Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Razorback Greenway Vs. The River Trail

As we approach the Grand Opening of the Razorback Greenway (most of which has been done for some time) I thought I'd write-up a comparison of Arkansas' two premier paved trails. I want to confess upfront that one reason for writing this is that I hope it helps spur some friendly competition between the two most populated metropolitan areas of the state to keep improving their trail and active transportation systems. Cities often boast about their trail systems when trying to lure companies and which of these trail systems is the best might be a deciding factor in where some companies decide to locate in the future.

My analysis below looks at length, connectivity, and how much of the trail is actually physically separated from roads (you know, like a trail rather than a bike lane or bike route). I've included interactive maps of both at the end so you can perform your own research.

The Razorback Greenway clocks in at 36 miles while the Arkansas River Trail is a mere 16. Some people might claim that the River Trail was recently expanded by an additional 60+ miles, but I'm not going to count what is essentially designating a bike route along existing roads as a real trail; which brings us to...

How much is actually separate from the road?
I haven't traveled the entire Razorback Greenway, but I have it on good authority that less than a mile of it is currently on a road (a few short stretches on Powell in Springdale). Depending on how you count some parts of the River Trail around Burns Park, something like 2.5 - 3 miles of the River Trail is on roads shared with cars. This includes the shameful, dangerous, and embarrassing lack of trail through much of Downtown Little Rock and Riverdale.

One important factor in how valuable a trail is in terms of active transportation and walkability is its connectivity. When I use the term, it refers to how many spur trails connect to the main trail and how well does the trail connect to a diversity of residential, business, and recreational areas of town.

The River Trail connects to some other trails, but they are all recreational in nature (please correct me if I'm wrong on that). You can take spurs into Two Rivers Park, Burns Park, Emerald Park, or to explore the River Market and Clinton Library, but they don't really help connect more people or additional neighborhoods to the trail system. That said, the River Trail itself connects two downtowns, multiple apartment complexes and neighborhoods, and tons of parks.

The Razorback Greenway has numerous spurs, some lengthy, that connect the trail to more parks, neighborhoods, apartment complexes, shopping centers, etc. These trails include: Town Branch, Tsa-La-Gi, Wilson Park, Meadow Valley, Mud Creek, Lake Fayetteville, Lake Springdale, Crystal Bridges Trails, North Bentonville Trail, Bentonville's mountain biking trails, and Lake Bella Vista. The Greenway itself connects Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville. While long stretches are not very scenic, this trail currently has more potential to be used for commuting and active transportation.

Other Variables:
So far this piece feels totally biased in favor of the Razorback Greenway even though I didn't intend for that to be the case. I love both of these trails (and communities) and hope they both continue to expand. In order to add some balance here, I will say that the River Trail is currently much more scenic and its bridges are incredible. I love taking in the views of Emerald Park, Burns Park, Two Rivers, and Pinnacle Mountain. I also like that the River Trail is a loop so you can bike the whole thing and not have to backtrack or set up a shuttle.

Even with its great views and numerous large bridges, the River Trail isn't as impressive, or as useful, as the Razorback Greenway. Given that the Greenway (or more accurately one of its spurs) will soon connect to Mt. Kessler and already passes numerous lakes and a world-class museum with fantastic architecture in a scenic valley, the River Trail's scenery advantage won't last forever. Central Arkansas needs to work on connecting the River Trail to spurs like the Rose Creek Trail, Coleman Creek Greenway, Rock Creek Trail, and Levy Trail or having a better connection to Pinnacle Mountain or the proposed Southwest Trail and Fourche Bottoms trails so it has better connectivity and helps improve active transportation options in the area.  

View River Trail Expanded in a larger map

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