Guide

PROWAG Crosswalk Requirements

 The Pedestrian Right-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) are a set of technical guidelines developed by the US Access Board to help transportation professionals create accessible routes along public streets. PROWAG requires that pedestrian signals or warning beacons include accessible push buttons when the signal or beacon is installed or altered.

The front cover of Polara's PROWAG factsheet.

Download the PROWAG factsheet here!

PROWAG was published on August 8 and took effect on September 7, 2023. It will be enforceable once adopted, with or without modifications, by the US Department of Justice and Department of Transportation (USDOJ/DOT).

Background

Although accessibility laws have existed in the U.S. for more than 50 years, PROWAG is the first accessibility standard developed expressly for the pedestrian environment, including crosswalks, signals, and push buttons. It builds upon several federal laws, regulations, and standards, including:

  • The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968: Requires facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with federal funds to be accessible to people with disabilities.
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federally funded programs.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990: Requires access to programs and services, facilities, transportation, employment, and communication, in both the public and private sectors.
  • The ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) of 1991: Detailed design requirements for accessibility in new construction and alterations. Intended for buildings open to the public but later applied in principle to other public facilities, including the public right-of-way.

As explained in PROWAG’s rulemaking history, the absence of technical requirements for pedestrian facilities has meant “state and local governments have been left to determine on their own how to comply with the ADA’s existing mandate to make public pedestrian transportation facilities accessible.”

For more information on the history of U.S accessibility law and regulations, read our article here >>>

PROWAG fills this long-standing gap, providing transportation engineers and planners a new benchmark—and actionable guidance—for making pedestrian facilities accessible and inclusive. 

Want the video version? We talk PROWAG and the new requirements with B. L. Bentzen – watch the recorded webinar here! >>>

PROWAG and pushbuttons

PROWAG spells out accessibility requirements for pedestrian push buttons in R206, R307, R308, R403, and R404.

There is a distinction between push buttons for pedestrian signals (known as accessible pedestrian signals (APS)) and push buttons for pedestrian warning lights (known as audible information devices (AID)).  Note that the term “audible information devices” comes from the MUTCD and is not used in PROWAG. Specific requirements for AID are given in R307.7.

And PROWAG specifies the location and orientation of push buttons relative to the curb ramps, to ensure the buttons are accessible (R307.4-5).

“All new and altered pedestrian signal heads installed at crosswalks must include “accessible pedestrian signals” (APS), which have audible and vibrotactile features indicating the walk interval so that a pedestrian who is blind or has low vision will know when to cross the street. Pedestrian push buttons must be located within a reach range such that a person seated in a wheelchair can reach them.” (United States Access Board, 2023, par. 11)

PROWAG requires all pedestrian push buttons and passive pedestrian detectors at new and altered crossings to meet certain minimum accessibility requirements, paraphrased below:

  • Per R307.1, push button operable parts must meet the standards in R403, which includes the clear space and reach requirements from R404 & 406. Parts that people interact with – i.e. buttons – must “be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist. The force required to activate operable parts shall be 5 pounds (22.2 N) maximum.” (United States Access Board, 2023, R403.4)
  • Pedestrian push buttons must be within a specific area: less than 5 feet from the edge of a curb ramp or the outside edge of the crosswalk farthest from the intersection center; between 1.5 – 10 feet from the edge of the curb; and at least 10 feet from any other pedestrian buttons on the same corner. The face of the button must be parallel with its crosswalk. (R307.4-5)
    An illustration of an accessible pedestrian signal and pole at a crosswalk and curb ramp, with position measurements from PROWAG and the MUTCD.

    Pedestrian push button position requirements from PROWAG, illustrated.

  • Push buttons must have a locator tone – a brief sound, 3/20ths of a second or less, that repeats every second while the button is not playing any other audio, to aid pedestrians with blindness or low vision to find the button. The locator tone should be audible 6-12 feet away from the button or to the building line, automatically adjusting to be 5 dBA louder than the ambient environmental noise level, up to 100 dBA. (R307.8)
  • And push buttons must have a high-visual-contrast tactile arrow aligned with the crosswalk. (R307.9)

These requirements effectively sunset a wide range of traditional crosswalk buttons, requiring either accessible pedestrian signals or audible information devices instead. Both types of buttons must comply with these requirements.

Other push button requirements in PROWAG depend on whether the button is at a crossing with a pedestrian signal head or at a crossing with a pedestrian-activated warning beacon.

PROWAG and APS

PROWAG is explicit about the need for accessible pedestrian signals (APS) at signalized crossings:

“All new and altered pedestrian signal heads installed at crosswalks must include ‘accessible pedestrian signals’ (APS), which have audible and vibrotactile features indicating the walk interval so that a pedestrian who is blind or has low vision will know when to cross the street.” (United States Access Board, 2023, Preamble: I, par. 6)

This represents a departure from the MUTCD, which provides standards and guidance on APS “if used,” but leaves state and local agencies to decide whether to implement them.

The PROWAG preamble notes that this universal requirement was one of the provisions that generated the most public support, and it is one “expected to provide the greatest advance in equity for persons who are blind or have low vision.”

“Over time this requirement will make accessible pedestrian signals ubiquitous throughout the United States, allowing people who are blind or have low vision to undertake independent pedestrian travel to any destination where pedestrian facilities exist.” (United States Access Board, 2023, Preamble: V.B.2, par. 5)

Learn about the iNS – Polara’s PROWAG-compliant accessible pedestrian signal – here >>>

PROWAG’s minimum requirements for accessible pedestrian signals:

In general, PROWAG is consistent with the MUTCD on features APS are required to have. The main difference is the language PROWAG uses, clarifying that these features are mandatory rather than recommended.

  • “Pedestrian push buttons and passive detection devices shall activate the accessible pedestrian signals and, where applicable, the walk interval.” (United States Access Board, 2023, R307.2)
  • Pedestrian push buttons at crossings with pedestrian signal heads must have audible and vibrotactile walk indications. (R307.6, R308)
  • The push button must vibrate during the WALK interval. (R308.5)
  • The audible signal for a single crossing, or where any other APS is at least 10 feet away, should be an 880 Hz percussive tone with multiple frequencies and 8-10 ticks per second. (R308.3.1)
  • When accessible buttons are retrofitted into an intersection and they cannot be spaced at least 10 feet apart, the audible signals must be spoken messages that identify the streets: “Wait to cross Broadway at Main” (during Clearance and DON’T WALK intervals), “Broadway. Walk sign is on to cross Broadway” (during the WALK interval), and “Walk sign is on for all crossings” (at exclusive pedestrian phase/Barne’s Dance intersections). (R308.3.2)
  • The audible WALK signals should automatically adjust to be 5 dBA louder than the ambient environmental noise level, up to 100 dBA. (R308.4)
  • If an accessible pedestrian signal has a pilot light, the phrase “Wait” must play when the button is activated. (R308.3.2.4)
  • When the intersection is in “flash” mode, the push button locator tone should continue to play and the push button message should communicate the signal’s offline status. This special message is not required at signals that are flashing or dark until activated by a pedestrian, such as a pedestrian hybrid beacon. (R307.8.4)
  • And when audible beaconing is used with accessible signals, the locator tone may exceed the 5 dBA limit (R308.4) during the pedestrian clearance interval. The locator tone is played at an increased volume; either from the accessible pedestrian signal at the far end of the crossing, from both ends of the crossing, or from a speaker mounted on the signal head aimed at the center of the crosswalk. (R307.8.3)

PROWAG and AID

PROWAG requires audible information devices (AID) at locations where pedestrian activated warning lights (e.g. RRFBs, circular flashing beacons, or in-roadway crosswalk lights) are installed or altered.

“Audible information devices” is the MUTCD’s term for pedestrian push buttons with high-contrast tactile arrows, locator tones, and audible speech messages that indicate the status of the warning beacon, but do not include vibrotactile features indicating a walk interval. PROWAG refers to both APS and AID as pushbuttons and, confusingly, as accessible signals; but the distinction is present between the functions of an APS at signalized crossing and an AID at a crossing with a warning beacon.

Besides the accessible features required of all pushbuttons, PROWAG requires two additional things of AID:

  • At crossings where pedestrian activated warning lights are activated by a pedestrian push button or passive pedestrian detector, these devices must activate a speech message that indicates the status of the beacon. They must NOT include vibrotactile features indicating a walk interval, as warning devices are not signals and do not stop traffic. (R307.7)
  • The speech message should automatically adjust to be 5 dBA louder than the ambient environmental noise level, up to 100 dBA. (R308.4)

The PROWAG prologue explains,

“An audible or vibrotactile walk indication would falsely convey to a pedestrian who is blind or has low vision that the traffic has been stopped by a traffic control device. Instead, the speech message will state the status of the beacon, such as the beacon is flashing or the beacon has been activated, which is consistent with the visual indications of the device.” (United States Access Board, 2023, Prologue: VI.D.R307.7)

Required AID locations

As noted, AID are required at locations with pedestrian activated warning lights, typically found at midblock crossings, T-intersections, roundabouts, and channelized turn lanes.

Under PROWAG, crosswalks at multilane roundabouts and channelized turn lanes are now required to have additional treatments that alert motorists to the presence of pedestrians, or that slow or stop traffic at those crosswalks. These can be a traffic control signal with a pedestrian signal head, a pedestrian hybrid beacon, a pedestrian actuated rectangular rapid flashing beacon, and/or a raised crossing.

Warrants for change

PROWAG does not include specific actions that trigger the requirement to install APS or AID, stating only that “pedestrian signals are subject to the same alteration requirements as other pedestrian facilities.” Further clarification and specification may be provided by the USDOT and DOJ when they adopt the guidelines, but until then, signals must be upgraded when:

  1. New facilities are constructed
  2. New facilities are added
  3. Existing facilities are altered

PROWAG defines “alteration” as “a change to or an addition of a pedestrian facility in an existing developed public right-of-way that affects or could affect pedestrian access, circulation, or usability” (United States Access Board, 2023, R104.3)

And PROWAG draws a distinction between alteration of existing facilities with their constraints, and new construction on undeveloped land, requiring the former to comply only to the extent physically feasible.

“Taken together, the Board expects full compliance with the requirements for new construction on undeveloped land (i.e., greenfield), while any construction undertaken in an existing developed right-of-way is expected to comply to the maximum extent feasible where existing physical constraints make compliance with applicable requirements technically infeasible.” (United States Access Board, 2023, V.B.1 par 5)

PROWAG is the new accessibility standard

Although PROWAG has yet to be formally adopted by the USDOJ/DOT, it clearly spells out the minimum level of access required by the ADA in the public right of way. Numerous agencies have already adopted and/or endorsed PROWAG, including New York City, which is in the midst of a 10-year project to upgrade 10,000 intersections to APS.

PROWAG took effect September 7, 2023 and will become enforceable once adopted by the USDOJ/DOT. Numerous cities have already been sued over their failure to provide accessible pedestrian infrastructure, and it can be expected that pressure will only intensify now that the courts have a clear standard to reference.

PROWAG gives much-needed specificity and urgency to long-standing problems. Now that we know what to do, now is the time to do it.

 

Want to learn more about PROWAG?

> Watch our “Changes under PROWAG” webinar

> Read the full text of the final rule from the US Access Board

> Read our news post summarizing the changes

> Learn more about Polara’s PROWAG-compliant APS products