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Urban Trails Master Plan continues to face opposition

Monday, September 15, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The city’s Urban Trails Master Plan continued to come under fire at City Council’s last meeting.

The plan, which comes out of a 2008 Council resolution, proposes a network of paved “urban trails” that will allow residents, particularly bicyclists and those in wheelchairs, to get around the city without using streets. In July, the Planning Commission narrowly voted against the master plan. (See Austin Monitor, July 7)

“It’s not just for bicycles, it’s not for runners, it’s for everyone in Austin,” said Public Works Community Services Division Manager Chad Crager.

The master plan provoked heated discussion at the Planning Commission, and though the Friday meeting during which Council took up the issue was unorthodox, critics of the proposal showed up to air their grievances. Their worries include the environmental impact of paved trails and that there will be no room for public input if the master plan is approved.

Austinite Joseph Gilliland asked that the plan be sent back to city staff. He said the word “trail” was misleading and did not represent the “true nature of these structures,” which he claimed were more like “mini roads.”

Crager said that at this phase of the master plan, the group was focused on connectivity and the layout of the trails themselves, not environmental impacts of specific trails. A map identifying a network of urban trails is far from set in stone, said Crager, explaining that details were still at a high level at this stage and the exact alignment of the trails would not be known until they were addressed on a project-by-project basis.

Crager said that after the plan was adopted, they hoped to develop an environmental criteria manual that would also go through a public process, much like the Watershed Protection Ordinance.

For now, Crager stressed that approving the master plan would not mean approving individual trails. Once the master plan is established, building individual trails will initiate a separate public process, neighborhood notification and involvement of the city’s appropriate boards and commissions. He said that, even if the trails qualified for administrative approval, boards would be briefed on their construction.

Katy Roper, who is married to Gilliland, said she was pro-trails and would be in favor of the master plan if it were rewritten. She warned that the plan would allow the city to pave over the Williamson Creek Greenbelt.

Zoila Vega of the Austin Heritage Tree Foundation said she was concerned about the environmental impact of the trails and the possibility that boards would be “briefed” on trails instead of having a say. She said not everyone likes hard surfaces, anyway.

Council members will continue their discussion on the Urban Trails Master Plan at their Sept. 25 meeting.


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