Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Central Rail Trail

Have you ever driven down 7th Street and noticed the two train bridges overhead near Whitewater Tavern? The one to the west is actively used by trains all the time, but the one toward the east is completely abandoned. It used to carry tracks for the Rock Island Railroad but hasn't been used in decades. In fact, the entire corridor from roughly 3rd Street to 17th Street is unused with no tracks even on the ground anymore. AND, in most places it's separated from the U.P. right of way by a ridge of rock and dirt.

If you don't like trespassing you can still get a good look at the old rail bed from atop the bridges on 12th, 13th, and Daisy Bates. (Side note: the 13th St bridge appears much newer than the others. 13th Street used to carry the streetcar line from Park to Lewis where it turned north to 11th before making its way over to Ray Winder Field. I haven't confirmed this with anyone yet, but I assume the bridge was replaced in conjunction with the final decommissioning of that old line.)

Rock Island Line looking south under 12th St.
It would be really easy to expand the ol' River Trail south past Union Station and onto a new trail that would go all the way to Central High School without ever crossing car traffic. From there it wouldn't take much to extend to the State Fairgrounds and beyond for the recreational cyclists. The trail's real benefit though would be for the everyday riders. This could provide a major link between several neighborhoods south of I-630, the 12th Street Corridor, downtown businesses, Arkansas Children's Hospital, UAMS, Central High, etc.

Access points to the trail itself could include 16th and 17th Streets, Jones and 11th, 10th, 7th, the Capitol complex, and Wolfe St. Beefing up the on street network though could really turn this into a major hub for connections across the whole city.

The bridge over Rose Creek north of 7th Street is pretty much rotted/washed away, and the embankment behind the capitol would require quite a bit of earth work to carve a trail in. The rest of the path though just needs minimal attention to be usable. It seems like a relatively cheap way for the city or county to build on the amazing work that's already been done in Central Arkansas for cycling and pedestrians, and one that would have real benefits for the non-lycra crowd.

View Central Rail Trail in a larger map

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