A longtime effort to construct an approximately 32-mile urban trail following the path of the Capital MetroRail Red Line from downtown Austin to Leander finally hopes to hit its stride this year, as the nonprofit Red Line Parkway Initiative launches its “Project Parkway” capital campaign seeking $250,000 in initial funds to develop new segments of the trail — several small stretches of the corridor are already built, but the project hopes to fully connect the path by the end of the decade.
The trail is open!
This new section extends the existing trail from Navasota to Onion, and provides continuous access to the existing a section between Concho and Chicon.@RedLineParkway / Lance Armstrong Bikeway / Crosstown Bikeway pic.twitter.com/simMsHk9yu
— Red Line Parkway Initiative (@RedLineParkway) August 30, 2021
It’s obviously an ambitious project, similar in design to lengthy urban trail efforts like the six-mile Bergstrom Spur or the work of the Shoal Creek Conservancy to build out its 11-mile greenway — but a development area stretching an eyebrow-raising 32 miles puts the Red Line project in a class of its own, spanning two counties and requiring a complex chain of right-of-way acquisitions along the rail line.
Our vision for the Red Line Trail includes a paved surface, separate parallel trails for bicycling and pedestrian access where feasible, complete grade-separation from motorized street traffic (bridges and tunnels at streets), and gentle inclines of 1-3% grade. Tributary connections will provide additional access to the Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake, Shoal Creek, Waller Creek (both downtown and near Highland Mall), the Northern and Southern Walnut Creek Trails (eventually creating a continuous 30-mile trail loop), Mueller, The Domain, Wells Branch, and UT Austin. The Red Line Trail will enhance existing trail assets, creating a central part of a continuous 200-mile trail network. Since the trail serves Central Austin, it will connect its population center to all existing and future trails extending into South Austin, suburban, and rural areas.
— Red Line Parkway Initiative
The Red Line trail was first approved by Capital Metro in 2004 during initial development efforts for the MetroRail line, with a targeted completion date of 2019 for the full route. This pretty clearly fell by the wayside in terms of city priorities, spurring the 2017 founding of the Red Line Parkway Initiative by its executive director Tom Wald as an additional effort to steward the project towards completion. According to the organization, the existing right-of-way for the MetroRail line is wide enough for a paved trail, often with parallel sections for walking and biking — and future efforts planned by Capital Metro to add a second rail line alongside the first won’t change that, though some connectivity challenges have appeared from other city departments.
The organization hopes to work in partnership with the city in the manner of efforts like the Waterloo Greenway or the Trail Foundation, but it hasn’t gained quite the same attention from big-ticket local donors as those groups so far. That could change soon, with an announcement last week by the Gannett Foundation that the Red Line Parkway group would receive a $2,500 donation alongside grants to more than a dozen other local charities and community organizations. That won’t knock out the initial $250,000 target of the Project Parkway campaign, but it should get this plan more attention from other potential donors — not to mention “viewers like you.”