“Trail Tales: Closing the Gaps”

Trails have been a part of sustainable community design for close to four decades. Our next step is to locate the holes and connect existing trails, closing the gaps in this critical infrastructure for more walkable cities. With Concordia University and the Texas Master Naturalists, our proposed trail master plan is broken into five phases connecting different points of interest: classrooms, protected preserve trails, accessible fitness trails, nearby shopping centers, campus apartments, a softball field, and eventually a bike trail will connect to the Austin’s existing bike trails through shoulder sharrows. As Jeff Olson, architect and trail advocate notes, we can work these connections so that “every doorstep is a trailhead.”

Trail Drone

Last fall, Patrick Wong kindly donated his drone photography skills for Phase 3, connection between the university, dorms and nearby shopping center. We are currently developing more accurate plans for fitness loops and sections demarcating the safety standards to inform trail development. Concordia University students report feeling isolated on campus. A quick walking proximity diagram shows that by “closing the gaps” between existing sidewalks, trails, and nodes of interest would make food, entertainment and housing more accessible on foot and bicycle.

All labor will be performed by Texas Trail Tamers, Texas Master Naturalists, and Concordia University students. Creating safe guidelines for development insures the federal regulations of the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, Concordia University and general safe design measures are adhered during the potentially slow process of volunteer labor over the coming years. Together, we created an online tutorial, “How to Design and Build a Trail,” where volunteers can pass on methods and tricks over time. Additionally, we are working with the City of Austin Active Transportation Program to tie our trail master plan into existing bicycle trails. The League of American Bicyclists designated Austin as a gold-level bicycle friendly community and the city is seeking to improve its rating with a platinum designation and we are certainly excited to participate in this movement.

Working towards closing the gaps at Concordia University brings a few questions forward. Walkable, bikeable properties are heavily demanded by consumers, with high walkability scores increasing property values and reducing time on the market. Builders, developers, realtors, and other profit-driven note the overwhelming consumer preference in trail access in trade magazines. Local businesses benefit from more customers when transportation changes from vehicular to pedestrian. Even a small percentage of trail use alleviates congestion and pollution on roadways. In site plan review of new projects, could municipalities require bicycle trail connections along with bike parking? If hike and bike trails are proven critical infrastructure, we have to stop treating it as an optional amenity and create quantity requirements and safety restrictions as we do with vehicular parking and roadways.

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