How to Not Get
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An illustrated guide for bicyclists. Might save your life.

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Battery Guide

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Ben Folds Five

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Riding on Sidewalks

City of Austin: No riding on a sidewalk in a "business district".
(City Code: § 16-8-22 Riding on Sidewalks. '81 Code, § 11-3-39. Penalty, see § 1-1-99) Unfortunately, "business district" isn't defined in local law, and the State Law definition is nearly incomprehensible, but "business district" is generally assumed to mean:
  • Guadalupe between MLK and 26th St.
  • 6th St. between I-35 & Guadalupe
  • Congress Ave. between 4th & 11th
  • and anywhere that's there's a "No Bikes on Sidewalks" sign posted.
    [actual definition of "Business District"]

Of course, police officers have been known to hassle cyclists riding on sidewalks in other parts of town. Also, note that cycle courier Jen Sigman was arrested (not just ticketed, but arrested) for biking on the sidewalk. This shouldn't surprise you, but if it does, you should check out our problems with police section.

UT: No riding on sidewalks at all.
UT regulations prohibit cyclists from riding on the sidewalks on campus. Lots of people do it anyway, and the cops are inconsistent about their enforcement of the issue. Rules aside, given the very high pedestrian traffic on campus, and the higher percentage of pedestrians using wheelchairs, there's definitely potential for mishap by riding on UT sidewalks. If you choose to do so, ride slowly and carefully.

Parking on Sidewalks

Okay for bikes.
Parking on the sidewalk is fine as long as you don't obstruct pedestrian traffic. (TX Code Sec. 545.302)
Not okay for cars.
No person shall stop, stand or park a vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a police officer or traffic-control device ... on a sidewalk or any part of the sidewalk area...
More detail on laws related to Sidewalks.

Suggested Improvements for Sidewalks

Obstacles on sidewalks. (Wayne Simoneau, 5-00)

Anyone know why so many utilities are being stuck in the middle of the sidewalks down in the area being trashed (subdivision shuffle) between Brodie & Mopac on Slaughter. Slaughter isn't my favorite place to ride & during some hours I've decided not to cheat death, so I bail & ride on the sidewalk - only to find myself dodging all kinds of poles, hydrants, & signs. It's a real good course for bike handling skills.

Shade needed for sidewalks. (Christine Willis, 5-00)

I bike and/or walk as a form of transportation every day (about 10 miles round trip). The sun beating down on me is a HUGE pain. I think many more people would walk and/or bike if there were more shaded paths and walkways -- shade can lower the temperature by 10-20 degrees easily. There are miles and miles and MILES of walkways that only the most hardcore (or poverty stricken) will brave because of the sun and heat. I haven't really seen anyone addressing this problem. I think that if new and existing businesses were required to include adequate trees along the pathways in their landscape designs there would be more people out of their cars and walking the paths. [While the City could certainly do more, developers get Smart Growth points for including trees and shade for their sidewalks, according to the City's Smart Growth Matrix. It's not much of an incentive, but at least it's something.-- Ed.]

Politics of building sidewalks

Mean Streets 2000 report

STPP published a report explaining how pedestrians face increasing danger because of lack of sidewalks and crosswalks. Americans take less than 6% of trips by foot but account for 13% of traffic deaths. At the same time, federal spending on pedestrian projects is $0.55 per person, while spending on highway projects is $72 per person. Read the report (external link), or check out some selected statistics.

Dave Sullivan, former Planning Commissioner, 12-9-99:

Until about 1994, the City was very generous with giving variances to developers who did not want to build sidewalks. Such variances are much rarer now, and would be very unlikely to be granted today along N. Lamar. Further, sidewalks are generally not built even if required if a street is not curbed and guttered.

Dave Dobbs, 12-9-99:
Ken Marsh wrote:
"How does Austin get away with such crappy/non-existent sidewalks anyway? Aren't there laws about wheelchair access in commercialized areas or something?"
Dave Dobbs replies:
You will be happy to know that from the late 70's city councils vastly under funded road repair and sidewalk infrastructure. When he was an Urban Transportation Commissioner, Roger Baker, wrote a long, informative and damming article in the Austin Chronicle on the neglect of our city streets and the role of public works while we spent our money helping suburban developers infrastructure fringe development. For 25 of the last 30 years the most typically deferred or deleted amenity from new developments, especially on the edges as the city moved out, was sidewalks.
During the Cooke and Todd councils the city virtually abandoned their city charter responsibility vis-a-vis sidewalks and left the task to Capital Metro who must have sidewalks if the buses are going to work. This was finally institutionalized by the "Build Greater Austin Program" (BGA) in 1993 through an interlocal agreement between Capital Metro member cities and the transit authority to rebate a percentage of the transit tax collected to each city for the repair, construction, and enhancement of roads and sidewalks. Austin gets about $8 million annually from this source. Almost all city sidewalks are funded from this money, but as you would expect, only where buses go. (Cap Met has to sign off on the use of BGA funds. Because the city was caught red-handed misusing the funds, this is a closely audited fund. The city bureaucrats, of course, tried to blame Metro and the CMTA auditor who blew the whistle was fired as a sacrificial lamb.)
Because council was so reluctant to fund road repair out of the general fund we got a transportation fee on our utility bill thanks to then councilman Bob Larson. This has some merit, of course, in linking those who use the roads to payment for the repair of them, something like the gasoline tax. It generates between $13 (1999 actual) and $15.5 (2000 projected) million annually (source COA budget) up from about $6 million/yr. when it was first instituted.
And, yes indeed, I think the city could be successfully sued over ADA access. I mentioned this to Dave Girard in Public Works the other day. I told him that sidewalks seem to be a place to locate utility poles, signs, bridge supports and almost anything except pedestrian and bikes and that they (the city) were really were wide open under ADA. He said they are aware of this and working on it. It is an enormous problem requiring huge outlays of money to fix which is one of the best arguments for urban rail, asap, because that will generate high tax returns for low infrastructure cost from dense development a quarter mile around rail stops. These areas will also be bike and people areas with reduced auto usage.
Bob Farr wrote:
"My understanding of TX DOT policy is they do not consider sidewalks, or bike access for that matter, as relevant to construction planning.......Handicapped access only becomes an issue once the sidewalk is constructed but not when there is no sidewalk in the first place."
Dave Dobbs replies:
Below, I have quoted the Texas Constitution on the matter of transportation funding. This coupled with the fact that TxDot is directed by three commissioners appointed by the governor for set terms makes the highway department what Molly Ivins calls "The Pentagon of Texas!"
I was told that TxDot actually did fund and build the sidewalks along Manchaca Road from William Cannon to south of Slaughter Lane. It's a sorry job full of utility poles and minimally complying with ADA. While riding my bike I discovered that part of the sidewalk near where Shiloh intersects Manchaca is so narrow in its initial construction this last year that even TxDot concedes it doesn't comply and has promised to fix it. As soon as I made note of possible ADA problems to a city public works employee, a TxDot person immediately called me back and specifically identified the point in question. This was interesting because I was referring to the project in general when I called the city. TxDot employees know they have a problem, but it remains to be seen if anything will change.
Incidentally, could not the "extra lane" (on either side of Manchaca which is stripped off from the travel lanes and used for right turn lanes at intersections) be painted with a 4 foot wide bikeway next to the curb with an 8 foot buffer to the travel lane? That might save it from being turned into a travel lane in the future. and give cyclists a better route than the really inadequate sidewalk. Besides, the sidewalk will be illegal once businesses line the street.
Texas Constitution Article VIII
Section 7-a. NET MOTOR LICENSE FEES AND MOTOR FUEL TAX REVENUES RESTRICTED EXCEPT ONE FOURTH OF FUEL TAXES TO SCHOOLS, TO HIGHWAY IMPROVEMENT POLICING AND ADMINISTRATION Subject to legislative appropriation, allocation and direction, all net revenues remaining after payment of all refunds allowed by law and expenses of collection derived from motor vehicle registration fees, and all taxes, except gross production and ad valorem taxes, on motor fuels and lubricants used to propel motor vehicles over public roadways, shall be used for the sole purpose of acquiring rights of way, constructing, maintaining, and policing such public roadways and for the administration of such laws as may be prescribed by the Legislature pertaining to the supervision of traffic and safety on such roads; and for the payment of the principal and interest on county and road district bonds or warrants voted or issued prior to January 2, 1939, and declared eligible prior to January 2 1945, for payment out of the County and Road District Highway Fund under existing law, provided, however, that one fourth (1/4) of such net revenue from the motor fuel tax shall be allocated to the Available School Fund; and, provided, however, that the net revenue derived by counties from motor vehicle registration fees shall never be less than the maximum amounts allowed to be retained by each county and the percentage allowed to be retained by each county under the laws in effect on January 11 1945. Nothing contained herein shall be construed as authorizing the pledging of the State's credit for any purpose.
[Note -Section 7-a of Art. VIII Is an amendment restricting revenues from motor vehicle registration and motor fuel taxes to the stated purposes of highway improvement, policing and administration. Submitted by the Forty-ninth Legislature (1945), ratified in an election Nov. 5, 1946.]
Section 7-b. All revenues received from the federal government as reimbursement for state expenditures of funds that are themselves dedicated for acquiring rights-of-way and constructing, maintaining, and policing public roadways are also constitutionally dedicated and shall be used only for those purposes.
[Note -Section 7-b of Art. VIII, an amendment, provides for the dedication of certain funds for highway purposes. Submitted by the Seventieth Legislature (1987) and adopted in an election Nov. 8, 1988.]

writes on 12-19-02:
In case anybody's wondering, this automatic aversion of the Parks Board to impervious cover is why we don't have bike lanes on Barton Springs road through Zilker Park. They preferred the quixotic approach of instead suggesting that two car lanes be removed...
writes on 12-19-02:
I can assure you that the Parks Board's squeamishness about impervious cover also extends to giving pedestrians a sidewalk along the likes of Barton Springs Road. And no, they really don't carry on about impervious cover when parking lots or motor vehicle access are concerned. I've been there for it. There is the obligatory grumbling about it, of course, but their squeamishness is not proportional to the square feet of concrete.
One problem, I think, is that they don't see these facilities as a safety issue. They know to think of bikes and peds in environmental terms, but then the environmental negative of the impervious cover minimizes the environmental gain and devalues the argument. This experience has somewhat turned me off to the argument of biking or walking for "environmental" reasons. (If the mass of cars driving up to the "Clean Air Challenge" every year hasn't already done so, this might.) Anyway, biking does not help the environment one bit. It is _not motoring_ this makes the difference, and there is a subtle distinction. Everyone is willing to sacrifice a little bit of the environment for immediate safety reasons (even me, with my battery powered headlight, etc.), but even mainstream progressive folks like most of the Parks Board don't really grasp the subject as a safety issue. Thus it is sacrificed to a laughably (sob) absurd worry about the impervious cover created by a sidewalk.
The are not evil or stupid, of course, just blind. I think it comes of never putting conscious restrictions on one's own car use, and thus never having to face up to and tough out dangerous situations on bike or foot. Having never actually suffered from the lack of sidewalk, they don't really know what it means.

Nov. 2004. Mike Dahmus offers an illustrated walking tour to demonstrate how sidewalks are poor and non-existent, and why more funding is needed to make Austin walkable.

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