Four-and-a-half years ago, Mayor Tom Leppert stood overlooking the old Trinity River channel, now a forlorn muddy course that snakes through the Design District, and unveiled Turtle Creek Plaza, a handsome semi-circle of concrete adorned with a red water fountain that very much resembles a fire hydrant and a blue I-beam marking the river's 14-foot-7-inch high point during its 1908 flood.
And then ... nothing. The plaza was supposed to be a bridgehead for the Trinity Strand Trail, a 7.8-mile ribbon of concrete that would soon connect the medical district with the Katy Trail. For years, the plaza stood without evidence that it was ever going to be connected with anything. Meanwhile, the sun bleached the city of Dallas' "Trinity Strand Trail Coming Soon" sign to the point of illegibility.
I had written off the trail as one of the city projects that sounds neat but for inscrutable reasons never manages to actually happen. But then, during a lunchtime run through the Design District earlier this week, I noticed something weird. The trail, or at least the 2.5-mile first phase stretching from Oak Lawn to Medical District Drive, was done.
Shelly White, executive director of the Friends of the Trinity Strand Trail, corrected me this morning. It's not quite done done. "There's one area that we're waiting on concrete, and also the headwall area we need some fences to keep people from falling over the edge," she says. "I'd say 95 percent."
David Demarest, chairman of the friends group, says there were several reasons for the delay. A year's worth he attributes to "some political issues with how they advertised the project and how they awarded it." There were also a couple of unanticipated side projects that came up, like the replacement of some water lines the city was scheduled to take care of a couple of years after they were covered by a newly paved trail. The more fundamental reason why the trail took so long is that there was no dedicated right-of-way like there was for the Katy Trail and most of the others that get built in Dallas. The land was mostly donated, but plans still got entangled in plodding land transactions.
White stressed several times during our conversation that the trail isn't actually open yet and that technically, people shouldn't be using it until construction is completely wrapped up and it's signed off on by city inspectors. Here, let me respectfully disagree with Ms. White. I've tried it three times, once on foot, twice on bike, and it was definitely open.
The first section of trail cost $5.4 million, three-fourths of which came in the form of a grant from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the rest from city bonds. Bonds have been allocated, but not yet sold, to run the trail through the medical district. Trammell Crow, as part of the residential project it's building on Goat Hill, is constructing the first leg of the Katy-Trinity Strand Connector. The remaining segment of the connector, which will involve a complicated dance under and between the Stemmons Freeway, the DART rail tracks, the Tollway, and two possible future Tollway ramps, will probably have to be covered by a future bond program.
Relative to the Katy Trail, the Trinity Strand enjoys some advantages and some disadvantages. There is virtually no shade, which is bad, but there also aren't any gaggles of Lululemon-clad walkers strolling four abreast and blocking the whole trail, which is good. A lot of the buildings you'll see (e.g. the World Trade Center and the top of the Medieval Times castle) are aggressively ugly, which is bad, but it also takes you to Off-Site Kitchen, which is good. You're running alongside an ugly muddy ditch rather than through a hushed, tree-lined corridor, which is bad, but the semi-industrial landscape and the occasional view of the downtown skyline offers just the right touch of urban grittiness, which is good.
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Demarest and White don't expect the semi-industrial landscape to last.
"It will totally change this area," White says, predicting that it will serve as a catalyst for development in an area that is already being transformed.
Demarest expects that soon warehouses along the trail will be converted into restaurants or watering holes that open onto the trail. Already, Rodeo Goat is going in just to the side of the trail, and Noble Rey Brewing is planning to open a brewpub in a building at the trail's western terminus, according to a liquor-license application posted in the window. "We think we're going to be a game-changer here."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.