Parking and Pedestrian Accessible Routes

To my knowledge, the Fair Housing Act Design Manual was the first accessibility standard or guideline to recognize the use of a vehicle as part of an accessible route on site.  For those properties on a hilly site, this can solve a difficult accessibility issue.

For example, a property proposed for West Virginia might have the on-site office at the bottom of the hill, the laundry room midway up, and an accessible unit at the top, with a driveway linking them.  With the elevation changes on site, it may not be possible to provide a ramped pedestrian accessible route from bottom to top.  With an accessible parking space at either end and the use of a vehicle, the wheelchair user can go from the unit to the parked car, drive to the laundry, park, and go from the car to the laundry room.

And, while this capability can be used to solve issues on a MFH site with considerable grade changes, like most things, it can also be misused.  For example, let’s say a site on flat terrain has a site amenity, a playground, which is located on the entry drive at a good distance from units and other common areas.  Providing a sidewalk from the accessible unit to the playground is possible based on the terrain, but would be lengthy and costly to provide.  By adding an accessible parking space and a short sidewalk from it to the playground, viola!  We now have an accessible route to the playground for less money than a pedestrian accessible route.

Unfortunately, in that case a well intended acknowledgement of a valid accessibility issue – a pedestrian accessible route on a steeply sloped site – was misused to save costs.  The intention was that this would be used only for those sites where slope and terrain were the issue.  Using the accessible parking space as a cost saving solution was not the intention.

To rectify the problem, HUD and DOJ included language in their joint HUD and DOJ press release dated April 13, 2013. The joint statement on “Accessibility (Design and Construction) Requirements for Covered MFH Dwellings Under the Fair Housing Act” was the first official guidance on implementing the FHAA requirements provided in years.   Among other important issues, it said all covered units, public, and common areas must be on a pedestrian accessible route.  This makes HUD’s position on the need for a pedestrian accessible route pretty plain.  This isn’t to say that HUD will never accept a vehicle as part of an accessible route again.  There may still be extreme cases where, due to the site terrain, there is no other solution.  But, now, rather than allowing the vehicle’s use, HUD has indicated their desire for a pedestrian accessible route.

First Published on December 16, 2013