AUSTIN (KXAN) - Beginning Saturday, Austinites will be able to keep fit on the city's hike-and-bike network 24 hours a day.
Thursday, the police department's park unit announced a four-month pilot program covering the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike trail, the Shoal Creek greenbelt trail, and the Johnson Creek greenbelt trail.
The goal is to ensure public safety during what police call "lower visibility hours."
In the bright light of Thursday, Karla Castellanos applauded Austin for keeping up its reputation as a fit and accessible city, even after the sun sets.
"I love it -- specially during the summer when the weather's so warm," she said. "Late at night, it would be nice to bring the dogs out and take them out at any time."
The strategy is to populate the trails with four- to six police officers, on bike and on horseback. Possibly more officers would be used on weekends. Officers already patrol local parks during the day.
Along with longer recreational times, an added benefit of opening the trails overnight is the creation of a 24-hour riding oasis of sorts for urban cyclists who are used to competing with cars on city surface streets.
"This will give that extra option for the bicyclists to ride on the trails, and they can ride safely and get to their destination without having to mix with the traffic during the night," said Austin Police Asst. Chief Raul Munguia.
The cost of the pilot project is $350,000. That money will pay for overtime for officers to work the lakeside and green-space beat.
If it's working after the pilot period, the question of adding more lighting will be brought to City Council. That could mean a bond vote down the line.
The pilot project for 24-hour trails starts June 1 and runs through the end of September. Ultimately, a permanent open trail policy could make downtown living even more attractive.
"I definitely like the idea," said Tim Ritz. "It's good because people have something to do at night. A lot of people here work late hours, so when they get off they want to take their dog out. And it's a great place to have something like this."
The current curfew is 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Police say they normally sweep the trail network around midnight daily.
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