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Concerns raised over 18-foot-wide trail design

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

A proposed urban trail that is as wide as a city street became an issue Wednesday, after residents voiced concern about the pathway’s design.

During an April 1 meeting, Environmental Board members heard an update on the Upper Boggy Creek Trail design. The Public Works Department is gathering input from the city’s boards and commissions on trail designs in the Urban Trail Project Master Plan before it finalizes the routes.

Board and community members expressed concern that a portion of the Upper Boggy Creek Trail that stretches from 12th Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near the MetroRail line would uproot four protected trees and one heritage tree to make way for a 10-foot-wide, two-way bicycle area alongside an 8-foot-wide, two-way pedestrian area.

Zoila Vega of the Austin Heritage Trees Foundation and Roy Waley of the local Sierra Club chapter both said their organizations could not get behind the current design.

“If you optimize the trail layout for cycling, to make it where you can go as fast as you can … you don’t have to take the time to go around the (heritage) tree to save it,” Vega said during public comment.

Board Member Robert Deegan also expressed alarm at the trail’s width.

“Was there any consideration into building a smaller trail now and expanding when the actual traffic warranted (it)?” he asked. Specifically, he wondered if the city could scale back certain trail segments to save several large, unprotected trees.

Public Works project manager Nadia Barrera explained that they designed the wider portion of the Upper Boggy Creek Trail near the MLK station to accommodate an expected greater population density in the area and match the mixed-use development currently occurring.

“Originally, when we were designing this trail, we did not want to remove this heritage tree,” Barrera said. “But once we were in the field with the city arborist, they saw the condition of the tree and felt as though it was something that would have to happen.”

The city arborist said the heritage tree was dying, which would permit its removal under administrative regulations. Normally, the Environmental Board must approve a heritage tree’s removal.

Chair Mary Gay Maxwell pointed out that the arborist’s official paperwork was missing.

Chad Crager, division manager with the Public Works Department, said they expected the trail to mirror Lady Bird Lake’s traffic in several years. That trail is up to 20 feet wide in its northern portions, he said. Crager reminded board members that the Upper Boggy Creek Trail would link to a train station, a sustainable food center, a potential skate park and could be utilized by commuters, recreational cyclists and pedestrians.

“I understand where you are coming from, but you are moving forward in a very aggressive assumption in the basis of use,” Deegan responded. “When I look at some of the trails that have been constructed in Austin, like the trail on Barton Springs Road, a 12-foot trail in a pretty heavily dense area … it doesn’t appear to be overused or overcrowded.”

Crager said staff would look into narrowing the trail to save more trees and using sand bridges — an environmentally friendly design technique — to minimize root disruption. However, he noted that changing the design at this point could be a problem because of a private property easement near the MLK station.

Staff will also retain the city arborist’s official ruling on the heritage tree.

The Environmental Board took no action. The item will be on the agenda at an upcoming meeting.

Image Courtesy of the City of Austin

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