Texas Sidewalk Safety

For pedestrians, Texas law and common-sense safety tips are clear and consistent: don’t walk in the road if you have a choice. In fact, the Texas Transportation Code prohibits pedestrians from walking on the street if there is a sidewalk adjacent to the roadway and accessible to the pedestrian. The statute sets forth further safety precautions for those walking in the road, but only if there is no sidewalk available.

It’s natural that others not operating motor vehicles, such as bicyclists, skateboarders, and those on rollerblades, would also assume that the sidewalk was the safest and most appropriate option. However, Texas law and Houston ordinances governing who may walk or ride where, and under what conditions, are a bit more complicated than many realize.

Bicycles Riding on the Sidewalk in Houston

riding on the sidewalk is not always the safest way to ride your bikeUnder Texas state law, bicyclists on the road are vested with the same rights and legal responsibilities as a motor vehicle operator. But, what if the cyclist opts to skip the roadway in favor of the perceived safety of the sidewalk? It turns out that’s not always an option—and, may not be safer when it is.

A Houston ordinance prohibits bicyclists from riding on the sidewalk in “business districts” within the city, and in posted areas. That means a cyclist who prefers to stick to the sidewalk must be aware of zones where biking on the sidewalk is prohibited, and watch for signage signaling that it’s time to shift into the road. Where bike riders are permitted to use the sidewalk, they are required to yield to pedestrians, and to “give audible warning” before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.

Riding on the sidewalk isn’t always the best choice for the cyclist, either. While cars and other motor vehicles present a significant risk to bicyclists, they aren’t the only danger. Other common causes of cycling accidents, such as debris in the path, may present as much or more risk on sidewalks, where there may be more activity and less room to maneuver. In addition, bicyclists crossing streets from the sidewalk may be less visible to drivers, increasing the risk of collision.

Skateboarding, Rollerblading, and More

Other types of activities on city sidewalks are treated differently. For example, a Houston ordinance specifically prohibits the use of coasters or toy vehicles on the road, though the ordinance does not specifically define these items. The ordinance contains a specific exception for roller skaters—which, presumably, includes rollerblades—it’s legal to skate in the street. However, there’s no specific prohibition on using roller skates or blades on the sidewalk.

Thus, pedestrians using the sidewalk may be part of an assortment of travelers. While others may be treated much in the same way as pedestrians from a legal standpoint, those on roller blades, skateboards, and “toy vehicles” obviously both face and present different risks. Because these users may be traveling faster, taking up more space, and otherwise acting outside the normal flow of pedestrian traffic, they must exercise caution in sharing the sidewalk with those on foot. And, for their own protection, they must keep a careful lookout for changes in elevation of the sidewalk, debris, curbs, and other potential hazards.

Protecting Yourself and Others on Houston Sidewalks

Following safety regulations such as the requirement that bicyclists on the sidewalk announce themselves before overtaking a pedestrian is critical, but it’s not sufficient. Any road user or sidewalk user introducing an unusual element into the space he or she is sharing must be vigilant about the potential dangers this presents—particularly when that element makes him or her faster, heavier, or otherwise more dangerous than typical users of the space.

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