Whether or not you should ride a bike on the sidewalk has been the center of debate for decades. Avid walkers might argue no, while cyclists who do not feel safe on busy or narrow streets might say otherwise. 

In some Houston districts, such as business districts, it is illegal to ride a bike on a sidewalk. Cyclists must stay on the road in Downtown Houston, except where bike paths are present. 

Cyclists can ride on the sidewalk almost anywhere else in Houston, but they must yield pedestrians the right of way. Unfortunately, this is not a widely known fact and leads to some animosity between cyclists and pedestrians. 

Risks of Riding on the Sidewalk

It sounds contradictory, but cyclists who ride on the sidewalk face a far greater risk of collision than those who cycle on the road. The risk of a car accident involving a bike is 1.8 times higher on the sidewalk than on the road.

Cyclists on the road must abide by road rules and stop at intersections with lights or stop signs. Unfortunately, many sidewalk cyclists do not follow the same rules, leading to a higher number of collisions at intersections where a driver may be paying attention to traffic signage rather than an oncoming cyclist. 

Drivers aren’t required to come to a complete stop at uncontrolled intersections like back lanes, driveways, and mall entrances, and their view is often obstructed at such locations. If you choose to bike on the sidewalk, remember to be extra vigilant when crossing intersections, even in residential areas.  

When Should You Ride on the Sidewalk?

Although Houston bike law permits riding on the sidewalk in most areas, in certain circumstances, you may want to opt to ride on the road. 

If the sidewalk is particularly busy with pedestrian traffic and there is ample room to bike on the road, it is advisable to do so. However, if a street makes you feel unsafe due to heavy, fast-moving traffic or narrow lanes, remain on the sidewalk. It is always best to bike where you feel safest—cycling while stressed or panicked can distract you and lead to a bicycle accident.

If you feel unsafe on the road and cycling on a sidewalk is not an option, “taking the lane” is a good choice. Taking the lane means cycling in the middle of the lane to increase your visibility and discourage drivers from squeezing past you. You may be met with some honks and raised fists, but it is vital to put your safety first. If you pass a row of parked cars, remain 1.5 meters away from the door area to avoid a driver hitting you by opening their door.

Precautions and Protocol When Riding on the Sidewalk

As mentioned, always yield the right of way to pedestrians when cycling on the sidewalk. According to the Houston Code of Ordinances, cyclists must give an audible signal by honking, ringing a bell, or speaking to alert the pedestrian that they will be passing.

Even if you have given an audible signal, avoid passing the pedestrian too closely or while biking too fast. The pedestrian may not have heard your signal, so a swift passage could startle them. A pedestrian might make a sudden movement for many reasons, such as avoiding insects or gesturing with their hands while in conversation. If you pass too closely, a pedestrian may enter your path suddenly.

In some cases, it is best to hop off your bike and walk for a short distance. This usually happens when there are too many people on the sidewalk for you to pass comfortably. 

Whether to bike on the sidewalk is your decision, but remember to be courteous and remember that you are a guest on the sidewalk that exists for pedestrians.