Outdoors in Austin

Trails Day Event rides into Austin to celebrate 32-mile parkway from downtown to Leander

Trails Day Event will celebrate 32-mile parkway from Austin to Leander

National Trails Day
People from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., are planning to take part in Celebrate Trails Day.   Photo courtesy of Memorial Park Conservancy

Austin’s Red Line Parkway Initiative is joining Celebrate Trails Day on April 23 with an event that includes a bike ride along the Red Line Parkway, Boggy Creek Trail, Crosstown Bikeway, Shoal Creek Trail, and through downtown, visiting several parks along the way.

Along with a chance to explore part of Austin, the ride offers an opportunity to learn more about the concept of a planned linear park and public space extending more than 32 miles along Capital Metro’s Red Line from downtown to Leander.

“People can see what is completed and how to piece it together,” says Red Line Parkway Initiative executive director Tom Wald.

The concept for the parkway first appeared in the 2004 All Systems Go Long-range Transit Plan by the Capital Metro Transportation Authority. The non-profit Parkway Initiative, formed in 2017, has made some gains in preserving new space for the trail and later this year will work with Capital Metro and an urban rails-to-trails consultant to determine an alignment for the parkway.

The Austin Public Works Urban Trails Program is developing portions of the trail as part of the 2016 Mobility Bond. 

So far, Wald says, portions of the Parkway from the Cherrywood neighborhood into downtown are complete, along with a section next to the Highland mixed-use development and another near Avery Ranch. The goal is for the entire route to be paved, with some sections featuring parallel unpaved trail.

“Our aspirational goal is complete separation from cars, which will be more possible in some areas than others,” Wald says. The Texas Department of Transportation I-35 project has agreed to have car-free crossings over both frontage road and freeway lanes near Hancock Center and Airport Boulevard, he said. The organization is working with Austin’s Project Connect to potentially create a car-free crossing of Lamar near Crestview Station as well.

“There are three cities and two counties involved, along with Capital Metro, TxDOT, and lots of other players,” Wald says. “We talk with the Hill Country Conservancy and Great Springs Project quite a bit about the general concept of continuing on north from the Great Springs and Violet Crown trails. That would mean people could go all the way from San Antonio to Leander.” The project also is planning a route from Shoal Creek to the dinosaur tracks on the South San Gabriel River in Leander. The expansion of Highway 183 in that area will include a parking lot for that, he adds.

Data from existing Austin bicycle traffic counters and similar urban trails in other cities suggest that the Red Line Parkway could serve 2,000 to 10,000 users each day in its first year, for more than one million visits in its first year.

The 12-mile ride on April 23 departs from the MLK Station at the intersection of Alexander Avenue and East 17th Street at 10 AM. Once downtown, riders can take the train back to this station for a total ride of 8 rather than 12 miles. Free bikes are available from the Yellow Bike Project for those who pre-register.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy started Celebrate Trails Day in 2013. RTC is the nation’s largest trail advocacy organization with the goal of encouraging more people to be active outdoors, making trail use part of their daily lives. People from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., are planning to take part in Celebrate Trails Day.

The Redline Parkway Initiative is planning to change the name of the project and the organization as part of the public Parkway Plan process beginning in 2022.