Following the lead of Curitiba, Brazil in dedicated transit priorities many US Cities have become enamored of the idea for allocating existing right-of-way space to dedicated bus and bike lanes.
The cities are responding to the lobbying pressures of bike-riding constituents and their representative organizations to improve biking safety by creating curbside protected lanes. These physically separated bikeways may very well decrease the frequency and severity of bike/motor vehicle collisions but they also limit access to the sidewalks by taxis, Ubers and Lyfts, and the transit authorities mandatory Complementary Paratransit services for persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In locations where the business community is sufficiently vocal, the non-protected bike lanes are being striped between the curbside larking lane and the rightmost motor vehicle travel lane. In such locations, bike riders continue to be in jeopardy of suddenly opened parked car doors and the need for fixed route transit buses to cross to reach the bus stops at the curb.
The protected bike lanes create shared use limitations for persons with disabilities who arrive and depart an address on the block via Complementary Paratransit services. Whereas the general public has no specific right to be picked up or dropped off nearest their intended destinations, persons with disabilities DO have such a Civil Right as enumerated in CRF Part 49, Sections 27 and 28, and guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act since 1990.
The rise of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service designs are beginning to create similar access limitations for persons with disabilities too. Where the BRT buses are on wholly separated guideways, they may present limitations for bus access for persons with disabilities, but they do not limit to the curb from adjacent travel lanes.
Where the existing right-of-way is being reconfigured to accommodate dedicated bus travel, long stretches of urban street may be unavailable for Complementary Paratransit vehicles to services passengers with disabilities who need to visit the specific block where the BRT lane restricts access.
In a worst-case scenario, as in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, PA, there is already a counter flow dedicated bus lane on the left side of the street and a proposed protected bike lane for the right side. This configuration runs for several blocks through the University of Pittsburgh and would create an "access desert" in one of the most highly visited sections of the city.
While the final design criteria has not officially been adopted, many advocates of persons with disabilities have voiced their concerns and want to shape the implementation in advance of construction. None of the alignments or street profiles address how a Complementary Paratransit vehicle will access the sidewalks.
Minnesota DOT hired a consultant in 2013 to identify bike lane development criteria which included upfront and continual participation of advocates for biking as both Recreation and as Transportation. This planning process is analogous to the one that should be employed in the early development of BRT and other public projects which restrict or eliminate access to the curb by public and private vehicles serving persons with disabilities. While transit use promotes walking as one of the trip legs and a 1/4 to 1/2 mile distance may not be onerous for the general public, persons with disabilities may not be able to traverse even one block from vehicle to door.
The accommodation to persons with disabilities use wheelchairs is the smaller portion of the overall mobility limited population who need to be heard and served. Frail elderly, blind, and other semi-ambulatory people are part of what "accessibility" is designed for.
Some suggestions are to create "Paratransit Stops" at the lead or trailing end of the block to allow Complementary Paratransit vehicles to cross the bike lane demarcations to service scheduled passengers. A similar design parameter would allow the Complementary Paratransit vehicles to travel a single block of the BRT or counter flow bus lane and stop at a curb inset to pickup and drop off their passengers. Specific geometries need to be evaluated for each type of accommodation. Because all of these solutions will involve infrastructure modification as well as policy decisions, this is where consumer input would be most valuable.