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Victoria explores more walking trails to connect city (video)

By BY MELISSA CROWE - MCROWE@VICAD.COM
Feb. 26, 2013 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 26, 2013 at 8:27 p.m.

A jogger runs along the path in Riverside Park, which is heavily used by runners and people out for a leisurely walk.

PASEO DE VICTORIA GOALS

• Provide recreational opportunities and viable alternate modes of transportation, enhancing the quality of life of all residents.

• Create and utilize a public participation process to involve members of the community in developing the trails.

• Maintain and promote a safe and secure environment along the hike and bike trails.

• Develop a function and aesthetically pleasing trail system by considering rest areas, maps and signs, exercise stations, lighting and art installations.

• Actively encourage the community to use the trails by promoting the positive health, social and environmental benefits of the trail system.

In generations past, most people could comfortably walk to school, work or the store, but that lifestyle may seem far-fetched to today's pedestrian.

Development that has outpaced sidewalks and transportation that is focused on 40 mph traffic, has turned most American cities - including Victoria - into "no walking zones."

However, walking and biking in Victoria could become safer and more accessible thanks to a walking trails plan drafted by the city's development services and parks and recreation departments.

Development Services Director Jared Mayfield called the plan practical.

"Some parts try to provide interconnectivity where there's an actual destination," Mayfield said. "Some of this is purely recreation."

The plan is still in its draft stage but could be presented to the city council for approval as early as April.

The hike and bike master plan, named Paseo de Victoria, provides possible trail options and locations to expand the existing system. It includes miles of on-street bike routes, sidewalks, multi-use and hiking trails, as well as amenities such as lighting, rest areas, maps, signs and exercise stations.

Mayfield said the popularity of the Lone Tree Creek Trail was a driving force behind the plan, proving it could be a success.

"We've had a huge use of Lone Tree Creek Trail," Mayfield said. "You could easily say it was wildly popular."

Since that trail's construction, residents in other parts of Victoria showed interest in having trails near their neighborhoods, he said.

According to a community survey for the 2025 Parks Master Plan, all-weather multi-use trails ranked the fifth most used parks facility.

Candice Lantiegne, a 20-year-old Victoria resident, said she does not think Victoria is pedestrian-friendly, and as a mother, said she would not feel safe taking a stroll with her 1-year-old son, Jackson, through the city.

"I remember, as a kid, walking through my neighborhood to go to the convenient store," Lantiegne said. "If we wanted to walk anywhere else in town, it was difficult and unsafe."

Lantiegne said the lack of safe crossings, sidewalks and slow speed limits all play a role in that feeling.

She hopes the expanded trails make walking easier but said after the 2011 assault on the woman at the Lone Tree Creek Trail, "it's going to take a lot of P.R. and education to get people excited about it."

She said she would prefer to walk or bike to work, but overcoming the distance is a challenge.

"I don't think anybody in Victoria is opposed to finding alternative means of transportation," Lantiegne said. "People just need to be made aware that, hey, you can walk from Point A to Point B, and it's not going to kill you. We're trying to make it easy for you."

Victoria Parks and Recreation Department Assistant Director Kevin Stewart said the resignation of the current parks director, Doug Cochran, will not impact this plan.

While things can be adjusted and the concept is flexible, the plan focuses on five priority trails in its list of 20 projects.

Implementation will be up to private development, public-private partnerships and public development, according to the draft.

Stewart said any public funds committed to the project will be balanced with existing needs for maintenance and upkeep.

Ultimately, as funding becomes available, the trails will be developed. There is not a set timeline for the system's completion.

Parks Commission Chairman Vic Caldwell said the plan could see significant changes as it goes back through the commission and then city council.

"We have a few things to work out as far as where it fits in with the master plan and making sure the goals are similar all the way around," Caldwell said.

Interconnecting trail systems are a trend across the country, Stewart said.

"They get you out, and they get you going," he said.

As gas prices continue to increase, trails could become an alternative for short trips.

Victoria's proposal makes a nearly complete loop around the city.

"Walkable City," a book by Jeff Speck, an urban planner from Washington, D.C., contends that walkability is "both an end and a means, as well as a measure."

"While the physical and social rewards of walking are many, walkability is perhaps most useful as it contributes to urban vitality and most meaningful as an indicator of that vitality," Speck wrote.

In his book, Speck urged mayors and planners to consider what kind of city will help them thrive economically, keep citizens safe and healthy and be sustainable for generations.

"Those three issues - wealth, health and sustainability - are ... the three principal arguments for making our cities more walkable," he wrote.

Mayfield said drainage, future plans and existing infrastructure played a role in establishing routes, as did the end points.

"There's a lot more inter-connectivity than it appears," he said.

Where the paths do not meet, Mayfield said, there are sidewalks for pedestrians and streets for cyclists, connecting the southeast side of the city with the northwest and northeast areas.

The trails lead to the Navarro Street retail district, downtown historic district and nearby schools, parks and neighborhoods.

Mayfield called the plan "a work in progress."

"As the city grows, this will have to be updated," he said.

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