Months after attacks, safety assessment of hike and bike trail complete

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Months after a string of attacks on the Butler Hike and Bike trail along Lady Bird Lake, the Austin Police Department has provided a promised assessment list to Parks and Recreation.

The evaluation outlines what specifics areas of the trail could use additional lighting and where mowing/trimming is needed to make the area safer.

After weeks of KXAN calling to check in on where the evaluation stands, PARD says it received a list on Thursday.

PARD’s acting director, Kimberly McNeeley, tells KXAN the seven locations where moving/trimming was recommended have already been addressed. Now, the department plans to take a closer look at the 14 areas where more lighting is recommended.

Here’s a look at the areas where improvements are needed:

“It’s absolutely my favorite place in Austin,” runner Jennifer Harpel said. “I mean we’ve got 10 miles of uninterrupted trail, with no traffic, which is amazing. Most cities don’t have that.”

Harpel enjoys the quiet that comes with her early morning runs before work, but now, she says she’s listening to her gut. A series of attacks of the trail left her more leery.

A woman jogging on the trail on Sept. 27, 2017 near South Lakeshore Boulevard and East Riverside Drive was grabbed from behind by a man who tried to drag her into the bushes. She was able to fight him off.

A woman was sexually assaulted on the trail on Sept. 15 around 5:45 a.m. near Rainey Street. The woman was running when she was grabbed by a man and taken to the ground. A man with a gun was able to stop the assault and a 22-year-old man was later arrested.

On Aug. 22, a woman was jogging on the Austin High School track around 5 a.m. when a man came from behind and grabbed her, trying to put a cloth over her face.

“Here lately, I’ve been trying to run more with a group,” Harpel said. “There’s parts of the trail where I’ll kind of go up closer to the road if it’s super dark…you’ve got street lights and traffic and people can see you.”

McNeeley says her department is ready to get to work on the recommendation list.

“Take a look at what infrastructure is in place, is there an option for solar lighting, what would that look like, what are the costs associated with that, how would we be able to maintain that, are there partners that may be interested in helping us pursue some of these options,” McNeeley said. “It would be our desire to do that as quickly as possible because the longer that we evaluate, the more time that goes by where people could perceive it as not being safe.”

Harpel fully supports the effort.

“I think it’s great, it’s definitely dark down here in the mornings, especially under some bridges and the areas that are a little more wooded and a little more sheltered,” she said. “I would love it if they could add some lights.”

The city wants people to remember to run with a buddy, be aware of trail exits and carry a cell phone.

“Whatever we can do to improve that feeling of comfort or that perception of being safe, we want to make sure that we implement that,” McNeeley said.

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