The Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) voted 5-0 on June 27 to ban bicycles from the main lanes and the shoulders of all Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) managed toll roads.
This ban came despite objections of citizens from around the state who came to testify. There were no citizens testifying in support of the ban.
A move to ban cyclists in the name of safety may sound reasonable, but no one riding a bicycle has ever been killed on a Texas toll road. It is not clear whom the TTC plans to make safe.
More importantly, a sweeping ban like this one can have serious repercussions far into the future of road planning – there is more at stake than just the few roads that this ban covers.
The TTC has had the authority to ban cyclists from toll roads since 1995 but it has instead allowed Texans to use their own good judgment about when and where to ride a bike or drive a car. In Texas, we prize our right to make our own decisions, and until now, the TTC has not interfered with Texan adults exercising that right.
More worrying is that this move was made with little study. TxDOT usually does not make any decisions without extensive research and conversations with stakeholders. For example, when completing the Statewide Long-Range Transportation Plan, TxDOT held 27 public meetings around the state and sought public input.
In the case of this bike ban, TxDOT admitted at the initial meeting on May 30 that they had not met with stakeholders, including TxDOT’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. Since the ban was back on the TTC agenda the very next month, it does not seem that thorough discussion or study could have taken place.
Additionally, although the TTC reminded cyclists several times that this law only affected TxDOT-controlled roads and not toll roads operated by local Regional Mobility Authorities (RMA), those local organizations are likely to follow TxDOT’s lead. In fact, the North East Texas RMA in Tyler already walked away from an agreement with local cyclists to allow bikes access to certain sections of Toll 49, choosing instead to ban bikes entirely. It is shortsighted of TxDOT to say that local authorities won’t feel pressured by this ban to do the same in their own communities.
When alternatives are offered, bike bans are not necessary. Several commissioners expressed concerns about bicycles being on shoulders so near high-speed traffic lanes, and used that concern as a basis for the ban. However, the solution here is not to force cyclists to find other, possibly less safe, routes. The correct solution is for TxDOT to include accommodation for all road users on road projects from the beginning.
When cyclists have safe, appealing alternatives, they are not forced to choose between a toll road or a potentially more hazardous road elsewhere—they have dedicated infrastructure that is a natural choice, and they will move away from the toll road without a need for a ban. For instance, the Central Texas RMA has built bike paths beside their tolls roads, 183A and 290A.
Texas attracts business, and we’re proud of that. Texas businesses want to recruit and retain creative-class workers — the very ones who are attracted to amenities like bike facilities. TxDOT issuing bike bans sends the message to those workers that they are not welcome in Texas. In the 2013 Top States for Business ranking, Texas has fallen out of the top spot again, and the major culprit is our quality of life ranking. Top-flight, creative-class workers who might move to Texas could be turned away by our rejection of cyclists’ needs.
Ultimately, this ban affects only five roads, mostly in Central Texas. However, as TxDOT plans to build more toll roads in the future, it is imperative that cyclists are included in planning so that we do not lose access to our public roads. This ban worries us not just for the impact right now, but also for what it means for Texas’ future transportation needs. TxDOT has done many things that are helpful to Texas bicyclists, and we have no intention of letting one issue get in the way of our positive relationship with TxDOT. We must work with the state transportation agency to continue to ensure Texas bicyclists have their rights to Texas roads.
Robin is the Executive Director of BikeTexas, the statewide bicycle advocacy and education organization. Robin particularly enjoys getting transportation engineers and policy makers to take their first bike ride in decades during BikeTexas VIP rides and seeing them rediscover the joys of riding a bike. You can follow Robin on Twitter @RobinStallings.