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Friday, October 18, 2013 by Adam Schragin
Council again postpones action on 24-hour access to hike-and-bike trails
A battle over whether three segments of the City of Austin’s hike-and-bike trails should remain open will last at least another week, after City Council members postponed a vote on an ordinance that would end the pilot program. However, that didn’t mean that there wasn’t any action.
Though the item was quickly dispatched Thursday, it allowed Council Member Chris Riley to engage city management over the issue in a manner that may have revealed some frustration over the lingering matter. “I realize the city manager is reluctant to consider the trails as transportation opportunities and is hesitant to engage our staffers specifically dedicated to that effort,” Riley said.
For his part, City Manager Marc Ott, who was not on the dais when Riley delivered his comments, appeared ready to be involved. “I will direct several departmental representatives, which are stakeholders regarding our trails system, to work together in an effort to find a viable solution regarding the matter. I am confident this group, which will include representatives from transportation, public safety, parks and public works, will examine the transportation and safety issues involved and find a solution that provides balance,” Ott said via email.
Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar also offered a statement that appeared designed to refute Riley’s statement. “Trails are one of several transportation options that exist in most municipalities, including Austin. The trails were also included in the voter-approved 2010 mobility bond,” he said via email.
Despite that dose of acrimony, Riley appeared encouraged Thursday over a Tuesday compromise pitched by Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo. “At our work session on Tuesday, I was interested to hear our police chief indicate that he was open to consideration in identifying certain segments of trail to keep open in spite of a curfew,” said Riley. “That seemed like a conversation that was worth pursuing.” (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 16)
That discussion may be somewhat affected with Acevedo attending to matters related to the death of Police Lt. Clay Crabb. The officer was killed in an off-duty car wreck earlier this week.
As for Riley’s concerns about management, Mayor Lee Leffingwell noted that he didn’t think that Ott “was reluctant to have that conversation.” The mayor pointed out that, for legal reasons, the city manager should be looking into the matter, and not just “(Riley’s) office.”
Leffingwell also asked for a fiscal note to be attached to the item when it comes back. Costs associated with patrolling the trails have been a question.
Leffingwell has repeatedly expressed safety concerns over the trails issue after his colleagues removed $1 million in budget funding targeted for dedicated patrols of the trails. Acevedo has said that he would have to remove officers from APD’s very popular District Representatives program to staff trail coverage, should 24-hour access continue.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.