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Austin Considers Allowing All-Night Access to Trails

Joy Diaz, KUT News

The Austin City Council could decide today whether to start a pilot program aimed at keeping some hike and bike trails open 24 hours a day.

The proposal by council member Chris Riley has little support from his peers because it comes with the hefty price tag: a little over $3 million a year for extra police patrols. But whether it goes forward or not, the program is making the city think about how it will patrol trails in the future.

The Austin Police Department patrols the city’s trails during the day. But Assistant Chief Raul Munguia says they don’t patrol them at night.

“Since historically the parks have been closed from 10 p.m. till the early morning hours, 6 a.m., we have a whole block of time that there aren’t any dedicated resources other than if something does occur, then a patrol officer will get the call and have to respond to it,” Munguia said.

Parks have a curfew. But in the case of the hike and bike trail around Lady Bird Lake, the lines that divide the trail from the urban core are blurry. The Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge off South Lamar is an example.

“The bridge is an important part of the trail around Lady Bird Lake, the Butler trail, but it’s also a very important transportation corridor,” said Susan Rankin, who leads the Trail Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at protecting the trail around the bridge. “Since it is a transportation corridor it is not subject to park curfews and it is indeed open, for transportation uses only, 24 hours a day.”

That means police have to patrol it, even at night. Another project, similar to the Pfluger Bridge in principle but larger in scope, is the boardwalk being built from the Austin American-Statesman building along the south shore of the lake, under I-35 and down to Lakeshore Park. And when it opens in 2014, it will be open 24 hours a day.

It will not be subject to the parks curfew because it’s being built with transportation funds; projects built with that pot of money are required to be accessible day and night.

So, how will APD patrol it? “We had not had any meetings yet,” said APD’s Munguia. “We were just beginning to discuss how we were going to approach that part of it.”

Presumably, the cost of patrolling that part of the trail will have to be absorbed by APD. That would open up one trail 24 hours a day, at least in principle.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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