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FAQ - Bicycles, Pedestrians and the Law

Below is a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) regarding laws that apply to bicycles and pedestrians:

What traffic laws apply to cyclists? What traffic laws do not?

Generally, bikes are entitled to all rights and obligated to all duties of the road that apply to a motor vehicle.  Tex. Transp. Code § 551.101, see also Tex. Transp. Code, Title 7, Subtitle C. Rules of the Road, Chapters 541 - 600.

Unless a specific statutory right or duty is altered by Tex. Transp. Code Chapter 551, or a right or duty applicable to a driver cannot by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle the same laws that apply to an operator of motor vehicle apply to a person operating a bicycle.

A person operating a bicycle, if moving slower than traffic, shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway. Tex. Transp. Code  § 551.103.   By definition, roadway does not include the shoulder of the roadway. Tex. Transp. Code  § 541.302.

See also generally, Tex. Transp. Code, Chapter 551.

A person operating a bicycle shall ride only on or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle.

A person may not use a bicycle to carry more persons than the bicycle is designed or equipped to carry.

A person operating a bicycle, coaster, sled or toy vehicle or using roller skates may not attach either the person or the bicycle, coaster, sled toy vehicle, or roller skates to a streetcar or vehicle on a roadway.

A person operating a bicycle may not carry any object that prevents the operator from keeping a least one hand on the handlebars.

Bicyclists must use hand signals to signal their intent to stop, turn left, or turn right.  The bicyclist must use the following signals.

     Stop – Extend the left hand and arm downward

     Left Turn – Extend the left hand and arm horizontally

Right Turn – Extend the left hand and arm upward, or extend the right hand and arm horizontally.

Every bike must be equipped with a brake capable of making a braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

A person may not operate a bicycle at nighttime unless the bicycle is equipped with the following.

Headlamp – a lamp on the front of the bicycle that emits a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet in front of the bicycle.

Red Reflector/Red Lamp – A bicycle must be equipped with either a red reflector which is visible from a distance of 300 feet from the rear of the bicycle, or a red lamp visible from a distance of 500 feet from the rear of the bicycle.

Is there a state law prohibiting riding a bike on sidewalks?

No, however some local governments may have local ordinances prohibiting bicycles on sidewalks.  Bicyclist should contact local law enforcement for more information and be aware of posted signs. 

Also, a person may stop, stand, or park a bicycle on a sidewalk if the bicycle does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of pedestrian or other traffic on the sidewalk.  Tex. Transp. Code § 545.302.

Are pedestrians allowed to walk on the roadway?  In a bike lane?

A pedestrian may not walk along and on a roadway if an adjacent sidewalk is provided and is accessible to the pedestrian. 

If a sidewalk is not provided, a pedestrian walking along and on a highway shall if possible walk on: (1) the left side of the roadway; or (2) the shoulder of the highway facing oncoming traffic.  Tex. Transp. Code § 552.006.

Is it legal to park a car in a bike lane? 

There is no general prohibition.  Whenever parking a car the driver should check local signs and ordinances.  However, an operator may not stop, park, or leave standing an attended or unattended vehicle on the main traveled part of a highway outside a business or residence district unless the following is true:

  • Stopping, parking, or leaving the vehicle off the main traveled part of the highway is not practicable
  • A width of highway beside the vehicle is unobstructed and open for the passage of other vehicles
  • The vehicle is in clear view for at least 200 feet in each direction on the highway. 

Tex. Transp. Code § 545.301.

Is it legal to place a recycling container, trash container or other objects in a bike lane?

A person commits an offense if, without legal privilege or authority, he intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly: obstructs a highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle, hallway, entrance, or exit to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access, or any other place used for the passage of persons, vehicles, or conveyances, regardless of the means of creating the obstruction and whether the obstruction arises from his acts alone or from his acts and the acts of others.

"Obstruct" means to render impassable or to render passage unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous.  An offense is a Class B misdemeanor. The maximum fine is $2,000, or 180 days in jail, or both.  Tex. Penal Code § 42.03.

Does a city or state have a responsibility to maintain a bike lane, path or sidewalk (street sweeping or trimming vegetation)?

Generally, it is the duty of the entity with authority over the highway or road a transportation to maintain the roadways on their system.   The entity with authority over such lanes, paths, or sidewalks should have the same duty.

TxDOT may remove personal property from the right-of-way or roadway of the state highway system if the department determines the property blocks the roadway or endangers public safety.  The department may remove the personal property without the consent of the owner or carrier of the property.  Tex. Transp. Code § 472.012.

Is it legal to ride a bike on interstate highways in Texas?

The Texas Transportation Commission by resolution or order recorded in its minutes may prohibit the use of a limited-access or controlled-access highway under the jurisdiction of the commission by a parade, funeral procession, pedestrian, bicycle, electric bicycle, motor-driven cycle, or non-motorized traffic.

If the commission adopts a rule prohibiting the use of bikes on such a roadway, the commission shall erect and maintain official traffic-control devices on the portions of the limited-access or controlled-access highway to which the rule applies. Tex. Transp. Code § 545.065.

Note: The office of General Counsel is unaware of the commission taking any such action to date.

If there is a bike path adjacent to the roadway, does a cyclist have to use it or can they use the roadway?

No, provided the bicyclist adheres to all the discussed rules of the road and bike laws, bikes are entitled to all rights of the road that apply to a motor vehicle, including access.

When is it allowable for a cyclist to "take the lane," and when is it not?

A person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway. Under the following conditions bicyclists may take the full lane of travel:

  • The person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction
  • The person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway
  • When there are unsafe conditions on the roadway, including fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, or surface hazards that prevents the person from safely riding next to the curb or edge of the roadway
  • The lane is of substandard width (less than 14 feet in width and not having a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane) making if unsafe for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side

Tex. Transp. Code § 551.103.

Note: When on a one-way street you can ride to the far left instead of the far right.

Additionally, persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two abreast.  Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride in a single lane.  Persons riding two abreast may not impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway.  Also note, you can't make passage of traffic "unreasonably inconvenient". Tex. Penal Code § 42.03.

If there is a bike lane does a cyclist have to use it or can they use the general travel lane?

See the previous answer. Because a bike is required to stay to as far right as practicable, this could be interpreted to mean if there is bike lane, a cyclist would be required to ride in it, as it would be the far right side of the road. However, if one of the exceptions listed in the previous answer exist, they would be excused from the ‘far right’ requirement.

When is a crash report required and when is it not?

The operator of a vehicle (bike) involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of a person or damage to a vehicle to the extent that it cannot be normally and safely driven shall immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice of the accident to the local law enforcement.  Tex. Transp. Code § 550.026.

A law enforcement officer who in the regular course of duty investigates a motor vehicle accident shall make a written report of the accident if the accident resulted in injury to or the death of a person or damage to the property of any one person to the apparent extent of $1,000 or more.  Tex. Transp. Code § 550.026.

If the accident is not investigated by a law enforcement officer and the accident resulted in injury to or the death of a person or damage to the property of any one person to an apparent extent of $1,000 or more the operator of a vehicle involved in an accident shall make a written report of the accident.Tex. Transp. Code § 550.026.

Therefore, if no injury or death occurs and damage to vehicle(s)/bike(s) is less than $1,000 a report would not be required. 

Additional requirements after accidents:

The operator of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of a person or damage to a vehicle shall:

  • Iimmediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close to the scene as possible;
  • Immediately return to the scene of the accident if the vehicle is not stopped at the scene of the accident; and
  • Has a duty to give information and render aid such as:
  • Give the operator's name and address, the registration number of the vehicle the operator was driving, and the name of the operator's motor vehicle liability insurer to any person injured or the operator or occupant of or person attending a vehicle involved in the collision;
  • If requested and available, show the operator's driver's license to a person described by Subdivision (a); and (c) provide any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including transporting or making arrangements for transporting the person to a physician or hospital for medical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary, or if the injured person requests the transportation.  

Tex. Transp. Code § 550.021 – § 550.023.

Where is it appropriate to use shared lane markings (sharrows)?  Where is it not?

The use of sharrows are evaluated on a case by case and project basis by the entity with authority over the highway or road.  The 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) includes a provision for shared lane markings with guidance that the markings should be placed at least 11 ft from the curb face or the edge of the pavement on a street with parallel parking.

On streets with no parking and an outside lane less than 14 ft wide, the centers of the shared lane markings should be placed at least 4 ft from the curb or edge of the pavement.  The MUTCD also states The Shared Lane Marking should not be placed on roadways that have a speed limit above 35 mph. Many cities and States have started implementing shared lane markings to encourage the safe coexistence of bicyclists and motorists.

What is TxDOT policy on building sidewalks and bicycle accommodations?

Sidewalks and bicycle accommodations are evaluated on a case by case and project basis.  They are considered part of the highway system and will be evaluated by the district engineer in charge of any project. 

TxDOT does actively participate in the Federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program.  The program creates practical projects to make school routes safer for children to walk and bicycle, such as sidewalks, crosswalks and bicycle facilities. The SRTS programs make walking and biking to school safer and more appealing to children, including those with disabilities. SRTS projects and activities reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution near primary and middle schools (grades K-8). 

Contained in the 2005 federal transportation bill SAFETEA-LU, SRTS provides a healthy alternative to riding the bus or being driven to school. Each state receives funding based on its percentage of the national total of children in grades K-8. Texas anticipates receiving approximately $40 million in SRTS funding between 2005 and 2009. 

The Texas Transportation Commission recently approved $54.1 million to fund 200 projects in more than 73 communities.