ADA Accessibility and Ordinance History
Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the City of Houston did not require the construction of sidewalks for residential properties. As a result, you can find pockets in the city where neighborhoods are inaccessible for persons with disabilities. There are many neighborhoods, especially those constructed between the 1960s and 1970s that do not have sidewalks.
After 1990, the City established sidewalk requirements, and Houston Public Works has been the authority that ensures compliance. However, the requirements were not codified, and exemptions were regularly granted for a variety of reasons. In 2019, the City Engineer established a sidewalk policy through memorandum that stipulated the circumstances an exemption could be granted. This memorandum formed the basis for sidewalk review until the Walkable Places Transit-Oriented Development ordinance was approved by City Council in the summer of 2020.
The New Sidewalk Regulations
During the Walkable Places and Transit-Oriented Development Ordinance development, the departments of Planning, Houston Public Works and the Mayor’s Offices for People with Disabilities and Economic Development collaborated on drafting new standards. The new requirements state that all applicable new developments must provide a sidewalk in front of the subject property. The regulations stipulate a number of circumstances for which exemptions may be granted. This requirement applies to applicable development along all public streets in the City limit. The sidewalk width will be determined by the adjacent public street classification.
The ordinance establishes eight circumstances to exempt sidewalk requirements along streets that are not desirable or are impractical for new sidewalk construction. The ordinance also gives property owners who apply for the Sidewalk Standard Modification Applications flexibility to address unique scenarios that prevent them from complying with the ordinance requirements. This administrative review process is conducted by the Sidewalk Review Committee, which is composed of representatives from Planning and Development Department, Office of City Engineer, and Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.