Some paths are lined with signs banning 'motor vehicles,' so we asked the city if this included motorized e-bikes.
A pesky question probably asked by someone lucky enough to
have been gifted a new set of wheels this holiday season: Are e-bikes actually
allowed on Houston and Harris County's trails and bike lanes?
The answer is a resounding yes, according to David Fields,
Houston's chief transportation planner. That's despite some signage banning
motorized vehicles on certain trails that could cause confusion. As one of
Houston's newest e-bike riders myself, I kept questioning whether or not the
line reading "no motor vehicle" listed on a sign posted near the
Keegans Bayou Trail was made for me. Other signs, like one on the nearby Brays
Bayou trail, prohibit all-terrain vehicles but little else.
An e-bike is much like a traditional bicycle, but it is also
powered by an electric motor pushing out up to 750 watts that helps the bike
reach speeds between 20 and 28 mph. Across the country, and witnessed on
Houston's bike paths day after day, more and more people are ditching their
cars or traditional bicycles for an e-bike.
The Houston area is home to an ever-expanding network of
high-comfort bike lanes and bayou greenway trails, which allow cyclists,
pedestrians and anyone in between to traverse the region without having to deal
with the chaos of car traffic. What was once (and still is, honestly) a
car-centered city is continuing to give a nod to other modes of transportation
in this way, but improvements are far from finished.
Being such an emerging technology, I can't know if anyone
else was as curious about the trail signs. But I feel that I can safely assume
someone out there on their first e-bike ride this week is asking the same
Cities cannot ban e-bikes from paths and trails intended for
traditional bikes, no matter how much any NIMBY insists otherwise.
Cities, counties and other authorities can't ban e-bikes
from any road or paved path that is also intended for traditional bicycle use,
according to the Texas Transportation Code. E-bikes can only be banned on
natural dirt paths that don't require any kind of gravel or other material to
make, but any ban would have to be approved by a governing body like Houston
city council or Harris County commissioners court.
A governing body can mandate speed limits for bicycles on
trails and paths, however limiting speed on Harris County trails has been a
tried-and-failed approach at regulating cyclists. In December 2020,
then-Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack installed 10 mph limit signs along
trails in Terry Hershey Park, one of his final acts as commissioner after Tom
Ramsey was elected to replace him. The signs sparked outrage from some
cyclists, who saw themselves as a scapegoat for safety issues on the county's
more narrow trails.
Ramsey then ordered county staff to remove the speed limit
signs and replace them with signs showing how everyone on the trail can make it
safer, according to the Houston Chronicle's Dug Begley. (Chron and the Houston
Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of one another.)
Sidewalks are regulated differently, however. The
transportation code allows municipalities to ban bikes and other modes of
transportation from sidewalks. Houston bans any kind of bicycle on sidewalks
within a business district, most notably downtown. While not an e-bike,
electric scooters are also banned on sidewalks throughout the city.
If you didn't find one stashed under your tree during the
holidays, E-bikes can be rented from BCycle stations throughout Houston.