Oct. 24, 2013
Late night cyclists who use the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, the Shoal Creek Greenbelt Trail and the Johnson Creek Greenbelt Trail at night will have to find a new way home.
Austin City Council members voted six to one the end the pilot program at their Oct. 24 meeting. Council member Chris Riley voted against the motion. The program was started to riders a safe passage through the park trails.
“I think the program is very important to neighborhoods. It is something we should be maintaining at least the current levels… But I don’t think that actually maintaining those levels needs to come at the expense of having cyclists put their lives on the line by being forced to choose dangerous methods of transportation just because the safer means are now being considered illegal,” Riley said.
City council started the pilot program in January to allow bike trail access past curfew and was supposed to run through the end of the year. But, back at a budget meeting in September the council decided to stop the funding the program for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which cost about $1 million.
To continue the program the remainder of the year, for the 10 people they have found using the trails at night would cost $300,000 in overtime and the moving of nine district representatives, Austin Police Department officials said.
District representatives are officers serve specific neighborhoods as a liaison between the neighborhoods and the police department.
Johanne Barts, representing the University Hills Neighborhood Association addressed city council stating that in her neighborhood there around 5,000 people and their District Representative would be moved to cover the trails if they were to remain open.
“How can you possibly not see the difference in spending a million dollars to service 10 people on trails at night versus allowing the APD to have their DR’s out in our areas and protecting and assisting and helping the citizens to prevent crime?” Barts said.
“If they [the cyclists] want to ride it, let them ride it without the protection if necessary.”
“Neighborhood patrols are important and their presence there does make a difference. I wouldn’t want to have to give up that protection… for a little bit of a good benefit for a few trail users at night. Seems like that’s not a good cost benefit there,” David King, a Zilker neighborhood resident, said.
The goal of keeping the trails open was for providing safe passage for cyclists at night when instances of alcohol related accidents are higher. Man y of the cyclists who are using the trails at night are working closing shifts in the food industry, and using the trails in the parks tokeep them from having to use the roads with distracted drivers, said Riley.
In APD’s 2012 crime report, fatal traffic crashes increased by 56 percent from 2011 to 2012, and 29 percent of the fatal crashes were alcohol-related in 2012, up from the 21 percent in 2011, Riley said.
“Cyclists, of course, being out there on the streets are subject to the same risks as everybody else and in fact the number of cycling fatalities tripled in that year from one to three. We actually had three cycling fatalities in 2012. What we’re hearing from many cyclists is that for them the trails represent a safe alternative to the roads at night,“ Riley said.
Most of the people who had contacted him asking for the trails to be allowed to remain open, were not even looking for police patrolling, just that it would still be legal for them to use it.
People take risks with every source of transportation. To say that district reps need to be moved to provide extra protection for people using the trails, “is just bogus,“ if there are problem spots, address those problems, Roy Whaley, a cyclist and on the Austin Sierra Club Regional Group, said.
“Just don’t make us outlaws.” he said.
Across the country, other metropolitan areas seem to have adopted similar 24 hour bike trails- most of which are not given any extra police patrolling, said Riley.
“If we saw an influx of people on the trail, if it’s an invitation and people see it as an invitation we would probably start putting resources on there anyways,” Austin police Chief Art Acevedo said, when asked how the police department would respond if signs were posted stating ‘bike at your own risk.’
Several of the council members were clear about wanting to find some way to make the program work.
“I strongly believe that that’s the direction Austin should be going and I hope that in these next few months that we can figure out a way to make that happen, ” Council member Kathie Tovo said.
“We have a transportation system and I think we should use it. We’ve already built it.” Tom Wald, Bike Austin executive director, said.