Heart of the City

5 visionary projects designed to transform Austin's Shoal Creek Trail

5 visionary projects designed to transform Austin's Shoal Creek Trail

Shoal Creek in Austin
Shoal Creek may undergo five big public works projects if funding is approved. Photo courtesy of Shoal Creek Conservancy/Facebook

Shoal Creek flows through the core of the city, 11 miles from headwaters near Highway 183 to Lady Bird Lake, draining a 13-square-mile watershed. A hike and bike trail following the creek 3.5 miles from 38th Street to the lake is one of the city’s oldest.

The Shoal Creek Conservancy and City of Austin have announced plans for improvements and extension of that trail. It envisions a 13-mile Shoal Creek Trail running from the Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake to the Northern Walnut Creek Trail north of Highway 183, ultimately part of a 30-mile loop around Austin. Implementation of the plan, like anything in Austin, depends on funding.

Shoal Creek Boulevard improvements 
The plan starts with five priority projects, including a two-way protected bike lane and widened sidewalks along Shoal Creek Boulevard from 38th Street to Foster Lane. The design is not without controversy, especially for residents of Allandale, some of whom recall the Shoal Creek Boulevard Transportation Project, a 2005 effort to make the winding, busy street more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. 

During that project, the city installed 37 "curb islands" inside multipurpose biking, walking, and parking lanes along the street — a compromise intended to appease people who wanted dedicated bike lanes and those who wanted street parking. It misfired badly and the islands were removed in 2006. Later, the city installed sidewalks instead.

Updated signage
The next priority step in the Shoal Creek Trail plan — interpretive and wayfinding signage — comes with less baggage. “There is not much signage now and what exists is dated,” says conservancy executive director Joanna Wolaver. “Wayfinding and interpretive signage is important to make people feel more comfortable and welcome along the trail, and so they can find out about the trail’s natural and cultural history.”

The plan includes directional signage along the length of the trail and online information about trail access and trailheads on both the conservancy and city websites.

Three trail improvement projects
The third priority addresses connectivity and gaps along the current trail, such as crossings at West 34th and West 38th streets and the intersection of West 45th Street and Shoal Creek Boulevard. Number four calls for constructing an underpass at West Third Street and incorporation of a historic trestle bridge there.

“The section between West Avenue and Fifth Street has already been transformed, as has the section in front of the new public library, where a wider trail with landscaping takes you to just south of Third Street,” Wolaver explains.

Improvements between West Fifth and West Sixth streets, the final priority project, would widen the trail to between 10 and 14 feet, the city’s urban trail standard, as well as increase native landscaping and improve water quality.

Generally, the goal is to improve the existing trail for recreation and transportation by making it wider where needed, removing sharp turns and switchbacks, and restoring native habitat, Wolaver says. Then, the vision is to extend it northward to Walnut Creek Trail near The Domain.

“All along the route there will be better connections to neighborhoods, schools, and businesses," says Wolaver. "We’re looking to make it a fully functional trail while keeping what people already love about Shoal Creek.”

Shoal Creek Conservancy and the Austin Public Works Department gave presentations on the plan to City Council and city boards and commissions. Ultimately, the Public Works Department will have to incorporate the five improvements as an amendment to the City’s Urban Trails Plan during its next revision process.

“It is a draft plan and we encourage people to provide feedback,” says Wolaver. Members of the public can view and comment on the draft Plan through Tuesday, July 31.

People can donate to the conservancy to help fund the plan. The organization also holds regular volunteer service days on the trail; the next one is on National Public Lands Day, September 29.