By Joe Simnacher, Staff Writer, The Dallas Morning News | Read online at DallasNews.com
Construction on the second portion of the Northaven Trail, Dallas' first east-west bicycle-pedestrian trail, is set to begin early in the new year.
When completed, the Northaven Trail will open Dallas' north-south path network to new transportation and recreational possibilities. Think of Northaven as a Northwest Passage connecting the White Rock Creek Trail on the east with the Elm Fork Athletic Complex and the Walnut Hill-Denton Drive DART Station to the West.
Former Dallas City Council member Lois Finkelman was among the first to envision an east-west trail serving North Dallas, running along what is now the Oncor utility easement. It was about 2003, and the White Rock and Katy trails were open and growing in popularity.
"I looked at the map of Dallas and realized that a large part of North Dallas had no access to a trail connection," Finkelman said recently. "And yet, we had this utility easement running east to west which had all kinds of potential."
Jump forward to the groundbreaking earlier in December of the new, nearly 4-mile, $5.7 million trail section that will run from Denton Drive to Cinderella Lane. (The initial Northaven phase is already open and runs between North Central Expressway and Preston Road. Construction of the third section is set to begin this summer.)
Dallas County is managing construction of the next section, which is a collaboration among city, state and federal entities, said Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia.
The Texas Department of Transportation will manage eventual construction of a Northaven Trail bridge over North Central Expressway, which will provide a link to the city's eastern network of pathways.
"We are finally coming to the point of realization that these projects are very important in a region that is one of the fastest growing in the United States," Garcia said.
The roughly $5.7 million project is set to be completed in fall 2019. It is funded by $2.36 million in federal and state money, $2.86 million from Dallas County and $500,000 from the city of Dallas. The trail construction beginning in early 2018 is challenging, involving 24 north-south street crossings, each with an intersection requiring its own curb ramps. Pedestrian traffic beacons will be installed at Webb Chapel Road and at Royal and Marsh lanes.
The large number of street crossings won't impede construction or the trail's success, Finkelman said.
"Hopefully it will have a positive impact on Dallas drivers and make them more aware of trail connections," Finkelman said.
A key connector
Northaven's eastern and western trail heads will connect to a growing network of trails that eventually will link much of Dallas and Fort Worth. Planners also are looking at building additional north-south links to trail systems elsewhere, including Irving, Grand Prairie and southwest Dallas County.
"This kind of connectivity has been in the books — everybody's books — since 2003-2004," Garcia said.
Urban planners see bicycle-pedestrian trails as an important means of getting people to nearby destinations and public transportation. Alternative transportation can help reduce air pollution in Dallas, Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties, which are non-attainment areas and don't meet federal air-quality standards.
"We're doing a mobility study that's looking at pedestrians, vehicles, everything," said Alberta Blair, Dallas County's director of public works. "We're looking at how is mobility working? Not just recreational trails, but mobility — to get to places and to get to work."
Finkelman welcomes the progress.
"It's a trend that other cities had grabbed maybe a decade or so ago," she said. "As is sometimes the case, we're a little slow to pick up on it.
"My feeling is that there should have been pedestrian and bicycle lanes on all the new bridges over the Trinity River. We ought to be encouraging those kinds of uses."
Building a trail network is somewhat like filming a movie, where the scenes aren't necessarily shot in sequential order.
'Bridge to Nowhere'
Enter the Harry Hines pedestrian bridge, dubbed "the Bridge to Nowhere." It was long criticized as a monument to waste, appearing to connect only an empty lot to an auto parts store.
But the bridge is part of the larger plan linking Northaven Trail to the Elm Fork Athletic Complex. A connection under Interstate 35E is also under construction.
Garcia explained why the bridge at Harry Hines was built before the other pieces were in place.
"People were saying, 'Why are you doing that? It doesn't have any connectors.' ... I don't want to miss the funding," she said. "I want to build it, then connect it."
Piecing together a paved trail across multiple governmental jurisdictions took time and cooperation. The Northaven project was an effort by Garcia; Dallas council members Lee Kleinman, Omar Narvaez and Jennifer Staubach Gates; and Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell.
"All the agencies got together and said 'How's the best way to look at this?'" Garcia said.