Hiking Trails, Wheelchairs, Bicycles and the ADA

TheePackRat

Scout
Mar 27, 2014
33
30
Atco
I’d like to start a reasonable discussion about the use of wheelchairs and bicycles on hiking paths/ trails in compliance with the ADA. (Americans with Disabilities Act) A conversation about sharing trails with disabled users, responsible and respectful people. Not a discussion about illegal motorized traffic, reckless bicycle riding or trail sabotage by pedestrians, please.

Many people with disabilities, can overcome them to do some of their favorite activities or get to destinations with the help of a wheelchair, bicycle or other device. I recently saw a motorized wheelchair with tracks that was available for use in the forest. If that’s a possibility then why not non motorized bicycles/ wheelchairs when it’s possible? Especially for people who can’t physically carry a backpack without causing pain or injury.

I’m one of those people. I can’t carry a backpack for 100’ without pain but I can load that same stuff on a bicycle and ride it all day. In fact, the activity is very beneficial to me when I take weight off my back by using the handlebars. It allows me to maintain fitness just as hiking does for others. Cycling has been the number one best thing to strengthen myself around my disability and improve my health. The forest is as beneficial to me as anybody else.

Looking at Wharton Forest for example, all of the longest most scenic trails don’t allow bicycles. The Penn Branch Trail is a great one but it’s the only one unless you’re sharing sand roads with motor vehicles. The number of miles of hiking only trails vs bicycle trails is quite lopsided.

I believe a responsible, respectful trail user should be able to bikepack the Batona trail or ride the scenic trails along the lakes and rivers. I also believe the ADA should back me up on this.
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Boyd

Administrator
Staff member
Site Administrator
Jul 31, 2004
9,526
2,787
Ben's Branch, Stephen Creek
I was on a jury in federal court many years ago and we had to decide whether somebody's rights were violated by an organization failing to make an accomodation for their disability (we determined that they were not). Complex case that really has no bearing here, but the point is that the laws are very complex when it comes to this kind of thing. That particular case had been going through the court system for many years before it got to the federal courts, and in fact the plaintiff had actually died before then (a fact that was not revealed to the jury until after the trial). That trial took a full month and involved some pretty high-powered lawyers.

Found this with a quick Google search, I'm sure there's a lot more on the subject. But it suggests that many requirements (such as width, surface, etc) would have to be met in order to make a trail comply with the ADA. According to this, the ADA and other federal law might not apply to a trail in a state forest. No doubt someone else could argue to the contrary, of course.

I appreciate what you're saying, but think you might have a tough time using the ADA in this context.

"Regarding enforceable standards, trails used for recreational purposes (such as hiking), as opposed to those used for transportation (such as public rights of way and shared use paths), are not specifically addressed by the 2010 DOJ ADA Standards. However, they are addressed by the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards, issued by the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense (see §F247 and §1017). The ABA Standards are based on the Access Board’s Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines, which cover outdoor constructed features, including picnic tables and fire rings, trails, camping, and beach access.

Currently, these standards apply only on Federal lands, not on private lands or state and local lands, and are enforceable only under the Architectural Barriers Act by way of a complaint to the Access Board. "


 
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TheePackRat

Scout
Mar 27, 2014
33
30
Atco
I was on a jury in federal court many years ago and we had to decide whether somebody's rights were violated by an organization failing to make an accomodation for their disability (we determined that they were not). Complex case that really has no bearing here, but the point is that the laws are very complex when it comes to this kind of thing. That particular case had been going through the court system for many years before it got to the federal courts, and in fact the plaintiff had actually died before then (a fact that was not revealed to the jury until after the trial). That trial took a full month and involved some pretty high-powered lawyers.

Found this with a quick Google search, I'm sure there's a lot more on the subject. But it suggests that many requirements (such as width, surface, etc) would have to be met in order to make a trail comply with the ADA. According to this, the ADA and other federal law might not apply to a trail in a state forest. No doubt someone else could argue to the contrary, of course.

I appreciate what you're saying, but think you might have a tough time using the ADA in this context.

"Regarding enforceable standards, trails used for recreational purposes (such as hiking), as opposed to those used for transportation (such as public rights of way and shared use paths), are not specifically addressed by the 2010 DOJ ADA Standards. However, they are addressed by the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standards, issued by the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense (see §F247 and §1017). The ABA Standards are based on the Access Board’s Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines, which cover outdoor constructed features, including picnic tables and fire rings, trails, camping, and beach access.

Currently, these standards apply only on Federal lands, not on private lands or state and local lands, and are enforceable only under the Architectural Barriers Act by way of a complaint to the Access Board. "


Appreciate the thoughtful response. Sanitizing or smoothing out the wilderness for ADA compliance would be out of bounds, I agree there, requiring it in all cases at least.

My point would be if an individual is capable of overcoming their disability with their own device to access a trail; wheelchair, bike, tricycle, cane, walker, walker with wheels, walking stick etc and deciding what works best for them.

Federal vs state lands, wondering if federal funds usage would require the state to adopt federal standards or allowances here. This stuff is so complex, worth hashing out.

Edit to add: Some of my searches brought back instances of hiking trail definition that include both pedestrian and bike usage.
 
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stiltzkin

Explorer
Feb 8, 2022
455
602
Medford
There is already a PPA project to encourage more accessible trails for people with disabilities. They have also catalogued the ones that exist today on a map.

A lot of these trails are ADA compliant, but ADA compliant does not necessarily mean you can ride a bicycle there. The map tells you whether biking is allowed, for at least some of the trails. This effort is currently more oriented around wheelchairs and other mobility devices, I believe.

They are still holding meetings to discuss this project and improvements to it. You may want to check out their Access Nature Forum and bring your specific needs to their attention.
 

RJG

Scout
Nov 19, 2023
40
60
Sea Isle City, NJ
I hike the Batona Trail frequently and would estimate that at least 50% of the time I cross paths with people riding bikes. I also run into people riding motorcycles and occasionally horses. There is no enforcement of the walking path only rule for the Batona Trail, so there is no deterrent to stop people from using banned modes of transportation. Not complaining about the lack of enforcement. Law enforcement resources are limited and they have more important issues to deal with than chasing people off the Batona Trail riding bicycles.

I honestly don’t mind people on bicycles when I’m hiking. Most of the time when somebody is approaching me on a bike, they slow up to gauge my reaction, and I step aside to give them room to pass by. They‘re usually polite and waive and thank me for yielding. Once in a while I will run into a cyclist who aggressively approaches me with a “get out of my way or get run over” posture, but I’m not going to condemn all cyclists in the pines because of a few bad apples.
 

romason

New Member
Apr 4, 2024
1
0
Port Republic
The Batona Trail is designated as Hiking Only in the NJ State Batona Trail Management Plan dated Oct 1997.
Bikers may ride where the trail runs concurrent with a legal road. Single track is for walkers only.
 

RJG

Scout
Nov 19, 2023
40
60
Sea Isle City, NJ
Saw a new sign on the Batona Trail today, about a mile north of Apple Pie Fire Tower. Looks like motorcycles and ATV’s are drawing a little more attention.
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