Quite a while ago, I got ranty in this column about a plan to route a small section of bicycle path between St. Francis Drive and the Railyard Park. The plan did not solve the problem of pedestrians and cyclists safely and efficiently crossing St. Francis Drive in order to continue accessing the trail system—a need almost everyone agrees would be best-handled with a well-designed underpass. The plan did spend a small, but not insignificant, amount of money on a temporary, half-assed-solution section of trail that appeared to solve no problem.
No problem, that is, except for those damn rail tracks. It turns out that crossing the Rail Runner tracks on the existing sidewalk, at a particularly weird angle, has caused half the town’s residents to bite it on their bicycles, including me. Now, I was perfectly capable of dusting myself off and continuing down the road while cursing my own inability to navigate the tracks properly. A more serious injury—such as a compound fracture, sucking chest wound, dismemberment, death—would have made me feel the same way, but I can appreciate that others are more litigious. It makes sense, whether from fear of lawsuits or just awareness of a problem, to repair such an awkward situation. Plus, bicycling through that area really is much nicer now.
So to City Councilor Patti Bushee and the other proponents of spending money on a tiny, impermanent, silly-ass little chunk of meaningless trail, I apologize for publicly castigating you, and I thank you for making that little section of town nicer and easier to navigate.
However, I can’t say that I’ve learned any sort of lesson in regard to mouthing off about poor trail planning. Despite being notified that the new short, rocky, phallic obelisks being created and plopped along trails at great expense, without justification and utterly void of design coherency, are a nasty waste of money and a brutal eyesore, city crews continue to erect them without mercy. The occasional informational sign (along the lines of “This is a trail!”) adheres to these queer little pillars, presumably to make them “useful,” but I can think of signage that is significantly more efficient. I doubt I’m alone in being able to think of plenty of other places the city could spend money rather than on pseudo-rustic pillars of non-native stone.
One example, as long as we’re taking a look at the trail system, would be to spend money on trees. I’d also like to hear the thinking behind the proliferation of shelterless benches that, depending on the season, leave anyone bold enough to sit on them exposed to bitter wind chill or excessive sun. Memo to planners: Nobody sits on your benches because you put them in uniformly weird places.
Which means, rather than trees, exactly, and the related maintenance, maybe money should be spent on the actual planning. It’s fairly common for a sun-bleached, lonely bench with a view of a power substation to be located 30 or 40 yards from a beautiful, shaded spot next to an acequia. You’d think the best place to put a bench would be obvious, but someone, somewhere, is sticking to some weird concept that he or she is mistaking for good planning. The consequence isn’t just annoying; it’s expensive—and ugly.
Another section of trail has a new addition in the form of a massive, lumpy asphalt spill that appears intended as some form of drainage control. It’s an afterthought, to say the least, and an abominably executed one. It’s hard to tell if there was a load of hot asphalt that had to go somewhere and a quick attempt was made to make it seem useful, or if there was a real drainage problem—indicative of poor initial planning—and this is someone’s idea of a quick fix. Either way, it’s ridiculous, and demonstrates that we need cleaner, more lucid thinking on what makes a beautiful, welcoming, efficient trail network.
I have no idea at which point the breakdown is happening—at the top of planning chain or at the level of execution. We’re a community that is rightfully grateful for the effort and energy that city government is putting into a convenient and enjoyable trail network that builds quality of life and non-fossil connectivity. But let’s not forget that we voted to do this and, ultimately, our tax dollars are paying for this work. We’d like to get what we’re paying for.
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