How do you get from one end of Amarillo to the other end of town if you want to use a non-motorized vehicle?

And how do you do it safely?

That's the question that Amarillo's Parks and Recreation director is wrestling with as he looks for ways to finish a plan that was initiated a dozen years ago, but which has a long way to go before becoming a reality.

Amarillo's City Commission signed off on a master plan in 2003 that contained a simple mission: It was to create “a network of Hike and Bike routes that connects residential neighborhoods to parks, schools, bus routes, libraries and commercial centers.” It also intends to “create a network of … routes that provides for increased safety and mobility of citizens that use non-motorized transportation.”

How far along has the city come in achieving that goal? Parks and Recreation Director Rod Tweet, who has worked with the city since 2006, said Amarillo has lined out about 20 miles of bike paths in various neighborhoods, but has about 55 more miles to go before it finishes the plan.

“We've identified about 75 miles of bike routes throughout the city,” Tweet said.

Lack of funding and a lack of push from the city administration have been responsible for the slow-down in the development of the hike-and-bike plan, Tweet said. He hopes that will change in the near future.

Tweet, who was hired by former Parks and Recreation Director Larry Offerdahl – who retired in June 2012 and moved back to McKinney, where he served as parks director before coming to Amarillo in 2001 – said that a chapter of the city's master development plan “took the mobility plan into account,” and sought to “integrate motorized and non-motorized” transportation. “We've paid some attention to bikes,” he said, "while working with Planning and Zoning and Traffic Engineering."

One key element of the city's hike-and-bike strategy has been the 3.8-mile Rails to Trails Park development from Seventh and Crockett west to Coulter Street. The city turned an abandoned rail Santa Fe Railroad line into a linear park that includes walking paths and bike paths. There's more work to do on the park, Tweet said, suggesting the city likely will seek to improve intersection safety along the park route.

Offerdahl calls the Rails to Trails project the “central spine” of the city's hike-and-bike initiative.

Offerdahl came to Amarillo hoping to bring a concept he saw to fruition in McKinney, which was to build a network of hiking and biking trails that “took people under major thoroughfares and enabled them to enjoy their communities in a more meaningful way.”

He saw the Rails to Trails complex and noticed what he called a “big disconnect” between that project and a lack of biking and hiking trails throughout Amarillo.

Offerdahl said the biking community was “quite receptive” to the idea of a network. He added that former Amarillo Traffic Engineer Taylor Withrow “came on board early” with his support of the plan.

“Share the Road has been a good partner with us,” Tweet said of the citizens group formed to promote bicycle safety and awareness of motorists traveling along the same streets as those traveling on bicycles.

“Hike-and-bike didn't go away,” Tweet said. “It just lost the spotlight.”

Funding didn't become a “top priority” of the plan to create the citywide network, Tweet said. 

Offerdahl noted as well that he did receive some push back from at least one City Council member, the late Jim Simms, who Offerdahl said had expressed reservations about the need for an extensive network of hiking and biking trails. Offerdahl said he sought to persuade Simms of the need one day by drawing his attention to a woman who was bicycling with her small children along a busy arterial street in southwest Amarillo. “We can't have that,” Offerdahl said he told Simms.

Perhaps the most expensive element of a fully developed hiking and biking network would be to create elevated walkways across some of the busier streets where bike paths exist, Tweet said, adding that he doesn't foresee the city developing a network of overpasses. 

Tweet said the city “probably has more bicyclists now than we had in 2003,” but added that he doesn't have precise figures on the number of cyclists traveling around the city. “I know this mainly just based on what I hear from the public,” he said.

Tweet said his former boss, Offerdahl, was “ahead of his time” in proposing the hike-and-bike strategy for Amarillo. “We have the skeleton of a system now,” Tweet said, “with the projection of a system that will cover the entire city.”

How far along does he think the city has come? “I'd say we're about halfway there,” Tweet said.

And which cities is Amarillo emulating as it works out the details of its non-motorized transportation plan? Tweet cited three communities. “Albuquerque does a good job using the arroyos running through the city” to develop bicycle and hiking paths, Tweet said. He also mentioned Mesa, Ariz., and Austin as two other cities that have developed “good trail systems.”

“Is it ambitious to complete this?” Tweet said before answering his own question. “Sure it is. But we're going to try to work to make this plan complete.”

One key component in all of this, Tweet said, will be in educating the public about what the city intends to do with this plan. “We need to enact a bike safety program in our schools,” he said, “teaching kids on how to ride safely.” He said the city is “revisiting the education program through the Rails to Trails route.”

Ultimately, the city must reach out to educate the community about what it has done to enhance safe and reliable non-motorized transit through Amarillo, Tweet said.

“Once we make the improvements,” he said, “we have to tell people about it.”