A plan to extend the Shoal Creek trail from its current northern end at West 38th Street includes removing parking from Shoal Creek Boulevard’s west side along a four-mile stretch and using that asphalt for a two-way bike lane.
The 122-page proposal released in mid-June, the fruit of a yearlong study by the Shoal Creek Conservancy, has received a mixed reaction from the Allandale Neighborhood Association, which represents homeowners along most of that stretch from West 38th to Foster Lane. The bike lanes, along with sidewalks widened to 12 feet in spots to accommodate pedestrians, would cause a variety of problems, said Scott Ehlers, president of the neighborhood association.
The city and the conservancy envision the trail extension, including the lengthy portion of it that would be on streets and sidewalks, as part of a grand, 30-mile loop of trails tracing an egg-shape from Lady Bird Lake to the Domain in North Austin. This continuous trail in Central and East Austin, under the plan, would allow cyclists of all abilities to safely ride to downtown jobs and other activities without facing vehicle traffic.
But proponents emphasize that the plan for all 13 miles of an expanded Shoal Creek trail should be considered a starting point, not something set in stone.
“We’re willing, open and excited to continue the conversation,” said Joanna Wolaver, executive director of the Shoal Creek Conservancy.
The city has committed about $8.3 million to Shoal Creek trail improvements, according to the plan, and it recommends that the 38th-to-Foster project — estimated to cost $1.4 million — be part of that initial work.
Ehlers said neighborhood residents let planners know about their concerns at a meeting late last year.
“There was a sizable turnout, with lots of opposition to that proposal,” he said. “Despite that, they didn’t even recognize that in the report. They didn’t even mention the meeting.”
The association, Ehlers said, hasn’t taken a formal position on the trail plan. He’s hoping that the conservancy will conduct a formal survey of people in Allandale, with a focus on those who live on Shoal Creek Boulevard. Homes line the west side of that arterial street for all but a few blocks of the stretch between West 45th and Foster, about a quarter-mile south of Anderson Lane. Parking is legal along the curb, on both sides of Shoal Creek, in 10-foot-wide strips designated by painted lines, which is a zone currently shared by cyclists and those parked cars.
Aside from the lost parking, Ehlers said, residents are concerned about garbage collection, the elimination of trees for the wider sidewalks and the effect on utility connections, sprinkler systems and existing landscaping.
In just a six-home stretch, resident Kathryn Currie wrote in a neighborhood listserv discussion, widening the sidewalk “would take out 11 mature trees. Isn’t sounding too responsible or ‘green’ to me!”
But Jason Riley of Allandale wrote that he is “all in favor of this. Shoal Creek (Boulevard) has become a major bike thoroughfare. … I’ve seen far too many near-misses from cars almost hitting bicyclists swerving around parked cars in the bike lanes. While I can understand the (right of way) parking complaints, I’m pretty sure almost all of the houses along Shoal Creek have a driveway of some sort and usually a garage.
“Enabling more people to commute by bike means less cars on the road during rush hour for all of us.”
Wolaver said many people who participated in the planning process said the shared parking-and-cycling lane is a problem, that people backing out of driveways fail to notice cyclists.
Aside from the changes along Shoal Creek Boulevard, the plan envisions widening the sidewalk along the west side of Lamar Boulevard from West 15th Street to West 31st Street, providing an alternative route friendlier to cyclists than the existing trail through Pease Park. That trail, most of it crushed granite, is maintained to varying degrees — the city expects repairs on a collapsed section north of West 24th Street to begin in a few weeks — and has a thin section near West 29th Street with overhanging cliffs that make it difficult for cyclists.