Feature Article - April 2018
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Making Connections, Spurring Development

The Latest in Trail & Greenway Planning, Maintenance & Programming

By Chris Gelbach

The Dallas Park and Recreation Department likewise opts for concrete in areas that are prone to flooding. It has set a minimum standard of 12-foot concrete for its linear long-distance trails. At White Rock Lake, a beloved park with a 9.5-mile loop trail favored by walkers and joggers, asphalt has been chosen to create a more forgiving running surface. The asphalt is poured between two one-foot concrete curbs and above an underlying concrete surface.

"It's sort of like a concrete cup or channel section with three inches of asphalt so it stays level," Winters said. "We roll the asphalt around once a year to keep it level and compacted. We typically do asphalt loop trails in the larger parks, but they do take a little extra maintenance." Those trails most commonly feature asphalt paths that are 8, 10 or 12 feet wide.

The city sees very high usage during peak periods on popular trails such as the Katy Trail, where a jogger died in 2010 in a collision with a cyclist. To attempt to control speeds, officials have installed radar geared toward bikers that flashes the speed at them when they're going too fast. Signs on the trail also remind people to do things like be courteous, watch behind your back and signal that you're passing.

The city also partners with various groups, including the Friends of the Katy Trail, which has funded a parallel soft-surface trail over most of the trail's length. Separate paths are something that the city has traditionally not been able to budget for itself given its focus on expanding the network of linear concrete trails.

"You can spend as much on the parallel soft-surface trail as you do on the main concrete trail," Winters said. "So it's a big expense and may almost double the cost of the trail if you have that."

To mitigate potential conflicts between bikers, runners, walkers and dog-walkers, Poovey recommends building trails that separate pedestrians and bikes from each other whenever the location and budget allows.

A best-case scenario in this instance might involve a 12-foot bikeway separated by direction, a 5-foot physical barrier that could take the form of a planting strip, and then an 8-foot path for pedestrians. The barrier serves not only to separate users, but also to create a pleasant recreational experience instead of a continuous hardscape that reads like a roadway.

"The problem with that … is that it has a bigger footprint. It takes up more land, so it's typically more expensive. It might have environmental impact if you're in a sensitive area. And it also can have more impact on acquiring the land because there's more land to acquire," Poovey said. "It's hard to do it, but when you can it's really important to go ahead to plan for the amount of use you'll be getting in the future. And if you do a well-designed trail that's well-connected to destinations, you're going to get a lot of use."

Poovey also noted that it's much harder and more expensive to go back and retrofit a trail to be wider or to separate its users. And while some trails might be laid down initially as limestone trails with the intention of paving later, finding the funding later is often a challenge. Whereas a nicer trail in a targeted area that connects destinations can do more to increase property values and to attract businesses and developers.

"I think the high-impact, 'doing it right' trail can demonstrate a higher return on investment easier than just getting miles on the ground," Poovey said.

A Future of Connections

In Dallas, getting miles on the ground was a priority, and has resulted in over 150 miles of trails being built. But now, building connections between them is a priority, too. "The missing links in our trail system have come more and more into focus, and how much more effective our trail network would be if we could just make these connections," Winters said. "And usually they involve crossing interstate freeways between trails."

Building these connections has been delayed because of their high cost, but a capital bond referendum and the efforts of an organization called the Circuit Trail Conservancy has created the funding that is bringing these projects to life. The end results will ultimately be a 50-mile continuous trail loop around Dallas, with an eye to building an even larger loop in the future.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is likewise working with a variety of agencies around the country on eight TrailNation projects aimed at creating similarly connected networks across the nation, many of them hundreds of miles in length.

"I think the biggest message for any trail developer now is, what is your trail doing? What is it connecting? What's at either end of your trail? And if you can't answer those questions with something compelling, you might want to rethink your project," Oberg said. "It's got to be about connectivity and networks."