Don’t ban bicycles from all toll roads

Published on Tuesday, 25 June 2013 21:46 - Written by

On Thursday, the Texas Transportation Commission could vote on a state-wide ban that would keep bicycles off all state-controlled toll roads. To do so would be a shame, because such decision can and should be kept at the local level.

Last month, the commission considered the measure. Bicycle advocates had little notice of the matter, but were able to attend meeting in Austin to voice their concerns. The commission wisely put off a decision so it could be studied more.

Commissioner Jeff Austin III of Tyler said the concern is for safety.

But bicycling advocates say such worries are unfounded.

“The TTC suggests that banning cyclists from toll roads is for their own safety, but no studies exist to show that banning cyclists increases anyone’s safety,” the group BikeTexas responds. “TxDOT’s own long-range plan and long-range rural plan both include cyclist accommodation, thanks to the efforts of BikeTexas and cyclists ... This action to ban cyclists from roads without first providing alternative accommodation goes against TxDOT’s own plans and policies.”

In fact, there’s well-recognized public health benefit to cycling, and bicycles are often safer on controlled-access toll roads than on narrow country lanes.

Any TTC action on toll roads wouldn’t affect Toll 49, because that highway has already been given over to the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

But BikeTexas leaders warn that any ban passed by the commission could set a precedent.

“It might not directly apply to Toll 49, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how banning certain vehicles from roads without a study or science behind it could set a bad precedent for the traveling public,” says the group’s Rob Stallings.

Instead, Toll 49 should serve as a model for the rest of the state. Localized decisions work.

When the NETRMA considered banning bicycles, local cyclists went to the board to make their case. The group included local physicians and hospital administrators, whose business is health and safety.

Dr. Bob Gaddy contends that “(Toll) 49 is unquestionably the safest road in Tyler to ride, bar none… In all my years of riding I have never found another road in Texas where I feel safer.”

The NETRMA listened, and the two sides began to work out a compromise. In March, the NETRMA board voted 7-2 to allow bicycle access on a 10-mile stretch connecting Texas Highway 155 near Noonday to Texas Highway 110 near Whitehouse.

The agreement was contingent on the bicyclists raising funds to defray the cost of safety improvements, including striping and signs. The NETRMA put that cost at $60,000. By mid-June, the Tyler Bicycle Club had raised the total sum. The NETRMA board will have a final vote on the agreement in July.

That’s a great example of how a public-private partner can work. It’s also a good argument for local decision-making.

Some Texas toll roads are in cities; some are in rural areas. Conditions vary. A sweeping decision from the TTC would be a disservice to the Texas drivers — and cyclists — who pay for those roads.