Avenue A gets a reprieve

Charles Bartlett, the District 3 rep on the Linear Creekway Parks Advisory Board looked beatific as he departed this morning's Park Segment Subcommittee meeting. Minutes earlier, the group -- which had been charged with the politically difficult task of recommending hike and bike trails between Josephine Street and Hildebrand Avenue for the ongoing San Antonio River Improvements project -- had agreed to support a plan that does not include the hotly contested leg known informally as the Avenue A route.

The proposal recommends developing the Avenue B route, which runs along the eastern edge of Brackenridge Golf Course and the Catalpa-Pershing drainage channel, as a hike-and-bike trail. The Park Segment's compromise also recommends preserving Avenue A as a dead-end trail, closing it to public automobile traffic and restoring the riparian habitat where it has been damaged by cars and illegal dumping. Also included is a pedestrian-only sidewalk on the south side of Mulberry between Red Oak and Avenue B, several new and improved trails in Brackenridge Park, and a suggestion that the City pursue long-term funding to restore Catalpa-Pershing to a natural stream bed.

The proposal represents at least a temporary victory for many residents of the adjacent River Road neighborhood and avid birders, who had objected loudly and repeatedly at public meetings and in emails and petitions to the Avenue A trail, which would channel foot traffic between the golf course and Highway 281 for a significant stretch before cutting along Craig Street on the edge of the River Road 'hood, across the San Antonio River, and up Avenue A to Mulberry.

Subcommittee member Richard Reed, who represents the River Road neighborhood, pressed the group to specifically reject routes 3 and 6, the legs that would follow Highway 281 and Craig Avenue, but Chair Marise McDermott headed him off at the pass. Speaking with the Current after the meeting, McDermott said that she doesn't consider the Avenue A route off the table forever. Subcommittee member and former Mayor Howard Peak, who has consistently championed the Avenue A route as crucial to creating a linked trail loop along both sides of the river, wasn't at this morning's meeting. (The meeting was sparsely attended in general, perhaps because it was held on a weekday morning, or perhaps because of a last-minute venue change from the Witte to the San Antonio River Authority.) But Bartlett is optimistic: he believes key people heard and understood the subcommittee's intention to leave Avenue A as a bird sanctuary disconnected from the main trail system.

Avenue A is currently a secluded, little-traveled, paved cul-de-sac that is nationally known as an urban oasis for migratory birds. Peak had championed the route because his vision for the completed 13-mile linear park from Hildebrand to Mission Espada is that it would hug the river itself as much as possible. But development of the Park Reach has been complicated by Brackenridge Golf Course, which occupies much of the territory between Josephine and Mulberry streets, and the River Road neighborhood, which is nestled between Woodlawn and Mulberry on the river's western bank. Peak had tried to entice opponents to the Avenue A route with promises to restrict automobile traffic on the cul-de-sac and restore the banks, which have been beaten down in areas by fishermen who drive up to the river's edge. But fears that the City's prediction of 150,000 users annually would be accurate, if not conservative, turned off birders and neighbors, and the Municipal Golf Association, which operates the course, insisted that a fence would need to be installed the entire length of the trail where it abutted the links -- which critics fear would be unsafe and unattractive. For the moment, anyhow, opponents to that plan were able to gain some amenities for Avenue A without making it part of the linked trail system.

At a public meeting last week, many people expressed frustration that the Avenue A route continued to be discussed even though the opposition seemed to outweigh its advocates, and Bartlett conceded that he was pleasantly surprised by today's resolution. "They talk about 'trust the process,'" he said. "But sometimes it's hard."

With the Museum Reach Subcommittee's agreement, the Park Segment's recommendations will be presented to the River Oversight Committee at its November 17 meeting. If the ROC signs off on it, it will proceed to architects Ford Powell & Carson for a feasibility study.


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