ADA Accommodation #1: Parking Tips & the Path of Travel*

In the past we had a series called “Access foibles” which featured one image, with an explanation or tip of what was in or out of compliance.

These images did not prove very useful for our readership because you all had to look at each one to find a discussion of what you found relevant.

So I am going to try posting an extended explanation, to make things easier for you.

This article is about ADA compliant parking and the path of travel requirements.  This discussion is NOT meant to be exhaustive.  If it was, I would probably need to write a small novel.

I am going to cover 3 images.


About these ADA Compliance Photos
For the record, none of these images here resulted directly from any ADA compliance study.  These images were photographed by me, on my cell phone in my journeys across Southern California.  The properties depicted do not belong to anyone I know, and are only discussed on here for educational reference as to their ADA compliance.  I am not going to do anything else with these images, nor do I keep track of where each image originates.

If anything, the glaring ADA violations discussed in this image should impress upon you all how ubiquitous ADA violations are, and how easy it is to find a place that isn’t in compliance.

That being said, there are two major considerations for any kind of ADA compliance:

  1. The dimensions of the item in question
  2. How that item is located in relation to the path of travel

The first item is particularly difficult to surmise because it’s dependent on what the different studies and committees have decided is both achievable for businesses and most helpful for those who need those dimensions.  The first item is also the easiest to look up because it’s specifically dimensioned.

The second item is a little harder to do because it’s according to certain principles, such as the pedestrian envelope.  The pedestrian envelope isn’t a specific construction — it’s an amalgamation of the different needs of pedestrians, be they semi-mobile, on wheels, completely ambulatory, or slightly ambulatory.  Much like egress and ingress (that the Fire Marshal would use to determine the requirements for exit and entrances, as well as the number of those portals), the pedestrian envelope must always have a certain number of requirements.  What this article is about is how the pedestrian envelope affects actual parking spaces.


ADA Requirements for the Parking

I don’t intend to discuss too much about the specific parking requirements.  That’s pretty cut and dry, either you meet the measurements or you don’t.  People understand that.  The requirements for parkings for the 2010 ADA has changed a little, but there are exceptions to allow for older CA parking which exceeded the original 1990 ADA parking requirements.  I’ll discuss the parking in a later post but in general parking should have:

  • 60 inches for the non-van access aisle.  Having 60 inches for the van access aisle is required under 2010 ADA but if you have a 96 inch access aisle, you need to have 108 inches of width for the van space.  If your van access aisle is only 60 inches then your van space width needs to be 132 inches.  You measure the spaces from the center of the line to the center of the other lines.  We have worked for places that have been sued because the contractor measured the parking from outside to outside, shaving off 4 inches from the requirements.  This is part of what’s known as “safe harbor” but you can’t rely on the older measurements.  For more details on the concept of the “safe harbor” see:  Department of Justice: ADA Primer for Small Businesses
  • The slope for both the access aisle and the parking space need to be on the same level AND the slopes cannot be greater than 1:48 inches in any direction.  If your parking space slumps, we would recommend that you either consider locating your accessible parking elsewhere, or that you try and level the space.  Van lifts won’t deploy if it detects that the ground is uneven.
  • Signs should be clearly visible to drivers who want to park in the space.
  • The signs should NOT say “handicapped”  (California, Vehicle Code § 22511).  You should replace your sign if it says this, as a lawsuit costs far more than replacing the sign.
  • The van space must be marked as being “van accessible.”
  • Sign heights for CA and the ADA are different, but in general the bottom edge of your sign should be above 80 inches when in the path of travel.  Many business owners seem to think this is funny, asking if they can place the sign at 13 feet above grade.  There is no upper limit, but again the sign needs to be visible to on-coming drivers.

Bewarned: This list is not exhaustive.  Also be aware that laws do change.  This list may become inaccurate.  I’ll try to remember to update it, but if you’re reading this list a year from now, be warned that it may be faulty, especially if the California Code of Regulations Title 24 changes (which is the next known update).


ADA Requirements for Path of Travel

The idea behind the path of travel is to provide a zone of safety around the pedestrian.  This zone, with attending requirements needs to go anywhere the public is allowed to go.  There are still ADA requirements for employee only areas (especially as put in by Title 1) but as a rule of thumb, the path of travel only needs to end up to the employee areas, including the door.  Some general path of travel requirements are:

  • No slopes greater than 5% without handrails.  Slopes greater than 5% require handrails and are considered ramps.
  • Door landings do different in size, but in general, each door landing with its latch-side clearance needs to have a steepness no greater than 1:48 in any direction.
  • Accessible paths of travel need to be pointed out with signage
  • At least one of each type of good or service must be located on the path of travel so that everyone has access to it.  This means that a bar upstairs doesn’t need to be accessible if there is an identical bar on the first floor (AND if all the amenities are the same.  This means that if a private party rents out the upstairs area, there is potential for a lawsuit).
  • The California Building Code requires at least 48 inches of width along external paths of travel with a recommendation of 60 inches.  For existing buildings this can go down to 36 inches for the ADA depending on hardship.
  • Objects which protrude into the pedestrian envelope greater than 4 inches for wall mounted objects (12 inches for post mounted) are considered hazards in the path of travel.  A path of travel should be devoid of these objects.  The area of projection is in general, between 27 and 80 inches above the finished floor.  This means that doorways that are lower than 80 inches are considered hazards.  Common protruding objects include fire extinguishers, signs and counters.
  • The cross-slope for a path of travel cannot be greater than 1:48 inches.
  • Detectable warnings are required under the California Building Code for vehicular hazard areas and transit platforms.  This requirement isn’t included under the ADA 2010 but it is included in the ADAAG 2004 and will probably be reintroduced under the Public Right of Way Access Guide which is supposed to come out soon.
  • No change in vertical level greater than 1/2 inch is allowed.  Changes in level between 1/4 and 1/2 inches should be beveled at a 45 degree slope.

Like the list above for parking, this list is not exhaustive and may change as laws and regulations change.  So be warned if you want to use this to assess your site.  Nonetheless, this gives you some idea of what some of the requirements are.


Discussion of ADA Accommodations

Parking Space Picture #1: Security as Barriers

Even, if you have not read ADA Requirements above, you should understand why this image is here.  From every disabled parking space there should be an access aisle.  This access aisle must connect to the accessible path of travel.  Failure to do so results in what is known as an inaccessible parking space.

How must this parking space connect?  Firstly, individuals with disabilities tend to travel slower than individuals who do not have disabilities.  One could be in a wheelchair, or they could use a walker, or cane, or be legally blind.  Preferably, paths of travel should not cross vehicular traffic.  But when they inevitably do, areas that are shared by driver and pedestrian must be blue striped and hatched like in the photo.  These areas are known as crosswalks.

Crosswalks are an integral part of the accessible path of travel.For this purpose, the blue striping helps alert both drivers and pedestrians that this is an area reserved for those who walk.

Individuals who are legally blind may not be able to see very well.  They may be able to see the blue striping if it contrasts with the pavement but they definitely cannot see other drivers’ faces.  This means that they cannot tell if a driver sees them or not.  Legally blind individuals look like everyone else.  Drivers may assume that such a person sees them and will stop walking.

Blocking this crosswalk with a fence presents a problem, because now the disabled individual doesn’t know where to go.  They may not see the fence until they walk into it.  Many of you might also notice that this fence is movable.  Besides the fact that I took this photo during business hours (the business expects people to enter and exit through a different driveway) and the fence is closed…

There is however, a second problem with this photo.

If you look at the bottom of the fence, there is a guide rail for the wheel.  This guide rail is larger than 1/2 inches and presents a barrier for individuals who shuffle their feet (or their walker) or individuals in a manual wheelchair.  Many of us who are also not disabled have tripped on such barriers.

The second image presents more parking and path of travel issues.


A trash can blocks the accessible aisle.Parking Space Picture #2: Amenities as Barriers

This picture should be  pretty self explanatory.  Here we have an access aisle that is supposed to use the break in the fence as a way of transition onto the general pedestrian path.

But there’s a trash can in the way.  The trash can is not mounted, but it is made of concrete so as to be heavy (so it won’t get stolen).  This means it cannot be moved easily.

Nonetheless, the parking site is small, and this franchisee decided to put the trash can here for the convenience of  their patrons. Whoever decided to put the trash can there doesn’t understand that this presents three problems.

The first issue stems from a reduction in the path of travel.  There isn’t enough space now for the pedestrian to maneuver with their mobility devices around the trash can.  (The access aisle is also rather narrow, being in-compliant, but that’s not easily visible in the photo unless you have experience measuring such a space).  The presence of this barrier prompts the franchisee patron to travel around the back of their vehicle into the drive-thru, presenting a possible opportunity for an accident.  You can imagine the lawsuit which would ensue if that happened!

The second issue stems from a barrier in the access aisle for the van chair lift.  A van chair lift won’t deploy if there’s an object in the way.  Again, the disabled individual is trapped and needs to move their vehicle or park somewhere else.

The third issue is simply that such a trash can would block the passenger side door of anyone trying to exit the vehicle.  Disabled individuals can drive, but sometimes they do not.  Someone who is mobility impaired has enough problems getting in and out of their vehicle.  To ask them to squeeze out of their space presents an added barrier which may be insurmountable.  If such a patron tried to squeeze out of their vehicle, they might fall and hurt themself.  You can imagine the problems here that could result from that situation.

You can bet that this franchisee will probably say Why do we need to comply?  No one who is disabled ever comes in this store! Well, now you know why no one who is disabled goes to their store.  Such potential clients probably saw this trash can and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

And after everything is said and done, why make things harder for your customers to give you money?


a curb ramp dominates the access aisle, making the aisle and curb ramp difficult to use.Parking Space Picture #3: Curb Ramps

The first two images dealt with issues that a building inspector may not realize as in both situations, it’s possible the owner decided to place those barriers there, unwittingly violating the ADA.  This image is a little different because it requires professional assistance to be implemented.

If the pictured construction looks sharp, it’s because this is brand new, as of 2011.  For those of you who know the construction and design process, it’s more than likely that this construction had to be given a thumbs up from the plan check counter.  Even still, this is a clear case where not only the ADA is violated but also the local building ordinance failed to provide guidance and protection to both future patrons and the building owners.

For those of you curious the violated requirements in question are quoted below:

Built-up curb ramps shall be located so they do not project into vehicular traffic lanes. (1127B.5(1))

Besides the common sense understand that access aisles should not connect to a curb without a curb ramp, there’s also a requirement that curb ramps need to be present where there are curbs.  And curbs there are!

Pedestrian ways which are accessible to persons with disabilities shall be provided from each such parking space to related facilities, including curb cuts or ramps as needed. Ramps shall not encroach into any accessible parking space or the adjacent access aisle. (1129B.3(3), my own emphasis.)

Now if this was not enough, there’s also a requirement for the access aisle slope to be less than what a curb ramp needs in order to be functional.  The presence of any curb ramp in the access aisle would violate this requirement.  For your reference, curb ramps are any sloping surface which transverses a curb.  Curb ramps can slope up to a maximum of 8.33%.  8.33% is 1:12 meaning that for each vertical inch, a curb needs to have a horizontal length of one foot.  In California, curbs are steeper than in most other states.  Usually curbs are six inches (or more) high.

Surface slopes of accessible parking spaces and access aisles shall be the minimum possible and shall not exceed one unit vertical in 50 units horizontal (2-percent slope) in any direction. (1129B.3(4))

I didn’t measure these curbs but obviously, 2% < 8.33%.

Now understand that these three violations are just the California Building Code!  The ADA has matching Accessibility Guidelines also similarly violated.  If anything, in order to be compliant, instead of built-up curb ramps that project into the access aisle there should have been curb cuts installed.  A curb cut would have also used less concrete as the head walk could have been lowered to street level.

Insofar as how this affects people with disabilities, a curb ramp in the access aisle presents an uneven surface such that a van chair lift will not deploy.  Wheelchairs that have to be placed on an uneven surface also have a tendency to roll.  Grandma has enough problems walking for short distances, for her to have to deploy the chair and sit on it is hard enough without also having to chase after the chair.

The access aisle closest to the camera may be wide enough for wheelchair deployment.  But to place a curb ramp alongside it in this manner creates a side flare which becomes a potentially insurmountable barrier.  Transitioning onto steep surfaces tips wheelchairs, making it unsafe.  For someone in a wheelchair to use this ramp, they would have to go into the vehicular right of way to enter it.

The large curb ramp also invites delivery trucks to park in front, blocking the disabled spaces.  The ADA also requires that pedestrian curb ramps not be used as loading ramps.

What’s the solution if you are this building owner?  Well, relocating the access parking might be an option, or extending the cross walk so the curb ramp could be utilized.  This really depends on the rest of the site configuration, however.


Well, that’s it for now!


ADA Compliance Takeaway

So you understand, the point of all these articles is to educate you readers about what ADA compliance entails.  Both what to do, how to approach it, how to best comply and what the common pitfalls for complete ADA compliance are.

Education is mostly free.  I have to spent a few hours, maybe a day and a half each week, working on articles, and you have to take time to read it, to shift through the multitude of available information.

Ultimately, though, we make a living doing ADA inspections and ADA consultation.

We  do know the laws and ADA regulations, but we don’t know your facility.

I can write about the most common and glaring problems, but I can’t advise you on your particular site.  Even if you submitted pictures, I can’t measure slope or spot issues you may not know about.  If you find this information helpful, feel free to drop an email or a comment.  Submit a picture too, if you like.  I can email you back with an opinion.  (Money is even more appreciated!)

But seriously, give me some genuine feedback and let me know if this was helpful or if you would like me to cover a specific topic.  If I get enough requests, I’ll take the time to write an article on it.  If you’re interested in having us apply our knowledge to your place of business/place of public accommodation in the form of an ADA consultation, by all means call us at 866 982 3212 or email us at

*Note: The California Building Code may have changed its requirements since the writing of this article.

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