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You Can Bike on Austin Highways (And Yes, It’s a Horrible Idea)

Update: A sprawling discussion on the Austin page of Reddit - prompted by a photo of bicyclists on I-35 - has renewed interest in this topic. Read on for more details. 

Original story (April 3, 2013): Despite general public perception – and all standards of common sense – it’s actually legal to ride bicycles on the state highway.

Recently, users on the Austin page of Reddit got into a heated discussion about the legality of riding a bike on Mopac, when one user posted a photo of a couple people doing just that.

Some users cited the signs that went up prohibiting bikes on the highway, while others cited reports and ordinances that did not mention a bike ban. 

But Bike Austin Executive Director Tom Wald says there’s no doubt about the issue. “Its legal, that is about as certain as can be,” Wald says. 

Chris Bishop, an Austin public information officer of the Texas Department of Transportation, says Wald is right. It is legal to ride bikes on state highways.

"Drivers of the bikes should take extra care, because let's face it, for them especially it can be dangerous out there," Bishop says. "It is not a safe route for bicyclists. We urge them to find something else, another way to get where they're going."

There seems to be some confusion on the issue. Initial reaction from the Austin Police Department to KUT News stated it was illegal to bike on state highways like Mopac. This is despite APD’s own 2011 Annual Cycling Report, which reads: 

Bicycles are allowed to ride on any street in the City of Austin, to include; Interstate 35, Mopac (Loop 1), US Highway 183, and the Toll Way, (except 183A) since neither the commission (TXDot) nor the city has adopted rules preventing such, nor erected official traffic-control devices to prevent this.

Austin’s City Ordinance is not specific on the matter. It states::

A bicyclist may not ride a bicycle on a street where bicycle riding is prohibited or on a street during the hours that bicycle riding is prohibited on the street. 

You may notice those prohibited streets are not listed.

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