5 MAJOR ISSUES OF CONCERN ABOUT THE “BOARDWALK” PROJECT

5 MAJOR ISSUES OF CONCERN ABOUT THE “BOARDWALK” PROJECT

Part 2 of 2 Parts (click here to read Part 1 – The Overview of the project and its design)

1. It is not a “boardwalk”. Look closely. It is an elevated concrete human highway. 14-feet wide, 6-feet above the water, up to 70 feet out from shore. Built of concrete and steel. Out over the open waters of our beautiful and naturally pristine lake/river.

Existing LBL Trail in front of Hyatt Hotel

2. Cheaper alternatives exist. Either fully on land, closer to land, or a combination of both. With specifications that start with the minimum specs of the existing Trail: the Hyatt Regency segment, 5 to 6 feet wide, between the First Street and Congress Avenue bridges. This CAN be built across nearly the entire 1.2 mile stretch. For far less cost. However the necessary analysis and conceptual design work has never been done. The necessary conversations have never been had.

3. The “full project cost” could actually be over $20 million. Nearly $4.3 million has already been allocated toward consultants and design over the past two years out of existing city budgets of which $2.4 million has been spent or obligated to date. Plus the $16 million more now sought for construction. All for 1.2 miles of roadway. This road should be paved with gold.

Existing LBL Trail pedestrian crossing over Longhorn Dam

4. This project does not “complete” the trail gap. It will lead users east along the shoreline to the Longhorn Dam. That dam has a narrow and dangerous sidewalk crossing – where two strollers can barely pass each other over the Dam – alongside heavy traffic flow on Pleasant Valley Road. Clearly a “Pfluger-style” pedestrian bridge needs to be built parallel to the west side of the dam. A very expensive bridge. Then there is another “gap” on the North Shore around the former Holly Power Plant. Those segments? Not addressed.

5. The cleverly packaged and named “Boardwalk” is itself a hazardous solution for the need it is trying to fill and the improved safety it is attempting to yield. True, the existing sidewalk-based trail routing along Riverside Drive has a challenging crossing at IH-35 and some close proximity to road traffic. Interestingly, though, no ped-bike-vehicle accidents statistics have ever been produced. Folks know they must be very careful getting through there. But the 14-foot wide Boardwalk over-design intentionally promotes high-speed, two-abreast, bicycle traffic…in two directions…out over the open river waters…in direct conflict with pedestrians, strollers, wheelchairs, dog-walkers, and others who would also be on the same pathway. There is nowhere to jump out of the way of danger. There is no easy way to reach injured parties. There is no shade out in the open water.

Some folks have been asking how this project came to be?  Good question.  Please read on…

It was initially conceived back in 2007, when the City was flush with cash and the economy had not yet cratered. The Trail Foundation and then Mayor Will Wynn collaborated on a “study” — The Riverside Boardwalk Investment Study — with the specific purpose of finding a way to build an over-water by-pass of the ten properties along this southeast stretch of the river.

Those property-owning and neighborhood stakeholders were supposed to be intimately involved in the study and project. They never were.

Alternative routings and designs were supposed to be thoroughly vetted. They never were. The consultants dismissed them straight out of the box. Only token hearings and patent lip service have been provided to concerned citizens. However, continuous public pressure has managed to get about half of the trail route onto land now.

But the additional cost continues to be projected at $16 million. That’s how much the entire project was supposed to cost when first proposed almost three years ago — as a 100% over-water solution of concrete highway for the entire 1.2 miles. This despite half of it now being land based; shouldn’t it now cost about half as much? And this on top of the $2.4 million already sunk into the project (plus an additional $1.86 million allocated). A lot of voodoo math going on here.

Lower cost on-land solutions were initially said to be desired. Sadly, such alternatives were never properly and fully vetted from the get-go. This was never even considered a logical starting point for the Boardwalk drivers. No designs of this type have ever been produced. No clear vision from a mixed on-land and/or adjacent-to-land goal have ever been championed by anyone associated with the leadership of this project.

Seeing an opportunity to advance the inter-modal bicycle transportation cause (very different from “recreational cycling” on the existing Trail), the Texas Bicycle Coalition jumped in to support the project.  They helped expand the width to 14-feet so that two bicycles riding side-by-side could pass each other in both directions.

So there are two large and influential coalitions politically backing this plan.  Where are all the environmental groups and naturalists on this issue?  Where are the rowing clubs? Where are the taxpayers who think that $20+ million for a mile of roadway is a bad investment?  They are unaware.  When you hear “Boardwalk” you automatically think “Aww, that’s nice…and cheap.”

This has basically been a single-agenda, railroaded quest since inception with no Council direction or leadership to first and foremost find better and lower cost alternative solutions starting with the working specs of the existing trail. Again, the City checkbook was wide open in 2007/early-2008 and the only plan to be pursued — this one — has been the only true focus of work and nearly $4.3 million of dedicated spending allocations to date.

Regardless of the noble desire to extend the Lady Bird Lake Trail along the waterfront, this is not the correct solution. And this has not been the correct process by which to study, evaluate, investigate and converse about how to achieve the best possible solution, at the lowest possible cost, and with the least impact on the natural beauty of the river itself.

It’s as simple as this:   DON’T PAVE OUR LAKE.

Author Disclosures:
1. I am an affected waterfront property owner (Riverwalk Condominiums).
2. I am an avid trail walker, bicycle rider and river user (kayak and canoe).
3. I very much support all the several further extensions of the trail that still need to be done.
4. I am very much in favor of fully exploring on-land and adjacent-to-land lower cost solutions that exist, including at my property and the other private properties being by-passed. Have been since the beginning. The City refuses to go there.
5. I am absolutely opposed to the “boardwalk” solution proposed for the reasons stated, plus many more sub-reasons that can be provided.

Note: The opinions of this author do not necessarily reflect those of the Downtown Austin Blog management or other Authors.

avatar About Fred Schmidt

Fred Schmidt is co-owner, with wife and business partner, Shelley Meyer, of Wild About Music Art & Gift Gallery on East 6th St - now celebrating 22 years in Downtown Austin - as well as the newer Austin Rocks boutique in the 2nd Street District. Concurrently he is also a Partner in Capital Factory, Austin's premier incubator/accelerator facility for startups, already located in the proposed new Innovation District. He serves as a board member of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA), and is a past Vice Chair of 6ixth Street Austin. He thinks this is one of the best places in the world to live, work and play! Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not reflect the positions of any affiliated organizations.

Comments

  1. The Longhorn dam? Don’t be ludicrous. There’s plenty of capacity for the current usage. And there are two sidewalks so it’s possible that the road could be reconfigured to support a double-wide path. That bridge is not maxed out currently and is nothing like those curbs that passed for sidewalks on the old lamar bridge. Not to mention that there are railings to protect you from traffic.

    I’m looking at the map right now. There are two reasons we have to build the boardwalk. Once is because there are parts of the city owned land that have too steep a grade to build a trail along. Something you still haven’t addressed how you’d deal with.

    The second are property owners who won’t let a trail pass on their land.

    So Fred, what I really think you need to explain to us, the taxpayers is why you’re so special that you deserve to have private lake access, and force the rest of the Austin taxpayers to run around your condo in parking lots and on major thoroughfares? Because the reason that we’re building the majority of the board walk is people like you.

  2. It’s apples and oranges, Roger. A bridge north/south ACROSS the river is the only way to connect two shores. The Pfulger Bridge was a fine and necessary project to by-pass the prior Lamar Bridge crossing. We are going to need another one of those — as part of any Eastside trail extension (preferably before) — to by-pass the similar problem getting over the Longhorn Dam…see my original Point #4 above. As for stitching in the trail itself, this can and should be done entirely ON LAND. If the originating spec to this entire Trail Extension project had been: “extend the existing trail, on land, conforming to its same min-specs of 5-6 feet wide,” it would probably be built by now already. Especially given the original $4.3M budget the City has already devoted to this project, plus the $3M the Trail Foundation in now committing to help raise, plus loads of volunteer trail-enthusiast labor like you and me and thousands of others working every weekend. I helped build an entire 70-acre waterfront public park in Lakeway years ago employing this same entrepreneurial approach. But Boardwalk project started with gross over design in specs and pretty much a blank check (at that time, in 2007-early 08). This is a completely unnecessary and unjustifiable invasion of the river by a massive concrete road to parallel the shore, not connect two segments like a bridge would do.

    • Fred, with all due respect, it’s not apples and oranges. You’ve essentially conceded that the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge is just as much of an “elevated concrete human highway” as the proposed “boardwalk”. The only relevant difference that you pointed out was the infeasibility of building the bridge on land, since it obviously extends across the river rather than alongside it.

      A structure doesn’t become more attractive just because it’s not practical to build it another way. Thus, if you believe that elevated concrete pedestrian paths are by their very nature unattractive and should not therefore be built over Lady Bird Lake, you must also condemn the aesthetics of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge and the decision to build it.

      Of course, there is a completely reasonable position to hold that a path built completely on land would be more attractive than a concrete one built above the water (note the matter of degree here), and that there are many other reasons to besides aesthetics to be concerned about the proposed boardwalk above water. But you obscure that reasonable position with the use of extreme rhetoric that fails to acknowledge the subtleties.

  3. I must say I’m baffled about the first “issue of concern”:

    > 1. It is not a “boardwalk”. Look closely. It is an
    > elevated concrete human highway. 14-feet
    > wide, 6-feet above the water, up to 70 feet
    > out from shore. Built of concrete and steel.
    > Out over the open waters of our beautiful and
    > naturally pristine lake/river.

    Much of this same description applies to the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. Fred, I respect the issues you’re raising and bringing to the discussion. But “concrete human highway” rhetoric seems like pure demagoguery to those of us who value and appreciate the Pfluger Bridge.

    In the interest of truly elevating the debate, you owe it to us to address the comparison between the proposed boardwalk and the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. To be sure, there are many differences. But the “concrete human highway . . . over . . . our beautiful and naturally pristine lake/river” description applies equally to the existing bridge, as more than one of us has noted.

    Do you believe the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge is a valuable asset to the community, or not? Do you believe we’d be better off without it?

  4. avatar Austinite54 says:

    What’s with the anti-Obama t-shirt pic?

    That aside, this thing is a stupid idea. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    • LOL. Yeah, sorry about that “tiny” detail. The Prez has absolutely nothing to do with this issue, obviously. But it was the only art/image I could find on the web that otherwise expressed the exasperated feelings of folks who have been trying to open up this trail project to alternate solutions. Was hoping that the teeny image in the “O” would not be noticed by anyone. But, of course, there’s always an eagle eye in the mix! You win the prize: all the cement you can reclaim from the bottom of the river. I’ll help – next river cleanup!

  5. avatar Michael Raiford says:

    I must say one of my favorite places in Austin is the middle of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. Great views of downtown and the hills to the west. I keep thinking this will be a similar experience. I also see the need to NOT include wood in this. Major maintenance consideration. I see the effort to make this more than just a straight concrete structure. I think it is on an interesting track.

  6. 1. Sure it’s a waterfront walkway designed to appear like a traditional boardwalk, but without the fragility of a traditional boardwalk. This is like saying that a house isn’t a house if you put hardi-plank on it. Do you really think it would be financially responsible for the city to build a wooden boardwalk in Texas?

    2. Have you looked at the path? What would the trail do from east of Joe’s Crab Shack to the old Star Riverside location? That’s a pretty decent cliff. I’d bet removing houses and dynamiting the cliffs to create a flat path might be a little more expensive than building a platform at the water level.

    3. See above. And money and construction are ridiculously cheap right now. It is fiscally prudent to borrow and build now, rather than later.

    4. The Holly Street gap will be closed presumably as part of the redevelopment. Under IH-35 has been repaired and is no more hazardous than any of the other small gaps in the trail for boat launches or parking lots. Comparing those gaps to the riverside gap is RIDICULOUS. Those are both less than 100 meters. The riverside gap is probably more than a mile.

    5. I agree.

    But I will take an imperfect solution over running on Riverside. And if it happens to take away waterfront access for all the condo and home owners who’ve prevented us from having a trail on dry land, I’ll enthusiastically support it. I also support using imminent domain to just seize the properties and bulldoze them. The trail is much more important to the city than a few run down properties and cheesy restaurants.

  7. Fred, you’re either misinformed or disingenuous (or the rest of us have missed something, also a possibility). The last time we heard, CWS’s larger plans for redevelopment (including the trail dedication) were rejected thanks to the efforts of Save Town Lake, meaning no trail, and rebuilding some of the shorter buildings on their existing footprints (very close to the water).

    • I’m afraid you’ve missed something there, M1EK. Here’s the story on it: http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:616175
      The filed plan is still a PUD. I try hard to be neither misinformed nor disingenuous, and am always happy to learn new information if someone has it to share. :)

      • My apologies to Fred; I missed the ‘resolution’ and was fooled by talk on skyscraperpage about some renovations/rebuilding in existing footprint that was supposedly taking place.

        • No worries, mate. Riverside Square actually is rebuilding one long waterfront building that was destroyed by fire a year ago. It’s on the existing footprint and to prior specs. Apparently that’s the only way they could collect their insurance settlement, silly as that is. CWS will be able to rent it out again for a few years until they can get the PUD development funded. Everything will then be torn down again.

        • The “concrete human highway” language that Fred is using sounds a lot like the rhetoric we hear from Save Town Lake crowd.

  8. If you’re so against this boardwalk, perhaps you should talk to you neighbors at Riverside Place since they’re the reason for it. The lack of historical knowledge about this project and in this posts is as shocking as the amount of fake shock/horror that’s written into them.

    • Not sure what you’re talking about there, Jay. Riverside Place, as well as the next apartment complex to its west, Riverside Square, have both been owned by CWS since this issue began. Both projects are slated for redevelopment into three condo towers and mixed use once the economy rebounds. CWS has already agreed to grant interim access to the trail extension over their land (not sure if the paperwork is done yet, but that’s the deal) and then intends to make it even nicer and even maintain it as part of their redevelopment. That’s all reflected in the Boardwalk maps online at the City site. The over-water portion actually first heads out to sea from the northeast corner of the Riverside Place property, just before the outflow of East Bouldin Creek, and returns to land (in that segment, one of three out in the water) at Blunn Creek.

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