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Avenue A: the third-to-last word

This Thursday at 8:30am at the San Antonio River Authority offices (100 E. Guenther), Witte President Marise McDermott will present Ford Powell & Carson's "Park Segment Feasibility Study and Subcommittee Priorities" for the trails that will run from and through Brackenridge Park to Pearl Brewery (including the hotly contested Ave A/B routes) to a special called meeting of the Museum Reach and Park Segment subcommittees. Their speedy decision will pave the way for a December 15 River Oversight Committee, which will make a final recommendation to the Council of Six. No moss will be growing on those river stones, thank you very much, and this is one of your last best opportunities to weigh in on the final routes.

Following several rounds of public input, most of which was heatedly opposed to connecting Avenue A to the trail system by running a path along 281 on the Western edge of Brackenridge Golf Course, the Park Segment Subcommittee recommended a package of trails that didn't include legs that would link the Avenue A birding haven to the rest of the trails. But the River Oversight Committee instructed FPC to work up specs for those portions as well. Proponents of leaving Avenue A a quiet cul-de-sac suspect a runaround and will likely turn out in force at Thursday's meeting.

In case you haven't been following the Current's coverage here and in the QueQue, a letter from River Road resident Bill Sibley, reprinted in its entirety below, neatly sums up community concerns about the Avenue A route.

December 5, 2008

Dear Mayor Hardberger, City Manager Sculley, City Council and Bexar County Commissioner's Court,

First of all, I'd like to state wholeheartedly how worthwhile and desirable the eventual "Bike and Hike Path" from Brackenridge Park to Mission Espada will be for our city, state and for all citizens and visitors alike. It's going to be an unparalleled green and blue ribbon winding through the heart of S.A., showcasing the diligent planning, civic determination and environmental sensitivity that can be achieved in one of the nations largest, most diverse metropolises. Bravo!

As the time fast approaches for the Park Segment Committee to present their recommendation (Dec. 11) for the actual placement of the much "discussed and cussed" Ave. B vs. Ave. A Trails, which will circumvent the newly restored Brackenridge Golf Course -- we still, even after all this time of public input, endless meetings, much hand-wringing and the overwhelming recommendation of the Park Segment Subcommittee to place the bikers AND hikers both alongside CATALPA-PERSHING and up AVE. B -- we're still staring down the maw of that ugly perro that refuses to go away, namely River Oversight Committee routes 3 and 6 of the much disputed Hwy. 281/Craig Place and Ave. A Hiking alignment. Does anyone, after such an exhaustive winnowing-down process, even know why this bad boy is still hanging around?

So many unanswered questions remain.

SAFETY - Have there been actual studies done on the safety of hikers jogging alongside a freeway (281)? Are there city, TXDOT records/reports pertaining to the number of yearly automobile/truck accidents from the San Antonio River bridge to Mulberry Ave? How often, how many? Tire blowouts, flying hubcaps, hurled trash, careening cars - does anyone know? What are the prolonged effects of breathing those rush hour exhaust fumes for near a third of a mile? The noise level? How safe is it really for children? For elderly/handicapped pleasure-strollers? Do we have other hiking trails in the city that parallel (by mere feet) actual freeways where we might be able to glean some health and safety information? Ultimately, will this "freeway-jog" truly be the cherished "River outing experience" the city is pinning its PR dreams on?

DESIGN - As the Brackenridge Golf Course has stated most emphatically, they very much do not wish to see any "pedestrian pedestrians" set foot on their new million dollar emerald greens. Thusly, one envisions a fence between the Trail and the Golf Course bordering the length of Hwy. 281 to prevent that very mishap from occurring. One also envisions that a fence will be required to prevent the projected annual 150,000 hikers (mom, dad, kids, walk-to-schoolers, strollers, dogs, bikes, trikes, frisbees, skateboards, etc., etc.) from simply bounding out into 70 MPH Hwy. traffic on 281. So, a fence on one side to keep people from leaving the Trail and a fence on the other side to keep people off the freeway -voila, a cage! Imagine it's 7PM and you're a female jogger halfway down the "cage" and you see 4 or 5 big guys walking in a menacing line toward you. Thought of an exit plan yet? Or you're an 8-year-old walking home from school and you see a pack of howling Brackenridge Park stray dogs racing toward you? Or maybe that 18-wheeler on a hot August afternoon blows a tire coming round the River Bridge curve at 60 miles an hour and has to pull off the freeway - how long does it actually take a skilled trucker to come to a complete stop and avoid the possibility of vanquishing a few fenced-in hikers along the way?

THE WOODLAWN/ RIVER ROAD LOW-WATER CROSSING - As it was presented for the first time at the Nov. 10th Witte public input River Oversight Committee forum (to a rather mouth-open, stunned audience it must be added. Where had they been hiding this particular gem of knowledge for the past year? How the Hiking Trail would link up with Ave. A was as carefully kept a secret as Bill Gates home phone number). The 281/Craig Pl./Ave A Hike alignment is now proposed to make a dog-leg turn off Craig Pl. onto River Road itself and continue down to the 71 (+/-) year old San Antonio River weir dam, low-water crossing at Woodlawn Ave. Visited the low-water crossing lately? The structure itself is a WPA River flood restraint that cannot be abolished. Fully a third of the year it is not passable - flooded, littered with debris/tree limbs, dangerously moss-ridden/slippery - where are the 150,000 annual city projected hikers to go when abruptly halted by Mother Nature? Has the city anticipated the number of lawsuits from hikers slipping and falling into the River? Is the city talking of constructing a new bridge over the San Antonio River? How much will that add to the already escalating expense? I won't rehash the well publicized detrimental effects of hikers AND bikers both utilizing the Ave. A bird sanctuary as a through-trail (as Howard Peak himself has stated, "there's virtually no way to keep either bikers or hikers from accessing each other's designated Trails") I'll just add - has anyone actually thought this thing through further than how swell it all looks in an architect's rendering?

For some reason the 281/Craig Pl./ Ave. A Trail alignment has been spun as some sort of "not in my backyard" complaint by so-called "elitists" in River Road. Drive around River Road on any day - the neighborhood is already a haven for joggers, bikers, walkers, runners, strollers, nature lovers and fishermen. No one wants to (or even could) prevent anyone from enjoying the beauty of the River Road neighborhood. Large family reunions, picnics, campers, tents, and Porta-Potties have always been common sights in River Road during Easter Weekend and at other times throughout the year. (Hard to imagine this occurring in Alamo Heights or Olmos Park.) The Bike and Hike Trail is an eagerly anticipated addition for ALL San Antonians - but WHERE the Golf Course trails will be aligned is the key question. For a myriad of safety, practicality, economic, environmental and literal "curb appeal" reasons the CATALPA-PERSHING/AVE. B Trail placement, vigorously supported by the Park Segment Subcommittee and the majority of citizens, is the hands-down winner.


William Sibley

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