By Jake Lynch
It used to be that "bike friendly community" was a term you
thought you could pigeonhole. Oh sure, Portland and Seattle, right? And dense,
hip, urban metropolises, yes? New York, D.C...
Yes, and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The third largest city in a state that was this year judged
the least bike-friendly state in America, Fayetteville has for the past decade
put an urban trails system, and bike and walkability, at the heart of its
And it's booming. Fayetteville's population has grown 27 percent
in the last decade, and in the past few years has been ranked one of the best
places to go to college, to do business, to retire, or to live, work and play.
It is no coincidence that this acclaim has come as the city's long-range trails and greenways plan has started to come to fruition.
"The success of the Fayetteville trails system grew from the
community's vision back in the 1990s for a viable alternative transportation
system," says City of Fayetteville Trails Coordinator, Matt Mihalevich. "Over
the past 10 years, we have worked toward providing a connected network of
trails, and are currently up to 21 miles of 10- or 12-foot-wide paved trails
within the city. The primary goal of the network is to provide an alternate
form of transportation. And we are seeing this goal realized, with more than
2,000 people using some of the busier trails each day."
One of the key segments of that system is the Frisco Trail, which utilizes both active and inactive sections of rail corridor running north-south through
the heart of the city. Although relatively short at 1.3 miles, the historic
layout of the rail corridor, bisecting the downtown area, makes the Frisco
Trail a natural "spine" for the broader trail system. It also connects locals
and visitors with the vibrant entertainment center on Dickson Street with newer
developments on the south side of Fayetteville. Like the best urban
rail-trails, it provides users with human-powered access to a myriad of
restaurants, arts centers, schools and libraries, neighborhoods and open
spaces. And the Frisco Trail provides a seamless connection with the Scull
Creek Trail, which itself connects with the Mud Creek Trail further north of
Mihalevich says the Frisco Trail and its connections have
now become a focal point and catalyst in Fayetteville's development.
"In the last few years the city has experienced a steady
increase in residential and commercial urban projects close to the trail, creating
a positive and sustainable economic impact for the city," he says. "The trail
system has been instrumental in advancing our planning goals of discouraging
suburban sprawl, prioritizing urban infill development and growing a livable
One of the developers drawn to the city by its trail system
is the Specialized Real Estate Group, which is currently building an apartment
complex for more than 600 residents close to the Frisco Trail. The Sterling
Frisco development will target students and staff at the nearby University of
Arkansas and young professionals.
Last month, Sterling executives partnered with Mihalevich
and a local business school on a bike tour which featured discussion of the benefits
of transit oriented development, and an exploration of opportunities for business
development along the Frisco Trail corridor.
"The trail is such an integral part of the character of the
site that we chose to name this project after the Frisco trail and historic
rail corridor," says Specialized Real Estate Group President Seth Mims. "The
people we serve love the connectivity and health benefits of the trail. There
are obvious environmental benefits of choosing walking or biking over using a
car, and these benefits give our developments an edge over conventional
apartments built on the outskirts of town. In addition to our proximity to
campus, we chose to build on the trail to give residents access to the
entertainment district and greenspaces."
Mims says the company plans to offer a bike loan program to
encourage residents to take advantage of the trail.
A natural offshoot of the popularity of Fayetteville's
trails is the strong team of volunteers that has grown around it. In a great
piece of community organizing, the local parks and recreation department
created the Trail Trekkers program. The goal of Trail Trekkers - local people
who use and appreciate their trails - is to serve as models of proper trail
etiquette, help others with trail navigation, report hazards and maintenance
needs and keep an eye out for potential safety concerns.
What the Frisco Trail, and Fayetteville's network, has done
for Fayetteville has not been lost on the other cities in Northwest Arkansas.
The Fayetteville system is now the anchor of the planned Razorback Regional
Greenway, 36 miles of active transportation pathways connecting Fayetteville to
the cities of Springdale, Lowell, Rogers and Bentonville. When complete, the
Razorback Regional Greenway will link six downtown areas, three major
hospitals, 23 schools, the University of Arkansas, the corporate headquarters
of WalMart, JB Hunt Transportation Services and Tyson Foods, shopping areas,
parks and residential communities. Having witnessed firsthand the connection of
active transportation infrastructure to Fayetteville's residential and
commercial growth, regional planners and politicians know a good thing when
they see one.
But the development of the Frisco Trail suffered the same
opposition as many rail-with-trail projects. Arkansas & Missouri Railroad,
which owns and operates the active (though lightly-used) line, were worried
that putting a trail close to active train tracks would be a public safety
hazard and liability concern.
"But what we have seen from the real-life operation of
rail-with-trail pathways is typically the opposite," says Kelly Pack,
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) director of trail development and one of
the authors of an upcoming RTC study on rail-with-trails. "Creating a
designated, safe pathway reduces the inclination of people to make their own
way along or across the tracks. And through good design, such as a fence or natural landscaped barrier, for example, the users can be kept very separate and exist
Such was the case in Fayetteville. Prior to the creation of
the trail, the rail corridor was often used as a makeshift pathway in and out
of the popular entertainment district, and there had been several accidents
involving trains and late night revelers.
"The trail and fencing provided a safe alternative, and
people no longer walk the tracks like they had in the past," Mihalevich says. "The
railroad is pleased."
Photos: Top, a local coffee shop beside the section of Frisco Trail along active rail line
Middle, trail construction in Fayetteville
Bottom, the Frisco Trail.
All photos courtesy City of Fayetteville