Transportation commission bans bikes on TxDOT toll roads

Published on Thursday, 27 June 2013 18:21 - Written by BY ADAM RUSSELL

The Texas Transportation Commission voted Thursday to ban bicycles from Texas Department of Transportation controlled toll roads.

Cycling activists believe commission action to ban bicycles from state controlled toll roads sets a bad precedent for Texas.

Commissioners who voted for the ban said safety for drivers and cyclists is their top priority and that toll roads were built to move high volumes of traffic at high speeds.

Commissioners voted unanimously on the ban.

The ban would apply to six roads, mostly in Central Texas. The ban does not apply to roads managed by mobility authorities, as with Toll 49 in Tyler, though some around the state already have approved similar bans.

Northeast Regional Mobility Authority board members banned bicycles from segments of Toll 49, about 16 miles of the 26-mile road, in March but agreed to make safety upgrades, including striping bike lanes on the road’s shoulders, if local cyclists paid for the upgrades.

Cyclists were given until July to come up with

Robin Stallings, of Bike Texas, a statewide bicycle education and advocacy group, testified at the meeting and said the commission approved a “blanket” ban on bicycles before TxDOT or an independent group examined safety concerns and crash data to present a fact-based study. Stallings said the decision sets a precedent that could negatively impact cyclists’ access to safer routes.

Stallings said an Arizona study showed riding on the shoulders of limited-access roads is the safest type of route for cyclists.

“It’s disappointing. The board didn’t use one scientific fact to back its decision,” he said. “They made the decision without considering the stakeholders or science. Instead they made an emotional or personal decision.”

Stallings said the ban likely would apply to future TxDOT toll projects without any evidence supporting safety concerns. He singled out Commissioner Jeff Austin III as having a personal objection to cyclists on toll roads.

Austin said the board’s decision was based on safety concerns and setting consistent rules on high speed toll roads built for vehicular traffic. He said the decision affects fewer than 100 miles in the state’s 195,000 lane miles.

He said he has worked with cyclists groups to find a permanent dedicated solution, such as separate bike paths along Toll 49 right-of-way, since the NETRMA’s inception.

“It’s a safety and consistency issue,” he said. “We have an opportunity to turn passion into permanent solutions for the safety of drivers and cyclists. I will continue to seek those solutions as I always have. There is one.”

The Transportation Commission’s vote could affect an agreement between the NETRMA and cyclists based on higher-than-expected traffic volumes.

NETRMA staff estimated connection to Interstate 20 would increase the number of transactions on Toll 49 to more than 16,000 per day. By 2020, more than 26,000 transactions per day were expected. However, since the connection in late March, daily transactions have eclipsed the 2020 numbers, peaking at about 30,000 daily transactions on weekends.

The interim director for the NETRMA Toll 49 project Everett Owen said consideration of the ban is a complex situation with positives and negatives on both sides of the debate. He would not speculate regarding how the transportation commission’s decision might influence the NETRMA board’s consideration at the July meeting.

The decision was based on facts that have changed with regard to the amount of traffic, he said. Owen also said TxDOT asked the NETRMA board to forgo action regarding application of the signage and striping until it had made a decision regarding toll roads it controlled.

When asked if the letter implied TxDOT could pressure tolling authorities to apply similar bans by withholding funding for future projects, Owen said, “it was between the lines but it might.”

Local cyclists announced last week they had raised the $60,000 estimated to be the cost of the safety upgrades on Toll 49.

Tyler Simpson, Tyler Bicycle Club member and owner of Simpson’s Fitness and Adventure Sports, said in a previous interview he was “cautiously excited” to have raised the money. He acknowledged a possibility the NETRMA board could renege on the agreement.

The NETRMA board meets July 9 in Texarkana.