You are on page 1of 3

Austin City Council members voted 6-1 on Oct.

24 to end the pilot program that allowed certain bike trails to be open for 24-hours. Chris Riley was the one dissenting vote. The program, which was a trial, applies to the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, the Shoal Creek Greenbelt Trail (from Lady Bird Lake to 38th Street), and the Johnson Creek Greenbelt Trail. The ordinance was meant to be in effect from June 1 until the end of 2013. However, the Council decided to end it after four months. Since the passing of the law, there have been passionate voices on both sides. One advocating for the rights and safety of bikers, and one that is concerned about police being taken out of their neighborhoods to patrol the trails. Roy Waley, a cyclist and conservation chair for the Austin Regional Group of the Sierra Club, says ending the pilot program makes outlaws of all cyclists because regardless of the curfew, cyclists will not stop using the trails because they are safer than riding on the streets with traffic. Waley, who was a victim of a hit-and-run, is especially careful to stay away from cars when riding. “I will use the trails, the streets, the sidewalks, I will ride through your backyard if necessary to stay away from traffic and to ride safety.” The police who are assigned to patrol neighborhoods and “assist the community in solving neighborhood problems” are called district representatives. The Austin Police Department feels it is necessary to increase security of trails at night, which means taking resources

away from other areas like the district representatives program, which was established in 2011. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told council that he has been using overtime to cover the cost of patrolling up to this point. But if the program continued, he would have had to move nine of the district representatives to patrol the trails as early as next week. At this point, none of them have been reassigned. Lewis Leff, who is the chief of staff for Riley, says that Riley voted no on the ordinance because he “felt strongly” that allowing the program to continue would provide better data to make decisions regarding the trails, and because having trails for cyclists is a safer alternative than biking on the roads. Riley, during a work session on Oct. 15, said that nobody on Council has advocated for reducing the district representative program. “That is a highly valued program that is desperately needed in the neighborhoods. It is doing very important work,” he said. The question remains of whether trails should be left open at the risk of the rider, or if APD has a responsibility to add extra protection. “With the decision to open the trails, we had to police. I know that some folks don’t think we should police them, but we feel differently. We feel that we have to police them,” Chief Acevedo told Riley at the work session.

Waley, who is also a member of Bike Austin, a bike advocacy group, argues that if the police department is concerned about danger areas on the trails, then they should address those areas the same way they would any part of the city. Joan Bartz, a member of the University Hills Neighborhood Association, says this comes down to the “wants of cyclists and the needs” of citizens. “The cost to us is a loss of community policing.” The Austin Police Department does not have an accurate number as to how many cyclists utilize the trails, and so it is uncertain if keeping these trails open favors a large group of people. Ely Reyes, a lieutenant for APD, says that from June 1 to Sept. 30, there were 2,107 cyclists on the trails. That comes down to about 17 cyclists a night total between the three trials. These numbers are based solely on police observation. Riley says the number is not an accurate assessment because many cyclists use the trails for short segments to go around dangerous areas on the road, and the likelihood of a police encounter in that situation is low. Starting Nov. 4, the trails will return to their normal hours of 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reyes says that like any other situation, it is at the discretion of the officer whether a citation or a warning will be given to those violating the curfew.