Analysis of Policies Addressing Trail Accessibility Rule on Power-Driven Mobility Devices

Issues addressed by local and state governments on the DOJ rule for use of "Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices" on trails, bike paths, greenways, and pedestrian facilities.

by Stuart Macdonald, Trail Consultant, American Trails

March 15 was the date that Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations dealing with “other power-driven mobility devices (OPDMD)” went into effect. The challenge for trail managers was to respond to a rule that would allow persons with mobility disabilities to drive virtually any vehicle on trails.

The new rule addresses “nondiscrimination on the basis of disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Land managers— whether local, state, or nonprofit— are all affected by the rule.

We have gathered quite a few of the new policies to determine how land managing agencies are responding to the new rule. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of variation. Some of the key issues we found are:

Use of motor vehicles

Since the DOJ does not rule out any vehicle types, policies need to specify which kinds of OPDMD could be operated safely.

  • Internal combustion engines prohibited (Santa Monica Mountains)
  • If powered by an internal combustion engine, the engine shall have a four-stroke cycle, be equipped with an approved spark arrestor muffler, and meet Clean Air standards in effect at the time of its manufacture. Two-stroke cycle engines are not allowed. (Illinois)

Use of electric vehicles

The most common power-driven mobility device allowed by land managers is the class of “Electronic Personal Assistance Mobility Devices” (EPAMD) such as the Segway.

  • OPDMD must be electric powered (Jefferson County)
  • Any electric propulsion device that does not exceed 750 watts or 1-HP in power (West Penn)
  • All-electric mobility devices that can access the trails from the trailheads (Puente Hills)
  • EPAMD (e.g., Segways®), electric-assisted bicycles and the following electric-powered devices: foot scooters, tracked mobility chairs or tricycles that are designed to transport a single individual with a disability as a substitute for walking may be used by a person with a mobility disability on all paved and aggregate surfaced trails (MN)

Speed limits

Most policies specify a maximum speed for accessibility devices:

  • EPAMD must not exceed a speed of 5 miles per hour (Fort Collins)
  • 5 mph when other users are present; 10 mph when other users are not present (Jefferson County)
  • 5 miles per hour (Santa Monica Mountains)
  • Typical walking speed, based on the particular soil type and existing environmental conditions, not to exceed 5 miles per hour (Florida)
  • 10 mph for fuel-driven devices or devices over 36” wide (COSCA)
  • 10 mph for fuel-driven devices or devices over 36” wide; EPAMD 12 mph (Conejo Open Space)
  • 15 miles per hour for electric personal assistive mobility devices
  • 20 mph for all devices operated on the trail (West Penn)

Size and weight limits

Specifying dimensions is one way to determine the kinds of devices, such as ATVs, that would be excluded.

  • OPDMD may be up to 32 inches wide, up to 6 feet long, and weigh up to 150 pounds (Jefferson County)
  • No wider than 36 inches (West Penn)
  • On Single Track Trail, devices not to exceed 26” width and a maximum wheel width of 6”(Orange County)
  • OPDMD “shall not typically exceed” 34” width, 62” length, and 550 pounds in weight (Florida)
  • Combined width of the OPDMD, operator, and additional load does not exceed 45% of the surface width of the circulation path (Illinois)

Trail limitations

Some policies refer to specific measurements or characteristics of the trail.

  • OPDMD may only be operated on trails with grades (slopes) of 12% or less (Jefferson County)
  • List of specific trails where “mobility devices over 36” wide may be used” (Conejo Open Space)
  • Tails designated for hiking, interpretation, horseback-riding, cross-country skiing, biking, and mountain biking are open to individuals with mobility disabilities using wheelchairs, but not open to OPDMDs due to assessment factors (i), (ii), (iv) and (v). OPDMDs pose a legitimate safety threat to other individuals using the trails and they pose a substantial risk to the natural and cultural resources associated with the trails, and by their nature they disturb the intended trail experience. (Illinois)

ATVs, golf carts, or other power-driven mobility devices, except as described above, are not recognized an appropriate devices for park trails, bike paths and greenway trails for the following reasons:

  • The slope of the natural terrain, which may exceed 5%.
  • The congestion of foot traffic on the shared paths of the facility.
  • Manufacturers recommendation for helmet and protective equipment for riders.
  • The unrealistic administrative burden of identifying FDA-approval or speed, weight and safety features of each device upon entry, including any form of assessment of rider abilities; or managing pedestrian traffic throughout the facility for separated movement. (Nashville Metro Parks)

Other restrictions

  • May only be used during regular operating hours on Mondays through Thursdays (no weekends or holidays) (Conejo Open Space)

Permits and permission

DOJ does not address the issue, but some agencies see permits as a way to ensure both safety and legality of vehicle use.

  • For safety purposes, individuals seeking to use fuel-driven mobility devices or mobility devices over 36” must obtain a permit from the COSCA Rangers...• “The permit identifies the individual responsible for the [OPDMD]. It also gathers contact information, describes the stated use, defines time frame for access, confirms the motorized device is for use because of a disability, requires proof of vehicular insurance, and sets guidelines for safety precautions including for fire as it pertains to devices with fuel powered engines” (Puente Hills)
  • Upon arriving at the site, individuals with mobility disabilities using OPDMDs must check in at the site office prior to use of the OPDMD on a trail or roadway to ensure its use is acceptable at that site. (Illinois)

Interim policies

Some agencies have recognized that they may need to modify policies as they gain experience with visitors’ needs as well as the new uses on the trails.

  • “Special access requests will be processed on a case-by-case basis until the time in which an assessment of all public trails managed by the Authority has been conducted in accordance with federal guidelines” (Puente Hills)
  • “While these evaluations are in progress, we invite persons with mobility disabilities to contact us about use of devices that are currently prohibited to other park users (i.e., motorized OPDMDs) but may provide you with better access in a safe manner, considerate of natural resources. ... We are also in communication with state agencies and community park and recreation systems to develop a plan that may be consistently applied throughout the state.“ (Three Rivers Park District)
  • “As technology advances and new devices are developed, public use patterns change, and impacts to natural and cultural resources are reevaluated. OC Parks may modify the type of OPDMD permissible within specific facilities on specific trails as necessary. Please check this site regularly for updates to these guidelines.” (Orange County)
  • County may issue a permit to use an OPDMD in areas prohibited if it determines that a unique situation applies and special conditions can be placed on the use that would make it safe to operate the OPDMD or prevent serious harm to the environment or natural or cultural resources. In these situations, special circumstances permission should be requested 7 days in advance of arrival date (Anoka County)

Attached document published December 2010

About the Author

Stuart Macdonald spent 19 years as Colorado's State Trails Coordinator. He is the editor of American Trails Magazine. During 1998-99, he represented State Trail Administrators on the national committee that proposed regulations for accessible trails. He chaired the National Recreational Trails Committee, which advised the Federal Highway Administration in the first years of the Recreational Trails Program. Stuart grew up in San Diego and his main outdoor interest besides trails is surfing. He has a BA in English from San Francisco State and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from Utah State.

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