Jacksonville committee seeks increased trail access
by Paige Rentz
As part of an effort to make Jacksonville friendlier to bicycles, a volunteer committee is working to increase access to the Chief Ladiga Trail.

Members of the Bicycle Advisory Committee have identified several spots where they would like to connect the trail to neighborhoods on the north and south ends of the city.

“It’s our trail,” said committee member Jack Plunk. “The easier it is to access, the more people have a chance to use it, the more users we have, the more people are out there exercising, the more people are healthier.”

The easiest and most affordable of these is a proposed access point at 11th Street, which would allow residents of the northeast quadrant of the city to access the Chief Ladiga Trail without riding down Alabama 204.

But some residents of the dead-end street are speaking out against opening it to bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

Lynn Hoffman-Wirtz, who lives with her husband at the end of 11th Street, said they are concerned about the potential disruption of their quiet neighborhood.

“Between the trash and the traffic and the loitering … and all the people walking through the neighborhood who wouldn’t normally be there,” she said, she worries that increased traffic will bring problems more problems.

“We are long-distance cyclists, so it’s not like we’re just being big old grouches about it,” Hoffman-Wirtz said, adding that she and her husband have a private path to the trail from their property.

Committee members said the idea for the 11th Street connection came from parents who want to avoid busy Alabama 204 in order to gain access to the trail. Section 22-3 of the city code prohibits riding bicycles on sidewalks, which would mean anyone biking from a northeast neighborhood would almost inevitably need to ride down the busy highway.

About a dozen of Hoffman-Wirtz’s neighbors showed up at the normally quiet bi-monthly meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Committee to voice their concerns, which ranged from fear of foot traffic through their yards and litter in the street to decreased property values to nearby homes being cased by potential burglars.

Police Chief Tommy Thompson thinks some of the residents’ concerns are valid. “I don’t like the plan myself,” he said Wednesday. Opening a pathway to the trail for residents of the northeast section would also open a pathway from the Grove and Reserve apartments, where the city has a different “moral set” residing, particularly at the Reserve, the chief said. Both apartment complexes are inhabited largely by Jacksonville State University students.

Thompson said the path could create the potential for more convenient access for burglaries, which are common in the apartments. Police reports of criminal behavior since Aug. 1 show 23 of 275 incidents citywide were reported at the 300 block of Nisbet Road, where both apartment complexes are located. The bulk of those were property crimes, including burglary, criminal mischief and theft of property from vehicles.

Councilman Mark Jones told residents at the meeting that their neighborhood wasn’t being targeted, but that the committee is trying to open up the trail all over the city – even to promote shopping via bicycle.

Plunk, who is also the principal planner for the Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the committee has identified such other ways to increase trail access, including a half-mile access path from the trail just south of Jacksonville Christian Academy to the lodging and retail at Greenleaf Street and Alabama 21, and potentially opening up locations at Cole Drive and Brierwood Place.

Thompson said he isn’t opposed to such access points in general, just the one at 11th Street because of its proximity to the apartment complexes.

Access to the trail is just part of the Bicycle Advisory Committee’s mission. Bicycle safety has been a big part of its agenda as well, with such measures as getting arrows painted on roadways, installing “Share the Road” signs and printing brochures to educate residents about proper cycling rules and procedures.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
© 2012