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Friday, December 19, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Longer hike-and-bike trail hours on the way

As a parting gesture, City Council members finally found a way to keep some of the city’s hike-and-bike trails open a little longer.

At their final meeting, Council members unanimously approved an ordinance that will allow the Parks and Recreation Department director to set operating hours to something other than the standard hours, which are between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The change, explained Council Member Chris Riley, would allow the park to extend the hours of some of the city’s trails so that they could be used as transportation “based on the police department saying they could handle that.”

Last year, an attempt to keep the Butler Hike and Bike Trail open 24 hours was thwarted by the cost of policing the trail. After a pilot program that kept the trail open concluded, Council was given the choice to either keep the trail open or take resources away from the popular district representative policing program. Council members voted to defund the program instead, with only Riley voting in favor of its continuance.

Riley said the change could allow the director to keep the parks open until midnight.

“I looked into fighting that battle of whether we could extend that even further and found that we would not have any success with the police department. So I’m not going to go there,” said Riley.

However, he did change language in the ordinance that would make it apply to more of the city’s trails. As a result, the ordinance will apply to trails that contribute to the city’s transportation infrastructure, not just those that were established as transportation infrastructure.

Assistant City Attorney Robin Harris explained — much to the frustration of Riley — that the ordinance had been crafted that way intentionally because some of the trails had been built with transportation bonds. Riley has repeatedly tried to make that exact point in his quest to keep bicycle trails open longer.

“I can’t help but note that our city management and staff insisted at the time we had this discussion that none of our trails were funded with transportation dollars,” said Riley. “Even after it was pointed out that was incorrect, they continued to maintain that position.”

“I’m glad to hear you acknowledging that staff was previously incorrect in their representations to the Council,” Riley continued.

Riley also added a provision that would include notification to the Pedestrian Advisory Council and the Bicycle Advisory Council if there were operating hour changes to trails. He explained that the change was intended to provoke conversation and inform members of the cycling community about the rules.

“I do have some concern that under this ordinance, someone using a trail at night after the closing hour would be guilty of a misdemeanor regardless of mental state. So, even if they didn’t know the trail was closed, they would still be guilty of a misdemeanor,” said Riley. “I think whatever we can do to get word out about the trails would be helpful.”

“Relying simply on the city’s rule-making process is problematic, because not everyone is into the city’s processes,” said Riley.

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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.

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

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