Urban Trails, Plus or Minus?

I’m an avid mountain biker and hiker. The main reason that Brenda and I live in Travis Country is because of access to the Barton Creek Greenbelt and Wilderness Park where I spend a lot of time. One disadvantage of the neighborhood, at least in my opinion, is the limited connectivity to surrounding communities. For instance, there’s no way to walk or bike to a restaurant or convenience store via sidewalks or bike paths. Although there are mountain bike trails that connect to Sunset Valley and even downtown, they are far from beginner friendly and suitable only for experienced riders.

Violet Crown Trial

Violet Crown Trail

Because of this I’ve been really excited about the City of Austin’s Urban Trails Plan, the Violet Crown Trail, and the Mopac Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge. These projects promise the ability to ride from Travis Country to destinations ranging from Buda to Manor, and also provide local access to entertainment and shopping without the need to drive.

When I think of the prospect of connecting my neighborhood to this network I have visions of rides with the grand kids to the ice cream store, or riding down town for dinner and a movie. But when the city approached our HOA’s board of directors to request access to neighborhood property to evaluate possible ways to participate, the reaction was quite different. The request was refused and at least one board member called the possibility of connectivity “a disaster for the neighborhood” and predicted that trails would “drastically change (the) neighborhood and increase crime and … flood (the) neighborhood with non-residents in all our amenity areas and greenbelts“.

Austin to Manor Trail

Austin to Manor Trail

Clearly these are two quite different points of view. One sees trails as an opportunity for residents of the neighborhood to connect with the broader community and the other as an opportunity for residents of the broader community to invade the neighborhood. I’m sure that both are valid to some extent, and in fact there are many gated communities in the area that have decided that isolation is the best course.

I did a quick Google search to see if there is any data on how urban trails affect communities and came up with only a couple of freely available studies. One, titled “Preceptions of How the Presence of Greenway Trails Affects the Value of Proximate Properties” published in 2001 took a look at nine studies of trails in different communities and concluded that;

“… there was broad consensus that trails have no negative impact on either the saleability of property (easier or more difficult to sell) or its value”.

The second, “The Impact of Greenways on Property Values: Evidence from Austin, Texas” published in 2005 concluded that;

“Physical access to a greenbelt had a significant, positive impact in one case, but was insignificant in two others. No negative greenway impacts were recorded”.

Although the summaries are focused on property values the issue of crime was addressed in at lease one section. On page 120 the “Perceptions” study included this quote from one of the included studies…

“In summary, this study indicates that concerns about decreased property values, increased crime, and a lower quality of life due to the construction of multi-use trails are unfounded. In fact, the opposite is true. The study indicates that multi-use trails are an amenity that helps sell homes, increases property values and improves the quality of life (p. 3).”

Both of these studies include a lot of information and references to opposing opinions so they are a great starting point for further study if you’re so inclined.

Based on this quick search it seems that, at the very least, it’s not obvious that negative impacts would outweigh the positive and there should be room for a discussion.

So what’s your opinion? Are urban trails a plus or a minus? If there’s some of both what’s the best way to accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives? Would you support or oppose a plan to connect your neighborhood to a trails network, or would it depend on the specific plan or type of trail?

 

 

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11 Responses to Urban Trails, Plus or Minus?

  1. Peter Dennison says:

    Jim,

    I’m with you. I see this as a big plus for myself and our neighborhood. As someone who also rides and hikes on the greenbelt and elsewhere in the Austin area, I would love to be able to safely bike to areas like Sunset Valley shops & dining, as well as other places in the Oak Hill area and beyond via a bikeway. I visit Colorado frequently and they have connection trails all over the place that make it easy to bike. From what I have seen and experienced, it only enhances the neighborhoods involved too. I strongly feel that our board should reconsider and let the city access our neighborhood to conduct feasibility studies and I personally hope that they will build trails that would connect us.

  2. David Welch says:

    Thanks for the post, I too like the urban trail vision, the idea of riding my bike from Travis Country to Zilker Park and downtown sounds great. However, opinions have been formed on sparse, mixed information about where this trial would intersect our neighborhood. One TC board member told me the new trail would replace Sycamore Trail that runs between Hill Top Park and Blue Valley Park. Is there a defined route being proposed at this time? I wouldn’t like a concrete path to replace the challenging single track known as Sycamore Trail but I would support a trail through Gaines Creek Park running parallel to Southwest Parkway (on the fringes of TC). To me the route is the main concern, can the COA planners tell us more?

    • admin says:

      The only reference to a true urban trail in the area that I’ve seen is in the City of Austin’s Urban Trails Master Plan. Here’s a map of the proposed trail from the city.

      YBC Trail Map

      Here’s a description from Community Impact The trail would begin at the under-construction MoPac pedestrian bridge, cross over MoPac and continue south along the frontage road toward Southwest Parkway. The trail would veer into the woods but remain no more than 50 feet away from Southwest Parkway, Perkins said. The trail would cross under Southwest Parkway and connect to Vega Avenue. Perkins said he hoped that segment could be built first because it has the potential to connect to several roads and properties. From Vega Avenue, the trail would connect to the AMD campus before reaching the Austin Community College Pinnacle campus.

      I haven’t seen any evidence of a proposal to pave the trail between the pools. That seems pretty unlikely to me.

  3. Thad says:

    I’ve formed my opinion (question more like) into a website also. http://tcy2bc.blogspot.com/

    I’m a resident of Canyonbend Circle and, arguably, the most affected since my home is the southernmost in the neighborhood. Please read my concerns carefully.

    Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Thad:

      Great input. I think that this is the kind of discussion that we should have as a community. I’ll comment on your post with my thoughts.

  4. Leigh Ziegler says:

    Connectivity is a common goal but not at the expense of the greenspace that currently exists and protects Travis Country. I am particularly concerned for the affect of considering a cement trail- the proposed concept ( 12 ft or more) in the stretch of land between Southwest Parkway and the Gaines Creek pathway. The suggestion of running the trail under any one of the bridges under Southwest Parkway ( drainage for Gaines Creek) seems fraught with danger and currently implausible. Thinking out of the box is great… but do not forget we must protect our homes just on the other side of the Creek from increased impervious cover which might add to bank erosion on our neighbors’ side ( and the construct of such a trail is probably not even code compliant) – not to mention the increased noise and invasion of privacy. May I suggest that neighbors for the trail go take a look at the small strip of land between Mopac and the first bridge which hosts a real and seemingly unsurmountable concern for putting a cement ( the only ADA compliant Highway subsidized) trail…even while we are low on the totem pole for construction of a trial. Currently there is a natural trail along the bank admittedly not very safe. Please be aware that Gaines Creek is subject to stream urbanization and will be expected to take more runoff – a consequence of planned development along Ben White and clearing of their Gaines Creek tributary without adequate offsets for drainage . Do we really want to add more impervious cover? When the bike path challenges the livelihood of our established neighbors I think it is imperative that we continue to support the affected neighbors and first consider how the expanding highway system could negatively impact any and all residents of our neighborhood. I would like to know who is suggesting that the 2 million is designated for our portion of the trail as implied above?

  5. admin says:

    Thanks Leigh. The image was from a report from the City of Austin on Urban Trails. Here’s a link to the report;

    http://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=219498

    The $2.0M is for design or the entire YBC trail, not just our section.

  6. admin says:

    Leigh:

    Here’s a bit of information from the city on urban trails and the environment…

    Expanding choices for safe, affordable and sustainable travel modes has a positive impact on our environment. By making transit, biking and walking realistic options, we encourage families and residents of all ages to reduce car trips and the reliance on cars. Reduction in motor vehicle trips positively impacts our air and water quality, as well as our quality of life. A recently survey of Austin citizens showed that 80 percent are more likely to ride bicycles more often if more separated paths or trails were available.

    All current environmental protections in the City Code will be applied to the construction and design of Urban Trails. The Urban Trails Program recognizes that many proposed Urban Trials may be located in greenfield development areas. Therefore, significant care will be taken to promote the utmost sensitivity for environmental concerns. If environmental concerns are not met to the satisfaction of City of Austin staff, the community, or appropriate boards and commissions, a “no build” option may be considered.

  7. Steven Levatino says:

    Jim,

    Thank you for this excellent website. I think a positive analysis of this topic will be good for the neighborhood. I would like to see the urban trial come near Travis Country. I think it is a public safety issue. As a neighborhood we are currently cut off. Average bikers can’t use the trials or roads around our neighborhood to get anywhere. I am an avid mountain and urban biker. The dirt trails currently available to the neighborhood are primitive and mostly very technical. While my son (who has ridden on a mountain biking team) and I can ride down to the Greenbelt, it is a challenging trial at best. One misstep and you are hurt without a doubt. There is no chance my family or friends can ride to the greenbelt. Its just too dangerous. As for road biking, we are currently cut off from the city. If you want to ride out from the neighborhood, the only real viable safe routes are south and west. Both of which are taking you away from the city. You can go around, but that adds considerable distance to the ride. The current safest way (that terms is used lightly) to get past 360 is to drive on Southwest Parkway shoulder to Boston lane, then take that to the westbound frontage road of 290, then loop around at Monterrey Oaks Blvd and then take the eastbound frontage road to 360. You are riding with the traffic on the frontage roads. It is not for the average bike rider. The new Barton creek bridge will alleviate the problem, but getting to the bridge from our neighborhood is dangerous. Southwest parkway between Mopac and our neighborhood is one of the most dangerous road bike roads in town. There is no shoulder in either direction and the traffic is going fast. I know of one person from our neighborhood who commutes on a bike that was hit on this stretch of road (Coming from Mopac). I am a very experienced road biker and I ride this section reluctantly. So basically, the only way to commute into town on a bike is you have to either be a very technical mountain biker or experienced road biker willing to risk getting into the traffic. I would venture to say that population of our neighborhood able to do this is very low. The urban trial will open up our neighborhood. There is a good example of what is being proposed already built in the City. I ride the Walnut Creek trail in East Austin quite regularly. It is wonderful. I have never seen an issue with traffic, noise, or safety on the trial. The experience is quite the opposite. When you ride that trail I am always impressed with how it has allowed access to nature in the City. I think a bike trial will open up the natural areas of Austin to everyone and would be a benefit to our neighborhood. I have read Thad’s concerns on his blog and I get his concerns regarding the trial behind his house and road noise. I think those concerns could be alleviated by having the trial near our neighborhood skirt Southwest Parkway until past the houses a good distance and only then have the trial venture away from Southwest Parkway into the greenbelt. As I understand it, all maps right now are conceptual and not the set route. Therefore, we can clearly influence where the final trial is placed. Lets make the trial a win win for all concerned.

    • admin says:

      Steven:

      Thanks for your comments. I’d also like to see a good road bike route to the city. I ride SWPY westbound from Mopac regularly and although it’s a bit tight it’s downhill and short so I’m not too uncomfortable. On the other hand I won’t ride the eastbound section.

  8. Steven Levatino says:

    I have trials on the brain since I am a lawyer. On previous post meant “trail” not trial. 🙂

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