Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

When Bicyclists are Banned, Some Texas Roads Cause Rage

Dave Fehling / StateImpact Texas

In a suburb of Houston, some bikers ignore an ordinance that banishes bikes from streets that have bike paths

Texas cities are trying to reduce traffic congestion by promoting bicycling. Austin is adding bicycle-only lanes on city streets. Houston voters recently approved $166 million in bonds partly for hike and bike trails.

But on some roads in Texas, bikes are banned, raising questions about just where bikers have the right to ride.

In the city of Anna just north of Dallas, a stretch of FM 455 has been off-limits to bicyclists since 2006 when the city council deemed the two-lane road too narrow and dangerous to accommodate both cars and bicyclists.

“Motorists couldn’t pass them. I’m told drivers would try to run them off the road,” said Chief Kenny Jenks of the Anna Police Department. He says a solution is in the works: a project that’ll widen the road and add a hike and bike trail.

In what are known as the Memorial Villages just west of downtown Houston, a stretch of the two-lane Memorial Drive has signs that warn “Bicycles On Roadways Prohibited.” The road winds past multimillion dollar homes and is a favorite for cyclists.

“I’ve ridden on here many time and I’ve never noticed the signs,” said one cyclists who ask his name not be used after a reporter told him about the local ordinance.

The ordinance says that when bicycle paths are provided, cyclists “shall use such path and shall not use the public street.”

“Ridiculous,” said the cyclist. “It’s a perfectly good road.” He said it was more dangerous to ride on the adjacent hike and bike trail that looked very much like a typical sidewalk.

Dave Fehling / StateImpact Texas

Bicyclists say they're safer on the road if the alternative is a trail they consider too narrow for multiple users.

“There’s a very good change you’re going to run into a dog or a person or something like that. I feel safer on the road,” said the biker.

The Memorial Village Police Chief, Haril Walpole, said the 1987 ordinance is enforced but he says he couldn’t recall any bikers receiving tickets.

“When we do see violations, we typically just warn them and they jump up on the sidewalk and move along,” Walpole told StateImpact.

The right of municipalities to ban bikes was the subject of a 1989 opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s office. The opinion seemed to offer a rather weak endorsement, contending bans were legal but should be judged “on a case-by-case basis.”

While such ordinances are rare, there were efforts over a decade ago to ban bicyclists from FM (farm to market) roads statewide. Cycling advocates were outraged and the bill died in the legislature.

“Banning bicycles from the roadway with no alternative, that’s a fight like the Alamo. We can’t lose our freedom of movement,” said Robin Stallings, Executive Director of BikeTexas, an advocacy group in Austin.

Stallings is working to advance bills in next year’s legislative session to give bicyclists more protection on the road. One that made it through the 2009 session but was vetoed by Governor Rick Perry is the “safe  passing” bill that would require cars to give cyclists at least three feet clearance. Perry said existing laws already addressed the liability of motorists who hit cyclists so the new law wasn’t needed.

Another bill the group hopes is re-introduced supports the concept of “complete streets“. The idea is to mandate that when new roads are built or old ones reconstructed, they should be designed to specifically handle the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians, not just motorists. In the 2011 legislative session, the bill passed out of committees but went no further.

Comments

  • looms ominously

    youll get my bike when you pry it from my cold dead hands

  • kstallings100

    Considering how good the sidewalk is along that stretch, it makes sense to keep the bikes of the roadway.

    • frankcfreeman

      Except that it’s incredibly dangerous for everyone involved. Cars can’t see you coming so they can back into you, you’re moving much faster than a walker so there’s much less reaction time. Same story with pedestrians, dogs, children, etc.

      Intersections are ESPECIALLY dangerous on bikes because cars in my city RARELY yield to pedestrians on turns, even on reds, even when the pedestrians have walk signs, are in crosswalks, and otherwise have right of way.

      And you guys are fighting this battle for what? So you can get there faster??

      Give me a break.

    • Uncommonsensetoo

      I ride at 20+ mph. Do you really think it would be safe to ride along that puny sidewalk with pedestrians walking their dogs and kids etc????????? I’d say only in America would you see a sign like this. Everywhere else in the world, especially in Europe, they are promoting biking as much as possible to, reduce re need for oil, get more cars off the road, which reduces congestion and air pollution and keeps people healthier in more ways than one. Here we are doing the opposite, discouraging bicycling and raising another generation of “lazy ass” obese drivers who are polluting the air we breathe.

      • J Ascher

        There’s absolutely no need to ride at 20 MPH on a sidewalk – you could endanger yourself and others. That’s reckless behavior.

        • https://danielnorton.com/ Daniel Norton

          Yes, J, that’s his point.

      • Gary

        I drive 50+ mph on many roads. Do you really think it would be safe to drive along side bikes going 20mph on a puny road? You see how this works both ways? I am sure not, just keep riding in the middle of the road refusing to let motorists pass safely while doing 30 – 40mph under the speed limit. It wouldn’t be an issue if cyclists followed the rules of the road and used the 1/5 of a lane they need to the far right instead of blocking traffic riding 3 and 4 abreast.

  • gwandma

    when I was growing up, cars had the right of way..You got off your bike & walked it across the intersection, you rode against traffic but not now days. This because bike do not pay to use roadways, the tags we purchase yearly for our vehicles for helps to build roads. I have seen so many bikes on FM roads that cause near accidents as they don’t yield right of ways and people can’t get around them. Just like the skateboard craze a few years back, bikes need their own riding areas. The laws seem to vary from area to area so something State wide should be implemented..Yes it may be a greener way to go, but use your head & follow the rules of old as it might save your life. .

    • Jason Newman

      Ignorance defined.

    • Free_Stater

      Gwandma, I bike. I also own a car. That means I pay to use the road. Try harder next time. You’re embarrassing yourself.

      • J Ascher

        You pay car registration fees so you pay for motorized use of the roadways. Until you also pay bike registration fees, don’t use that I pay for it argument!

      • Gary

        I own a truck and pay to use the road, but I also have to register my other truck, both my motorcycles, my camper, my utility trailer and my ATV. And I can’t even ride the ATV on public roadways. Your argument is invalid. Every other vehicle has to be registered even if you already register your car.

        There is also the issue that when a cyclist is breaking the law there is no way to identify them because they are not registered and don’t have plates. They also don’t have to carry insurance. I assure you a bike can do many thousands of dollars worth of damage to a car. If you want to share the road then share the responsibility of maintaining it and follow all rules that apply to motor vehicles. Registration, yearly inspection and insurance or whatever combination of those your state requires for motor vehicles. Also, if helmets are required for motorcycles in your state they should be required for bicycles as well. I’ve been well over 50mph on a cheap ass mountain bike as a kid confirmed by bike speedo and pacing with a car. Modern street specific bikes with well conditioned riders can easily break the speed limit on most any road with a bit of downhill.

    • frankcfreeman

      Riding against traffic is probably the easiest way to die biking…

    • Chad

      I agree that we need to pay attention and follow the rules… just like anyone driving an automobile needs to. But please do not take a step back in time and start telling me about the way things used to be. The world evolves. Share the road. If the only harm that I cause you on a bicycle is causing you an extra 3 min of time in your air conditioned automobile I think that we are all going to be okay… don’t you?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristina.hager Kristina Hager

    PUBLIC streets are for use by the PUBLIC. Streets must accommodate PEOPLE whether those people are walking, cycling, or, yes, even driving.

    When passing a ANYONE (cyclist, pedestrian, driver) on the road, please remember that’s a HUMAN BEING who has one or more of a father, mother, sibling, partner and child(ren) who don’t deserve to see them dead for your inattention or callousness.

    Almost all travelers have jobs and contribute to the economy and tax base and deserve to be accommodated with public road money. There’s clearly a growing demand for our streets to support all forms of transportation. Let’s build streets to accommodate everyone. It’s really not expensive to add pedestrian and bicycle facilities compared to the cost of building roads for automobiles and trucks.

  • http://www.danielnorton.com/ Daniel Norton

    Stallings insults those who died at the Alamo. Hardly a “fight”, he and the Texas Bicycle Coalition *cowered* when Manor, Texas implemented its bicycle ban several years ago (and it was still in effect in 2012).

  • http://www.texasmountainbiketrails.com/ Shawn McAfee

    Cyclists pay the same taxes as drivers. And sidewalks are usually unsafe for a cyclist traveling at high speeds on a road bike.

    My opinion is this is wrong. And being that I live close to Anna I and friends have been directly affected by their ban… Not that we really pay attention to that sign thats been up since 2006.

  • clay swinford

    I think that since the bicyclists don’t have to pay to use the road that they simply shouldn’t use it… there has been a statewide law in effect for years now that clearly states that anywhere in texas it is perfectly legal to ride your bicycle in a specifically designated area just for bikes… anywhere else is illegal… so when u come past my house outside of town and you r slowing down farm traffic you are breaking the law plain and simple… that’s why there are bike trails… get off the roadways before someone gets killed

    • Ryan Stapleton

      What are you talking about? Cyclists pay taxes just like you, so yes they are paying to ride on the street. And so what if you have to slow down for five seconds until it’s safe to pass? Farmer John, who is driving 20 miles under the posted speed limit on a one lane road for 30 miles and won’t pull over to the side to let the 50 cars that are lining up being him pass is going to keep you from getting to where you’re going a hell of a lot more than one person riding on the road. You’re the only one that’s making the roads dangerous, because you’re in a big hurry to get to Walmart to buy some mountain dew. I don’t understand why some grown adults can’t grasp the concept of sharing. Most of us (thank God) learned it in kindergarten.

      • clay swinford

        I woukd suggest reading my new post sir. Thank you for your ignorance!!

      • Gary

        I pay taxes too, but I still have to register my motor vehicles. What is your point? You want to use the road, help pay for it by registering your bike. It also gives people a plate number so when you riding like an idiot, running red lights and stop signs and riding 4 abreast others can call it in and you can be identified. Would it kill you to pay $10 a year and hang a plate on your bike? Or would you rather stay unidentifiable so you can’t be held responsible for your own actions?

    • Free_Stater

      Hi Clay. Legally, I can ride wherever I want except on the freeways. I don’t even need a license or insurance. You do. Ha.

      • clay swinford

        I would suggest reading my new comment sir. Thank you for your ignorance!!!

    • jamiek88

      That is so wrong you should be embarrassed.

      • clay swinford

        I would suggest reading my new comment sir. Your ignorance is much appreciated. Thank you sir!!

    • frankcfreeman

      I’d really like some more information on this law you speak of, any idea where I can find the original text?

  • J Ascher

    Until cyclists are licensed and registered like motor vehicle drivers, they need to stay off the roads because they slow down traffic and all too often ignore clear and visible signs and signals usually out of a sense of “expediency!”

  • clay swinford

    Just so everyone is very clear about my comment approximately a year ago… if you read in the texas roadway law book on bicycles, mopeds, and scooters it clearly states that anyone riding a bicycle outside of designated bike routes or sidewalks UNLESS that is your sole means of transportation you can and will be fined for illegal use of a roadway. I have a bike myself but i also follow rules, some people should try the same and not run their mouths about things they dont know. When you start to drive you learn what you can and cant do, its the same with bicycles.. just saying. And in reference to saying that farm people all are “in a hurry to get to walmart for more mountain dew”. Actually farm people are in a hurry to get food on your damn tables. Thank you very much BIG GUYS!!!!!

    • Daniel Norton

      clay, can you please provide details of where you are reading this? e.g. can you cite the specific title, revision (or date of publication) and which page, so that we can clear this up?

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