By John Barnes
Back in February, by a vote of 4-1, the West University City Council approved the concept design for the Edloe Street Pathway (ESP), a planned linear park with a hike & bike trail running alongside Poor Farm Ditch from Albans Road at the north end to the driveway at Tiny’s #5 at the opposite end, with Sunset Boulevard cutting through its middle.
Even though I was the lone dissenting vote, I continue to support this project generally. But highly unusual and concerning aspects of the project, as approved by council, demand further review and revision.
Design and community engagement
First, the ESP design would create the first non-contiguous park space in West U history, bisected by busy Sunset Boulevard. Children and adults visiting the ESP from either direction would have to cross Sunset. Because the ESP design would encourage a higher number of pedestrian crossings at Sunset without addressing the obvious safety impact, it creates a potential hazard. Park users, especially youngsters, are not in the habit of crossing streets to go from one part of a park to another. At a minimum, the city should consult with its traffic safety engineer — which has not been done — before moving forward.
Second, there has been no discussion to date concerning the impact on traffic of the new park space. For every park space thus far developed in West U, the city has required a zone of 100 feet extending in all directions from the park border with a lowered speed limit of 20 mph., even where the park is enclosed by a perimeter fence.
As the ESP concept was developed by the Parks Board and it is being built under the auspices of the Parks Department, the ESP is unquestionably a park — albeit one that will have no fencing between it and the adjacent streets. Accordingly, the residents of the 3600 and 3700 blocks of the streets intersecting Edloe should be prepared to have their speed limits lowered to 20 mph., along with signs and enforcement measures. And if that’s not on the table, shouldn’t the traffic safety engineer be consulted about the impact of keeping the existing speed limit on what could become an increasingly busy swath of Edloe?
Third, the process, while public, has not included the same effort to engage and solicit community input as elsewhere. Most major new proposals have merited town halls, most recently for the Facilities Master Plan. For the Buffalo Speedway Project, the city held a series of special meetings for the adjacent residents along Buffalo at which they could speak with the project engineers, ask questions and provide input. No comparable engagement efforts took place in establishing the ESP, and I have personally heard another member of this council refer to affected residents as “just a bunch of loudmouths.” Arrogant dismissiveness is not the best way to engage or serve residents.
Community opposition and funding issues
Since learning of the project, more than 20 of the 33 homes in Sunset Terrace, the enclosed cul-de-sac at the north end of Edloe, have repeatedly expressed opposition to ESP north of Sunset (ESP North), with only two households actually voicing their support. While the ESP would certainly be available to anyone, no one could reasonably argue that the primary users of ESP North would be anyone other than Sunset Terrace residents, so their opinions should be given considerable weight.
This was one of the reasons I moved to split the ESP project at the Feb. 28 council meeting, so that ESP south of Sunset could proceed independently while the city could continue to work with Sunset Terrace residents on ESP North. My motion did not receive a second, and the unamended concept design was passed.
Funding for the ESP is also a conundrum. Unlike every other civic greenspace project of the past 20-plus years, the ESP is not currently slated to receive any support from the Friends of West U Parks Fund. The Friends have been the city’s essential partner for every such project, including the redevelopments of Colonial, Weir, Judson, Huffington and Whitt Johnson Parks.
The original plan was to fund the project through grants from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and AARP’s Walkability programs; however, both grant applications were rejected. For most major projects, the city has traditionally relied upon the issuance of public debt, such as municipal bonds, to fund them. This has the advantage of spreading out the expense over the project’s lifespan rather than incurring all the cost upfront.
By contrast, the current plan is to use more than $500,000 of the funds provided by METRO’s General Mobility Program. GMP funds have historically been used to repair and maintain our sidewalks, streets and drainage and have not previously been used for park space. Even after raiding the GMP funds, additional money will be needed to fund the remainder of the ESP, the actual full cost of which is not yet known and is subject to inflation.
The bottom line is that the ESP seems to be rushed. Apart from a political desire to have the project completed prior to the next election, there is no reason why the ESP has to happen right away, or why a more robust effort could not still be made to more fully engage residents before proceeding.
Haste makes waste and almost invariably leads to poor decision making, and this seems to be happening here. The city can and should slow down and get more resident and professional input.
The current adopted concept design for the ESP can be found at https://westutx.gov/1358/Edloe-Street-Pathway, and I can be reached at email@example.com.
Barnes is a second term West University City Council member.