Curb ramp and accessibility element upgrade prioritization

A literature review and analysis of multi-state survey data


  • Hannah MacKnight University of Virginia
  • Peter Ohlms
  • T. Donna Chen



Curb ramps are a universally beneficial element of the built environment, providing improved access for all users. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires compliant ramps to be installed with new construction or when a facility is altered. The large quantity of ramps and other facilities that must be upgraded to achieve full compliance, coupled with limited budgets, often requires states to prioritize ramps for retrofit over time. Users with varying disabilities might prioritize curb ramp improvements differently. This study assessed the state of the practice for prioritizing curb ramp upgrades and retrofits. A background review of national standards and guidance related to curb ramps was conducted. Prioritization processes for similar accessibility elements, including sidewalks and accessible pedestrian signals, were gathered through a literature review. State representatives were contacted through an email survey to identify existing prioritization processes for curb ramps. Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines and Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way provide similar standards and guidelines for accessibility. Three studies found that pedestrians with vision disabilities found domed surfaces most detectable, although users with mobility disabilities experienced negative safety and negotiability impacts with detectable warning surfaces. Compliance with accessibility standards and citizen requests were most commonly used for prioritization at the state level; localities were more likely to consider proximity to pedestrian generators and transit. These findings provide a foundational resource for agencies developing or revising prioritization processes for curb ramp retrofits.


Anderson, R. N. (2018). A Methodology to Prioritize Absent Sidewalk Infrastructure for San Antonio, Texas. The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

Arnold, E. D., & Dougald, L. E. (2003). Guidelines for the Retrofit Installation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals by the Virginia Department of Transportation: Phase I Report (No. VTRC 03-TAR3) (p. 53). Charlottesville, Virginia: Virginia Transportation Research Council.

Bentzen, B. L., Nolin, T. L., Easton, R. D., Desmarais, L., & Mitchell, P. A. (1994). Detectable Warnings: Detectability by Individuals with Visual Impairments, and Safety and Negotiability on Slopes for Persons with Physical Impairments (No. DOT-VNTSC-FTA-94-4) (p. 124). Cambridge, Mass: Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

Blackwell, A. G. (2017). The Curb-Cut Effect. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 15(1), 28–33.

Boyer, D., Walls, D., Dyess, C., Greenwald, J., & Guensler, R. (2018). Sidewalk Prioritization Index: Objective and Transparent Sidewalk Asset Management. Presented at the TRB 16th Tools of The Trade Conference, Kansas City, Missouri.

City of Charlotte Department of Transportation. (2017). Charlotte WALKS Pedestrian Plan (p. 178). Charlotte, North Carolina. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from


City of Falls Church. (2012). Self-Evaluation Update and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan for Public Rights-of-Way (p. 92).

City of Frisco. (2014). City of Frisco ADA Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from


City of San Antonio. (n.d.). Regional Centers. SA-Tomorrow. Retrieved May 20, 2020, from

Frackelton, A. (2013). Pedestrian Transportation Project Prioritization Incorporating App-Collected Sidewalk Data. Georgia Institute of Technology.

Harkey, D. L., Carter, D. L., Barlow, J. M., & Bentzen, B. L. (2007). NCHRP Web-Only Document 117A: Accessible Pedestrian Signals: A Guide to Best Practice. Retrieved May 20, 2020, from


Lee, H. (2011). The Effects of Truncated Dome Detectable Warnings on Travelers Negotiating Curb Ramps in Wheelchairs. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 105(5), 276–286.

MIG, Inc. (2017). City of Redmond ADA Transition Plan (p. 111).

O’Leary, A. A., Lockwood, P. B., Taylor, R. V., & Lavely, J. L. (1995). An Evaluation of Detectable Warning Surfaces for Sidewalk Curb Ramps (No. VTRC 95-R31) (p. 63). Charlottesville, Virginia: Virginia Transportation Research Council.

Rosenberg, D. E., Huang, D. L., Simonovich, S. D., & Belza, B. (2013). Outdoor Built Environment Barriers and Facilitators to Activity among Midlife and Older Adults with Mobility Disabilities. The Gerontologist, 53(2), 268–279.

United States Access Board. (2004). Americans with Disabilities Act and Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from

United States Access Board. (2011). Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from

U.S. Department of Justice. (2010a). 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from


U.S. Department of Justice. (2010b). Americans with Disabilities Act: Title II Regulations. Retrieved May 25, 2020, from


VDOT. (2019). VDOT ADA Transition Plan. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from

Article cover




How to Cite

MacKnight, H., Ohlms, P., & Chen, T. D. (2022). Curb ramp and accessibility element upgrade prioritization: A literature review and analysis of multi-state survey data. Journal of Accessibility and Design for All, 12(1), 134–154.