Accessibility considerations for bike lanes

Northeastern Illinois can improve safety for bicyclists while promoting accessibility for all roadway users

Traffic fatalities in our region have increased over the past decade, driving demand for roadway designs that keep all users safe — including people walking, biking, wheeling, scooting, and driving. Bike lanes are an increasingly common approach to improving roadway safety for all users.

Safety improvements for bicyclists should not come at the expense of safety and access for people with disabilities. While our region is committed to improving safety for people walking and biking — such as CMAP’s Safe Travel for All Roadmap (STAR) — communities must design and implement bike lanes that maintain or improve accessibility for people with disabilities, particularly with parking and crosswalks.

Bile land design must include accessible parking and safe crossing

The U.S. Access Board’s updated Public Right of Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) expands the definition of vehicle lanes to include bike lanes. This means that the accessibility requirements related to parking and crosswalks for vehicle lanes also apply to bike lanes.

Parking

Any designated on-street parking must also include accessible parking. Bike lane design must not interfere with the accessible parking spaces’ access aisle — the designated area for people who use wheelchairs or mobility devices to get in or out of their vehicle. Parking spaces that require an individual to unload or maneuver into a vehicle lane are considered inaccessible. Failing to provide accessible on-street public parking is a violation of federal and state nondiscrimination laws. Learn more about accessible parking space requirements under the ADA.

Crosswalks

Bike lanes must include accessible crosswalks just as vehicle lanes do. Clearly marked and accessible crosswalks are especially important in bike lane design because the quiet nature of bike traffic lacks the audible cues people with vision impairments rely on when crossing the road. A clearly marked crosswalk sets expectations for pedestrians and bicyclists alike to anticipate cross-traffic. Elevated crosswalks (at curb level) provided another layer of benefits; the continuous flat surface is ideal for people using wheelchairs and the elevation functions as a speed hump to slow bicyclists and vehicles.

Parking-protected bike lanes can be an obstacle to accessibility

Parking-protected bike lanes position on-street parking between the vehicle travel lane and the bike lane, meaning that street parking spaces are not directly next to the curb. This design poses accessibility challenges for people with disabilities accessing the sidewalk. They may need to walk or roll down a narrow buffer between the parked vehicles and bike lane to reach the crosswalk/sidewalk curb ramp. Alternatively, they may need to cross a busy bike lane and step up onto the curb where no curb ramp exists. The illustration below shows these barriers and potential solutions.

Overhead diagram of a street labeled "Before," with two driving lanes, one parking lane, a narrow access aisle, a bike lane, and a sidewalk. There is a crosswalk on the street, but it ends at the access aisle. There is a curb cut where the crosswalk would meet the sidewalk. There is an accessible parking spot in the parking lane, but it is located far from the crosswalk. The curb across from the parking spot is inaccessible.
Overhead diagram of a street labeled "After,” with two driving lanes, one parking lane, an access aisle, a bike lane, and a sidewalk. There is a crosswalk that goes from one side of the road until the sidewalk, including over the bike lane. There are two accessible parking spots, one on either side of the crosswalk. The spots are buffered by painted access space. The access aisle between the parking lane and bike lane is wider near the accessible spots.

The ADA allows people denied equal access by inaccessible infrastructure — like sidewalks without curb ramps or bike lane bollards in the public right-of-way — to use the legal system to remedy inaccessible infrastructure.

In 2020, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that a portion of the City of Los Angeles’ parking protected bike lanes violated the ADA. The arrangement of on-street parking on the length of street in question required people using wheelchairs to roll in the bike lane to reach the sidewalk, which created a collision risk and was not considered “readily accessible.” To remedy this violation, the court ordered the city to install four ADA-compliant parking spaces along the section of street.

In 2022, individuals and organizations representing people with disabilities sued the District of Columbia over protected bike lanes in street redesign, which created barriers to accessible street parking and crossing for people using wheelchairs or mobility devices. A motion to dismiss was denied in March 2024; the case continues to work its way through the legal system as of April 2024.

The negative attention, litigation costs, and settlement agreements from legal challenges can pose significant burdens on communities. The duration of a remedy timeline is often dictated by the settlement agreement, which may interfere with a community’s ability to independently plan and budget for accessibility improvements. Settlement agreement timelines my also impact budget and planning prioritization more broadly, with the accessibility remedy taking precedence, sometimes for years. Proactive accessibility planning has clear social, logistical, and financial advantages.

Getting started: planning for bike lanes and accessibility

So you’re planning for bike lanes and need to ensure accessibility. Where do you start? Here are some practical tips and resources to help ensure safety and accessibility for all roadway users.

  • Establish a clear road hierarchy that prioritizes pedestrians.
  • Engage with your local disability community, which can provide direct insight into challenges and needs. Check out CMAP’s accessibility compliance resources list to find support throughout the region.
  • Keep in mind that whenever changes are made to the public right-of-way — like sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, and roads — they must comply with PROWAG and the ADA requirement that changes not reduce accessibility.
  • Visit CMAP’s accessibility webpage for materials and captioned recordings from ADA and PROWAG trainings. Sign up for our Accessible communities newsletter to stay in the loop on accessibility news and resources in the region.
  • Refer to official sources:
    • The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide provides specific guidance on accessible parking in chapter 5.
    • The National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Bikeway Design Guide includes a “Designing for All Ages & Abilities” section.
    • The. U.S. Department of Justice resource page on accessible parking spaces includes the number of required accessible spaces and technical specifications.
    • PROWAG was published as the final rule by the U.S. Access Board in 2023. These guidelines address sidewalks and streets, crosswalks, curb ramps, pedestrian signals, on-street parking, and other components of public right-of-way.
    • Markings, signage, and signals for bike lanes must comply with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices; the updated 11th edition was released in 2023.

Take the next step to improve accessibility in your community

CMAP is working with communities in northeastern Illinois to improve accessibility and compliance with the ADA. Learn more about CMAP’s accessibility work, including training materials and captioned workshop recordings on ADA compliance in the public right-of-way.