The Arkansas River Trail is an incredible resource in Central Arkansas for recreational walking, running and cycling providing great spaces for people to enjoy the outdoors. A distant secondary use of the ART has been transportation, a way to get to and from work, shopping and schools. The trail is a relatively closed loop surrounded by roads and hills that keep people, cyclists and pedestrians, from accessing without jumping in the car and driving there. Luckily this has begun to change recently with the addition of the Levy Spur in North Little Rock and bike paths and lanes currently being added in Maumelle. You can ride the non-bike friendly roads, as I have, to get to the trail but it’s more common to find me driving to the base of the Big Dam Bridge to start my bike ride since I live on the Little Rock side of the river with very little cycling infrastructure outside those parts of the Arkansas River Trail that are complete. (See Close the Loop). But new cycling opportunities are coming south of the river.
First, I noticed sharrows being added to Kavanagh Blvd. from the Heights area through Hillcrest. Much of this is on my bike route to work. I can get somewhere using these. Hopefully those will go all the way into downtown soon.
Second, a paved trail to connect Little Rock and Hot Springs. That’s right, a paved trail is being proposed following the old Rock Island Line about 67 miles from near the Union Station train depot in Little Rock which is situated next to an unfinished section of the Arkansas River Trail, south through Shannon Hills, Bauxite, near Bryant, Benton and on to Hot Springs connecting to the Hot Springs Creek Greenway which is currently under construction.
Such a trail has far reaching implications for transportation needs in Central Arkansas. Locally it will be an alternative way for locals in each of these towns to travel to work, shopping and schools. Regionally it allows cyclists to visit parks and tourist attractions without having to take chances with automobile based traffic. Nationally it will connect to not only the River Trail and the Hot Springs Creek Greenway but also to larger cycling networks like bike routes that will travel across the state from West Memphis to Fort Smith. This is good, positive stuff.
Below is a presentation that was given at today’s news conference:
Judge “Buddy” Villines of Pulaski County introduced mayors and county judges who preside along the route which includes three counties and at least 5 cities. All seemed ready to see this project move forward. Judge Villines reminded those present that these things don’t happen overnight and gaining the right-of-way for the railroad line (there is no single owner) and raising the 20-25 million dollars it will take to construct the trail will take some time, “Five to Ten Years.”
Lanny Fite, Saline County Judge, covered the health benefits to this kind of project pointing out that Saline County would have the largest section of the route at approximately 26.5 miles.
Bauxite Mayor, Johnny McMahan mentioned the historical and cultural aspects of the rail line which was used to ship the majority of the bauxite ore that is the towns namesake.
Since this is a Rails-to-Trails project much of the trail bed and necessary bridges are already in place bringing costs down. Judge Villines also mentioned that they would be looking for funding from both private and public sources and that construction would be phased in as construction dollars become available.
It’s projects like this that are game changers in making Central Arkansas a major job and workforce attraction. Research has shown that young people are choosing alternative transportation options over driving automobiles, Judge Villines pointed out that besides cycling and pedestrian infrastructure needs, Central Arkansas needs to look towards other forms of transportation to attract young workers.
For now the trail will be known as the Southwest Trail to reflect the historic trail that once paralleled this route taking pioneers to Texas. Personally, I look forward to taking mini bike vacations to Hot Springs without taking the car.