Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dallas' Santa Fe Trail already attracting cyclists, pedestrians

The first phase of the Santa Fe Trail, a pedestrian-bike path that stretches from Deep Ellum to the Lakewood area, is just weeks from officially opening. But eager commuters and families who live along the route are already using the new path.

"There are tons of users," said Annie Melton, who lives in Mount Auburn and bikes to her business in Deep Ellum. "I see families, blue-collar commuters, mothers with strollers and mothers pushing wheelchairs. I see elderly and children on their scooters and students walking to school."

The Santa Fe Trail has been five years in the making; planning started in 2004. The first phase is a paved portion from Hill Avenue in Deep Ellum to Glasgow Drive near Randall Park.

David Recht, the city's project manager, said the target opening date is June 15, but first he plans a "punch list walk-through" with the contractor to identify items that need to be fixed, such as cracked concrete or graffiti. Once that work is completed, he'll sign off with the contractor, and the trail will open.

Recht met Tuesday with the nonprofit volunteer Friends of the Santa Fe Trail to provide an update.

"It's been a challenge to build a trail in a heavily urbanized area," Recht said. "We discovered at some point that someone was drag racing on it and that cars were driving on it. We started putting up 5-foot bollards to keep the cars out. That will be a maintenance issue."

At the Deep Ellum end, the next stage will be to build extensions to Baylor Medical Center and to Fair Park.

Currently, the paved part of the Santa Fe Trail ends at Hill Avenue, but it will go a half-block further to a T-stop at the tracks for the new DART light-rail Green Line. Users will be able to follow the tracks to the Baylor station, where commuters can hop a train to reach their destination. Or, they can take the opposite direction to visit Fair Park, cutting under Interstate 30 on the way.

Recht said this portion will be a 12-foot-wide concrete trail adjacent to the rail but separated by the fence. He said he's concerned about funding this portion since the city is talking about budget cuts.

"We have a consultant working on design, and they're going to be finishing design by about the end of the year," he said. "We anticipate starting construction in 2010."

The trail won't cross the rail line because it's too expensive to tunnel under the tracks. "Primarily we felt we could get better value for our construction trail by paralleling DART," he said.

The other end of the paved trail ends at Woodrow Wilson High School, and that's where the next phase begins. That phase will take the trail from Glasgow to the south end of White Rock Lake.

Recht said the call for bids will go out June 9, with plans to start work in August. This portion will involve replacing the bridge over Garland Road.

Representatives from the Friends group said they've been using the new paved trail.

"We have some great on-street access from Lakewood," said Greg Shelton. "Or if you live downtown and want to go to Matt's [Rancho Martinez] in Lakewood or go on to the lake or the Arboretum, you can take the trail."

Chris Angarola, a Gastonwood resident, said: "It's finally becoming a reality. I can't tell you how excited I am to be able to get out of the car with the kids and go to the lake. And the kids will be able to use it to get to school."

The trail also goes through some untidy neighborhoods, and users have reported trash and stray dogs. Code enforcement staffers are putting up notices at some of the businesses that line the trail.

Recht said the only illegal activity he has seen is graffiti and vandalism, and that could be a continuing maintenance issue.

And safety issues could be a matter of perception.

"In some ways," Shelton said, "this will be better than the Katy Trail because when you're on the Katy Trail, you're there alone with whoever else is on the trail. But this has houses along the trail, and people are out there. You're not alone."

By NANCY VISSER / The Dallas Morning News