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Are e-bikes actually allowed on trails in Houston and Harris County?
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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 question.

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.

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