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Big plans for Shoal Creek Trail unveiled

Tuesday, July 3, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

The nonprofit steward of Austin’s premier urban trail has published its draft plan for extending the hike-and-bike path north from Central Austin all the way to the Domain.

The Shoal Creek Conservancy on Friday publicly debuted its Shoal Creek Trail: Vision to Action Plan, a document that calls for more than tripling the length of the existing 4-mile trail that runs from Lady Bird Lake to West 38th Street.

The strategy, which also includes improving conditions along the downtown segment of the trail, is broken into four phases and comes with a projected cost of $66 million.

By stretching the trail north along Shoal Creek Boulevard and past U.S. Highway 183 to the Domain, the project would complete the Big Loop, a 30-mile network that would also include the Walnut Creek Trail, the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, and the Anne and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.

“If you think about needing alternative transportation solutions for our city, and if you think of the mental and physical health of our residents, this plan is intrinsically linked to those needs,” Shoal Creek Conservancy Executive Director Joanna Wolaver told the Austin Monitor.

The document is the fruit of a yearlong planning partnership with the city’s Public Works Department and McCann Adams Studio, the urban design firm that has also been involved with the redevelopment of Highland Mall, the Seaholm District Master Plan, the South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan and the Round Rock Downtown Improvement Plan.

Wolaver estimated that completing every project envisioned in the Shoal Creek Trail plan will take more than a decade. However, the document calls for five priority projects to be completed in the short term.

First on the list is the creation of a two-way cycle track on the west side of Shoal Creek Boulevard from West 38th Street up to Foster Lane. Currently, the street features two bike lanes in both directions that also double as parking lanes.

The goal is to foster the all-ages and -abilities spirit of the Bicycle Master Plan by creating separation between bicycles and cars, though cyclists will still have to contend with a number of driveways along the proposed path.

Other priorities include enhanced wayfinding along the trail and safer crossings at roads such as West 34th, West 38th, and West 45th streets. The downtown section of the trail between West Fifth and West Sixth streets would also be widened to better accommodate traffic along the busy path.

Perhaps most ambitiously, the final priority established in the plan is the repurposing of the abandoned rail trestle that spans the creek at West Third Street. The $6 million project would transform the bridge into a pedestrian crossing that feeds into a series of plazas in the Seaholm District. It would also add an underpass beneath the trestle to create a more seamless path from the Central Library to the trail as it bends around the Independent condo tower.

The conservancy will spend the next few months presenting the draft plan to relevant boards and commissions and ultimately to City Council, which will consider adopting it as an amendment to the Urban Trails Master Plan.

“City Council adoption is not only important in setting up individual project funding through City of Austin sources, but it is also key to attracting funding as these sources generally require that their investments go toward projects that support the public good and have won public approval,” the document states.

Photo by Caleb Pritchard; map from the Shoal Creek Trail: Vision to Action Plan.

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