state and national standards and guidance, (2) reviewing the literature related to curb ramps and prioritization processes, (3) gathering information from other states and VDOT districts regarding curb ramp prioritization processes, (4) conducting a survey of Virginia agencies and organizations that work with people with vision or mobility impairments and/or older adults, (5) assessing quantitative prioritization approaches, (6) comparing prioritization processes explored in the prior two tasks, and (7) identifying program performance metrics and developing program guidelines.
The study found that VDOT’s current condition-based ramp classification system considers factors different from those of other states’ classification systems. The survey yielded no consensus regarding which elements are most important for prioritizing curb ramp upgrades. Study results did indicate, though, that condition was rarely the sole consideration and that respondents tended to consider connectivity. At the local level, officials commonly used the prioritization criterion of transit. For a statewide program, however, such a criterion may be impractical. Virginia is composed of nine diverse VDOT districts; at the state level, a prioritization process should afford these districts sufficient flexibility to apply engineering judgment as they develop factor weights to best meet the needs of their communities. The curb ramp prioritization process would be enhanced by comprehensive sidewalk and crosswalk data, allowing officials to consider connectivity.
The study recommends that VDOT’s Central Office TED should, with assistance from the Virginia Transportation Research Council, use this report’s guidelines to generate a prioritized set of curb ramps within a curb ramp tracker tool and distribute it to district partners. The study also recommends that TED communicate with district partners and develop training materials to help improve the curb ramp prioritization process. A third recommendation is for TED to monitor technological advancements that might allow for the creation of a statewide inventory of crosswalks to supplement VDOT’s existing sidewalk and curb ramp inventories.
Hannah E. MacKnight, EIT, T. Donna Chen, Ph.D., Shanjiang Zhu, Ph.D.
Last updated: November 9, 2023