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What 'Sharing the Road' Means for Cyclists and Drivers in Texas

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Austin's roads are busier than ever, and there’s more than just cars and trucks on them. As more and more Austinites choose bikes to get around, where exactly are they allowed to ride?

It can be a little confusing knowing where it’s okay to ride your bike. For instance, you’re not supposed to ride on the sidewalk in parts of downtown Austin. But when it comes to the road? Well, a bike is welcome pretty much everywhere. It’s right there in the Texas Transportation Code.

“The first section of that says that the operator of a bicycle has all of the same rights and duties as the operator of a motor vehicle,” says Preston Tyree, a board member of Bike Austin, and an avid rider.

Earlier this month, a cyclist in North Austin was hit by a truck after a disagreementover whether or not the cyclist was allowed to be in the main road lane. There was a bike lane on the road, but it wasn’t usable because of overgrown vegetation. The driver of the truck left the scene and was later arrested.

“There’s no law that says I have to ride in a bike lane. So any time a bike lane is obscured, as it was heavily, the cyclist had the perfect right to come out [and take the lane],” Tyree says. “And once he comes out, he should control that 10-foot lane by riding near the middle of that lane. It’s perfectly legal, and it’s the safest way for him to operate.”

The law in Texassays that if cyclists are moving slower than vehicle traffic, they "shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway," but there are exceptions to that rule: if a rider is passing a slower rider; if there’s unsafe conditions on the road like debris or a pothole; if a rider is turning left or if the lane is too narrow to share with a motor vehicle (technically, any lane narrower than fourteen feet).

If there's no bike lane, the law says cyclists may also ride in the center of the lane under the exceptions above, including the one for road lanes less than fourteen feet in width. Most of Austin’s road lanes aren’t fourteen feet or wider, according to Tyree.

The City of Austin also has a safe passing ordinance, which requires cars and trucks to give three feet of room when passing cyclists; commercial vehicles have to give six feet.

In reference to the North Austin case, Tyree says the cyclist, by some accounts, may have become a little too verbally aggressive in the confrontation, but that ultimately the motorist, like some drivers in Austin, was a little uncomfortable sharing the road. He thinks what would've helped the situation most is if both sides had acted more calmly. 

“It can turn to road rage very quickly," Tyree says. "Any time you’re fearful, that can turn to mad really quickly.”

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