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Mayor calls for an end to 24-hour access to city Hike and Bike Trails

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell this week is proposing an end to the pilot program granting 24-hour access for bicyclists to the three of the city’s Hike and Bike Trails started in June. For Leffingwell, an Austin Police Department plan to reassign nine officers from the department’s district representative program to trail duty was too much.


“The reason I put (the resolution) on here is, it’s basically a choice: Do we want the nine (district representatives) or do we want the trails open,” he said. “Not to make a big point out of it, but I believe the surveys showed there were 10 cyclists per night.”


Leffingwell moderated somewhat as he continued. “I don’t have any reason other than that to not keep the trails open. It’s just a matter of that choice, left open to us now as a result of the de-funding in the budget process: Do you want the DRs or do you want the trails open,” he offered.


Council Member Laura Morrison agreed – at least in part. “For me, I’m pretty comfortable saying that it’s more valuable having nine DRS in the neighborhoods,” she offered.


Council members opened the trails for 24-hour use with action they took in June. The vote came along with police concern over the safety of late night bikers, and eventually expanded to include regular APD patrols of the portions of three trails opened by Council.


Leffingwell’s item appeared on Council’s agenda in the wake of action taken during the FY2014 budget deliberations to defund APD overtime used for policing the trails. Assistant Police Chief Brian Manley told Council members that, even without overtime funding for the program, the department would have to staff trail patrols, should the pathways remain open for 24-hour use.


District representatives serve as community liaisons. Manley called the officers “the front line in our community policing efforts.” He told Council members that using district representatives to perform trail duty was an essential step, and added that “based on our analysis, this would be the unit that we would pull from to provide security.”


Council Member Bill Spelman, who routinely questions APD force needs, took issue with Manley’s suggestion. “Ten cyclists and nine DRs: I can imagine a lot of scenarios where everybody gets their own private police officers, a bodyguard or something,” he said. “I don’t think it’s really what you have in mind. It seems like an enormous expenditure of police effort for a very moderate gain in public safety – certainly compared with what the DRs are capable of doing out in the community.”


Spelman suggested that Manley might be able to conduct the patrols with something less than nine dedicated officers. Manley simply offered: “It may just be that we disagree on the issue,” he said.


Leffingwell reminded Spelman that tactical deployment is a departmental decision.


Council Member Kathie Tovo, who cosponsored the item to shut off trail access, took a stab at explaining why she had signed on to the idea. She appeared more interested in a discussion of the idea than as a firm supporter of Leffingwell’s proposal.


Later, she confirmed her position for In Fact Daily. “During the budget hearings I made the motion to eliminate $1.05 million in funding for police overtime associated with the 24-hr trails and suggested that we save for a future meeting the discussion about whether we should leave the trails open in the evenings to cyclists,” Tovo said via email. “I co-sponsored the resolution so that we can have that public discussion about whether it’s appropriate to re-visit the decision to lift the curfew on the trails.”


Should the repeal of 24-hour trail access pass, APD officers would return to enforcing a curfew on the selected trails from 10pm until 5am. A ticket for such a violation could result a fine of up to $500.


Council members are set to vote on the idea Thursday.

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