PROWAG is a set of technical guidelines developed by the US Access Board to help transportation professionals create accessible routes along public streets. It mandates audible push buttons anywhere a pedestrian signal or warning device is provided, including at crosswalks at intersections, midblock, and roundabouts.
>>> PROWAG will become effective on September 7, 2023 and will become enforceable once adopted, with or without modifications, by the US Department of Justice and Department of Transportation (USDOJ/DOT).
Although accessibility laws have existed in the U.S. for more than 50 years, the Pedestrian Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) are the first set of rules 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: Contain detailed design requirements for accessibility in new construction and alterations. (Mostly applicable to buildings; few specifics on street accessibility.)
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.”
PROWAG fills this long-standing gap, providing transportation engineers and planners a new benchmark—and actionable guidance—for making pedestrian facilities accessible and inclusive.
PROWAG and APS
Unlike other documents commonly referenced in the industry, PROWAG is explicit about the need for accessible pedestrian signals (APS):
“All new and altered pedestrian signal heads installed at crosswalks must include [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.”
This stands in stark contrast to 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.
The final rule of PROWAG 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.”
Required APS features
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.
All APS must have:
- A method of activation (either a push button that activates accessible features when pressed or a passive detection device that detects pedestrians and activates accessible features automatically).
- A device that provides audible indications of pedestrian signals (either a percussive tone or speech message).
- A push button with a “high visual contrast” tactile arrow that vibrates during the walk phase.
- A locator tone that helps individuals who are blind or have low vision locate the push button.
- Operable parts that comply with the technical requirements for operable parts:
- “Operable parts must be operable with one hand and not require tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist (R403.4). The force required to activate operable parts may not exceed 5 pounds (22.2 N).”
PROWAG and AID
In addition to APS, which PROWAG requires to be installed wherever pedestrian signals are installed or altered (commonly at intersections and crossings equipped with pedestrian hybrid beacons/HAWK systems), it also requires audible information devices (AID) at locations where pedestrian activated warning lights (e.g. RRFBs, circular flashing beacons) are installed or altered.
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.
The final rule 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.”
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:
- New facilities are constructed
- New facilities are added
- Existing facilities are altered
“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.”
PROWAG is the new accessibility standard
Although PROWAG has yet to be formally adopted by the USDOJ/DOT, it represents the most comprehensive best practice guide available. 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.
Agencies not complying with PROWAG will soon be required to: PROWAG takes 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.
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.
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