PROWAG Crosswalk Requirements

PROWAG is a set of technical specifications developed by the U.S. Access Board to help transportation professionals create accessible routes along public streets. It mandates APS anywhere a pedestrian signal is provided, and is widely expected to become an enforceable standard in 2023.


While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enshrines in law equal access to employment, education, transportation, and public space, it offers few details on how to achieve this–especially when it comes to pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks, crosswalks, and push buttons.


To fill this gap, the Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) were developed by the US Access Board in 2002. They provide transportation engineers and planners with a set of official standards that cover “pedestrian access to sidewalks and streets, including crosswalks, curb ramps, street furnishings, pedestrian signals, parking, and other components of public rights-of-way.”




Unlike other standards and guidelines commonly referenced in the industry, PROWAG is explicit about the need for APS. Section 209.1 states, “Where pedestrian signals are provided at pedestrian street crossings, they shall include accessible pedestrian signals and pedestrian pushbuttons complying with sections 4E.08 through 4E.13 of the MUTCD…. Operable parts shall comply with R403.”


This represents a major difference between PROWAG and the MUTCD, which provides standards and guidance on APS, but only “if used,” leaving state and local agencies to decide whether or not to implement them. 


While some–like New York City–have incorporated PROWAG into their policies and design standards, those that have not will soon be forced to do so. The federal government has posted notice that final action will soon be taken to make PROWAG an enforceable standard, and the costs of non-compliance can be high (see the numerous cities that have been sued in recent years over their failure to provide accessible pedestrian infrastructure).


PROWAG requirements


So, what exactly does PROWAG require at pedestrian crossings? We combed through the full text and rounded up the most salient points when it comes to APS.


  • “All pedestrian street crossings must be accessible to pedestrians with disabilities. If pedestrian crossing is prohibited at certain locations, ‘No Pedestrian Crossing’ signs should be provided along with detectable features, such as grass strips, landscaping, planters, chains, fencing, railings, or other barriers.” [R206]
  • “Where pedestrian signals are provided at pedestrian street crossings, they shall include accessible pedestrian signals and pedestrian pushbuttons complying with sections 4E.08 through 4E.13 of the MUTCD. Operable parts shall comply with R403.” [R209.1]
  • “Existing pedestrian signals shall comply with R209.1 when the signal controller and software are altered, or the signal head is replaced.”  [R209.2]


Technical requirements

  • “All pedestrian signal phase timing shall comply with section 4E.06 of the MUTCD (incorporated by reference, see R104.2 and shall be based on a pedestrian clearance time that is calculated using a pedestrian walking speed of 1.1 m/s (3.5 ft/s) or less. [R306.2]
  • “At roundabouts with multi-lane pedestrian street crossings, a pedestrian activated signal complying with R209 shall be provided for each multi-lane segment of each pedestrian street crossing, including the splitter island. Signals shall clearly identify which pedestrian street crossing segment the signal serves.” [R306.3.2]


Protruding objects & operable parts

  • “Where objects are mounted on free-standing posts or pylons and the objects are 685 mm (2.25 ft) minimum and 2030 mm (6.7 ft) maximum above the finish surface, the objects shall overhang pedestrian circulation paths 100 mm (4 in) maximum measured horizontally from the post or pylon base.” [R402.3]
  • “Operable parts shall 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 22 N (5 lbs) maximum.” [R403.4]


Reach ranges

  • “Where a forward reach is unobstructed, the high forward reach shall be 1220 mm (4.0 ft) maximum and the low forward reach shall be 380 mm (1.25 ft) minimum above the finish surface. Forward reach over an obstruction is not permitted.” [R406.2]
  • “Where a clear space allows a parallel approach to an element and the side reach is unobstructed, the high side reach shall be 1220 mm (4.0 ft) maximum and the low side reach shall be 380 mm (1.25 ft) minimum above the finish surface. An obstruction shall be permitted between the clear space and the element where the depth of the obstruction is 255 mm (10 in) maximum.” [R406.3]



  • “Characters and their background shall have a non-glare finish. Characters shall contrast with their background with either light characters on a dark background or dark characters on a light background.” [R410.2]
  • “Characters shall be uppercase or lowercase or a combination of both.” [R410.3]
  • “Characters shall be conventional in form. Characters shall not be italic, oblique, script, highly decorative, or of other unusual forms.” [R410.4]


PROWAG endorsements


Even though PROWAG has not been adopted as a final rule by the federal government, it still represents the most comprehensive best practice guide available–and you don’t have to take it from us. Numerous agencies have endorsed and/or adopted PROWAG, including the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). In 2006, they issued a memorandum that stated:


“The Draft Guidelines are the currently recommended best practices and can be considered the state of the practice that could be followed for areas not fully addressed by the present standards. Further, the Guidelines are consistent with the ADA’s requirement that all new facilities (and altered facilities to the maximum extent feasible) be designed and constructed to be accessible to and useable by people with disabilities.”


The American Public Works Association (APWA) puts a finer point on it, encouraging transportation professionals to use PROWAG instead of the ADA Standards for Accessibility.  “The current standard offers a safe harbor,” they write. “To make sure that issues not addressed in ADAAG don’t trip you up, take FHWA’s advice to apply PROWAG to fill in the gaps.”



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