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Council approves Urban Trails Master Plan

Monday, September 29, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

It was a rough road for the Urban Trails Master Plan, but after a few tweaks, City Council embraced the proposal last week.

Council members voted 7-0 to approve the master plan after hearing nearly an hour’s worth of public input — both for and against the plan. Those speaking against the plan were vocal at Council’s previous meeting, and they were well-represented last week as well.

Opponents were worried about the potential environmental impacts of urban trails and the cost of and public process for constructing the trails.

Kunda Wicce, who is a former Nature Preserves manager with the city, warned against building trails in floodplains and said that the paved trails would negatively affect the surrounding ecology. Wicce asked Council to send the plan to Texas Parks and Wildlife for review.

“Don’t take what you want from urban creatures just because you can,” said Wicce.

This time, the master plan also had support from members of Austin’s bike community and others who hoped to use the proposed trail network. Jennifer McPhail, who is with ADAPT of Texas and uses a wheelchair, told Council that the plan would save lives.

“I like to use trails whenever possible, because it’s easier to dodge squirrels than it is to dodge traffic,” said McPhail. “You hear a lot of people complaining about how these trails will be a threat to the environment, but how many of those people actually rode public transportation or their bike to get here? How many carpooled?”

Andrei Lubodmodrov also spoke in favor of the plan, but said he understood the environmental concerns. As a result, he supported the inclusion of a “robust public input process” for the construction of specific trails. He said that process would most likely prevent the “doomsday scenarios that people are imagining with paving over and putting roads in the greenbelts.”

“I’ll be there with everyone else, sounding the alarm, if we are talking about paving over our most vulnerable areas. I really have confidence in staff to select appropriate trails,” said Lubodmodrov.

Council Member Laura Morrison said she had worked a lot on the plan and admitted there were details that nearly kept her from supporting it. But she had come around — with a few changes.

“I was very, very concerned about many elements about it,” said Morrison. “The nice thing is that staff put out a new draft that accommodated a lot of the issues that had been raised.”

Morrison said the plan is a very high-level one, and that there would be “a lot of work to do on every single trail to come.”

Morrison added an amendment to the plan that would bring individual trails not just through the boards and commission process at 30 percent design completion, but also to Council’s Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee. The committee will have the option of allowing each trail to continue being constructed or, if needed, passing it on to the full Council for review.

“It’s a little loosey-goosey, but it’s meant to be flexible,” said Morrison.

Morrison also changed the language of the master plan slightly, taking out a requirement that trails be “pavement,” leaving the requirement that they be all-weather, and clarifying the language concerning accessibility standards for trails.

The plan was also changed to require that each trail project will have its own website, which will include maps, information and opportunities for public comment.

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