University of Pittsburgh Research Finds Segmental Pavements Compatible with Wheelchairs

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The University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Resources Laboratory released a research report on state-of-the-art pavement roughness technology, dubbed PathMeT or Pathway Measurement Technology that evaluates compatibility of pavement surfaces with wheelchair users. Measurement of a range of pavements found that new and maintained segmental pavements can comply with University-developed criteria for wheelchair user comfort.

The University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Resources Laboratory released a research report on state-of-the-art pavement roughness technology that evaluates compatibility of pavement surfaces with wheelchair users. Dubbed PathMeT or Pathway Measurement Technology, the technology uses a laser beam to measure height changes in sidewalk surfaces over a given distance. The device helps resolve the debate between wheelchair users and cities on what constitutes acceptable roughness for sidewalk pavements. Measurement of a range of pavements found that new and maintained segmental pavements can comply with University-developed criteria for wheelchair user comfort.

Funded by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI) Foundation for Education & Research and the Brick Industry Association (BIA), the development of PathMeT represents a step forward in pedestrian pavement roughness technology. The machine adopts the measurement method used for years to evaluate vehicular pavement roughness and formalized in ASTM standards. PathMeT offers a ‘scaling down’ of this technology for measuring pedestrian surfaces traversed by wheelchairs instead of vehicles.

PathMeT indicates acceptable, marginal or unacceptable surfaces for wheelchair users based on the total vertical change of the pavement over a given distance. Pathway roughness acceptance criteria for wheelchair users is based on a separate University study for the U.S. Access Board. Measurements using PathMeT identified some segmental pavement surfaces smoother than a poured concrete surface.

The study demonstrated that wheelchair user comfort relates to the smoothness of the entire measured paver (or other) surface based on a continuous travel distance and height transitions, and not on an individual paver. Therefore, pavers manufactured, installed and maintained in accordance with ICPI or BIA guidelines are appropriate for wheelchair accessible pathways per University’s recommendations in the report.

Specifically, the report recommends that pavement roughness compatible with wheelchair users should not exceed 0.6 in./ft for distances of 100 feet along accessible sidewalk routes. For distances less than 100 feet, the proposed threshold is 1.2 in./ft. As with all pavements, meeting industry construction tolerances and maintaining them through periodic pavement maintenance is critical to compliance with the study’s recommendation. The PathMeT device is being put to use by some municipalities in measuring roughness of sidewalk pavement surfaces to help determine maintenance priorities as part of sidewalk pavement management programs.

A copy of the report is available for download in the attachments section of this release.

About the ICPI Foundation: The ICPI Foundation for Education and Research positions the segmental concrete pavement industry for a stronger and more predictable future. The Foundation's mission is to provide educational and research programs designed to benefit the concrete paver industry and users. It accomplishes this by developing educational resources that optimize manufacturing, construction operations and maintenance, that demonstrate superior value, while encouraging acceptance by the design and construction communities; and, supporting, conducting and disseminating research and technical studies that enhance and improve knowledge.

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Jessica Chase, CAE
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