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Is biking on the sidewalk illegal in Austin?

2011 May 11

It’s bicycle awareness month, y’all. And to do our part, Republic of Austin will be dropping some two-wheeled knowledge all throughout the month.

In our post a few weeks ago asking cyclists and drivers to coexist, there was a lot of discussion about the legality of biking on the sidewalk in Austin. Some folks thought it was legal. Some folks thought it was illegal. They were both right.

Is biking on the sidewalk illegal in Austin?

Yes, it is both legal AND illegal to ride on the city. Depending on the street and its location in the city, you’ll be breaking the law if you ride on the sidewalk. Thankfully, the restrictions are mostly located Downtown, by the Capitol and by the UT campus, as illustrated by this map from the city:

Map created by Nadia Barrera for the City of Austin

In most of the cities I’ve lived in, riding on the sidewalk is completely illegal. Understandably, cities like New York, San Francisco and Berlin all have sidewalks swarming with pedestrians. Austin, on the other hand, does not. Most of our sidewalks are more decorative than utilitarian-except Downtown, around the Capitol and around UT campus.

Ari rides her bike downtown

Ari rides her bike downtown

On my morning commute, the auto traffic on Lavaca gets a little agressive. To save my hiney, I bike on the sidewalk up Guadalupe. The sidewalk is a little wider on Guadalupe, and it keeps the stress levels low before work. It also keeps from from inhaling all the exhaust from the inbound traffic.

Just remember: If you ride on the sidewalk, please be respectful of any pedestrians.

You can download the map in PDF form from the City of Austin Bicycle Resources site.


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2 Responses leave one →
  1. May 11, 2011

    Legal, yes. Smart, no. (with a few exceptions).

    Remember that every time you cross a driveway on a sidewalk, you’re basically crossing an intersection where turning motorists do not expect anything faster than a pedestrian to be entering their field of view.

    Reams and reams of safety research (and unlike helmets, actually confirmed rather than rebutted in the population studies) show that sidewalks are, in general, far more dangerous to ride on than streets.

    The few exceptions are NOT streets like Lavaca - they’re streets like Lamar next to Pease Park where there are no driveways and few cross streets.

    Back when I was on the UTC, Tommy Eden tracked the data behind bike fatalities in the city and the general consensus was that almost all bike fatalities were a result of one or more of the following: riding at night without lights, riding the wrong way, riding on the sidewalk, and running red lights/stop signs (with a bit of BWI thrown in for good measure).

    Kids can ride on the sidewalk because their biking speed is close to that of pedestrians. Grown-ups should stay off. Lavaca is a great street to bike on - take the lane and don’t be afraid.

  2. May 11, 2011

    and, yes, I used to ride on Lavaca all the time (I can’t ride at all anymore but when I did it was one of my primary routes). Downtown is the best place in the city to ride your bike - as long as they haven’t ruined your street by making it 2-way (which actually hurts safety for bicyclists).

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