The Preston Ridge Trail and the Far North Dallas Corridor
This article is a part of our Dallas Trail System series. We rode the Preston Ridge Trail in early February. We saw red tailed hawks everywhere, the wildlife we saw was amazing. If you have the time the slide show is well worth watching as it provides some additional details on the trail and how it links, or will soon link, the far north Dallas corridor to several trail systems.
Preston Ridge trail was originally conceived by Dallas County around 1998. As a part of the County’s Park and Open Space Program, County Planners and Commissioners literally drove throughout the far north Dallas corridor in search of a suitable site to install a hike and bike trail. They were in search of a site that presented no significant physical barriers or obstructions that would impede construction. They wanted a location that would connect major roadways and touch as many schools, parks, employment centers and neighborhoods as possible.
One of the County’s objectives is to create a trail system “…that would enable people to walk, bike, run or skate from one end of the County to another without the need of a car.” They found what they were looking for in a 6 mile stretch of an Oncor easement. It was mostly a flat greenbelt with a handful of minor creeks dividing it along the path.
The trail would be built in 2 phases, the first phase was 4.8 miles long and weighed in at 1.2 million dollars. This was more money than the county had ever spent on a trail and represented a significant investment for Dallas County. The ribbon cutting for phase one was in 2003. The remaining 1.5 miles of phase two would be built and paid for by both the City of Dallas and Collin County. It would eventually join two other “major linear” bike trails, numerous parks, schools, a State Highway, and 30 or so neighborhoods.
From the north, the trail begins at the Dallas and Plano city limits where Hillcrest road meets the George Bush Turnpike. From there it winds east, parallel to the George Bush, and then it turns south, all the way to Beltline road. It travels east again and then south, parallel to Coit road and then east again along Spring Valley road.
The majority of the trail sections are within Oncor easements, some of which are situated along roadways. Other sections travel within residential greenbelts and offer a more serene experience (no cars or traffic in sight).
Just north of McCallum road the trail intersects with the proposed Cottonbelt trail which will provide an east-west route that joins Addison and Richardson. Heading south, when you’re at the Campbell road intersection, you’re only about 1/2 mile west of numerous retail and eating establishments, and also the City of Richardson bike trail system. The University Trail begins on the NE corner of Coit and Campbell roads and you can take the sidewalk or side streets to get there from the Preston Ridge trail.
There’s an east-west appendage that ends to the west at Davenport road. It will one day join provide another connector to the Cottonbelt trail.
The trail continues south, across Beltline road where it winds around to follow Coit road, and then along Spring Valley road where it eventually joins with the Cottonwood trail. The connectors are all key sections of the trail system.
North And South Trail Connectors
I’ve read cyclists lamenting poor “connectors” in their local trail systems on several blogs from other communities. You will often hear the dreaded “last mile” comment where magnificent trails have been installed, and at a considerable expense, only to be rendered expensive “bike parks” due to connectors that simply don’t connect very well. The Preston Ridge trail has three connectors, two are being built by Dallas and one is in the City of Plano.
To the north, the Preston Ridge trail will join the city of Plano’s own Preston Ridge trail branch at Ohio and the George Bush Turnpike. Plano has not yet completed the connector but you can take couple short, side streets to get to their branch. The Preston Ridge trail in Plano goes north to Hwy 121 and intersects several east-west trails. Plano currently has no plans to finish the connector nor is it in their budget or on their list of planned improvements.
There is no telling how many tens of thousands of cars drive past the entrance of the trail right at the Plano city limits on a daily basis. Curiously there is no sign at the entrance to the Preston Ridge trail (see photo below), so it’s very easy to miss. “Keep your dog on the leash” and “No Motorized Vehicles” are the only clues that the paved trail is for public use. This would be a good spot for a sign that indicates what the trail is and where it goes.
At the south end of the trail there are two connectors – the “alley connector” which joins two sections of the Preston Ridge trail, and the “sidewalk connector” which will join the Preston Ridge and Cottonwood trails. That section is in the bidding stage now. We’ll detail the alley connector first.
The alley connector is the section of trail that runs parallel to Beltline and Coit roads. There is a small power station (far right in the photo on the right) nearby which creates a physical barrier, so the trail actually diverts you into a residential alley and goes around the corner where it drops you back onto the trail a short distance later. While this solution is no doubt the very best that could be done considering the physical barriers, I have a few concerns about its current state.
To begin, there is no meaningful signage, and what signage is currently in place is either misleading or confusing. There is nothing there that tells you that you’re on a bike trail that actually leads somewhere. A sign that says “Coit road x miles” would be a welcomed improvement. The fact that you’re now sharing a single lane alley in a residential neighborhood, and you’ll be riding around a blind corner, makes you vulnerable to oncoming traffic. As the dormant vines and other foliage planted along the fence lines begin to bloom, the visibility around that corner is diminished. Some sort of “Caution” traffic signs would be wise.
As you can see in the picture below, a strange “Bike Route: End” sign is still up, I suspect this made sense prior to the trail being finished, but this section has been finished for years. In the photo you can also see where the trail drops you into the residential alley:
The alley itself looks like it has not seen any improvements in some time and the drainage is poor. Any time there is a significant rain the alley will flood and be difficult to navigate on a bicycle. Be sure to put those fenders on your bike before riding this section of the trail after it rains.
There is also a well intentioned yet curious “Your are Here” style sign (photo below) that quite frankly is confusing and doesn’t clearly tell you anything. Lots of room for improvement here when it comes to signage.
I have shared my concerns with of the folks at the parks department and they did a nice job of hearing me out. I’m not aware of any current plans to remedy any of these issues or make improvements to this section of the trail. This weak link in the trail could be a shining example of how to do things right in spite of the physical limitations, my hope is that we’ll see some improvements sooner than later.
The final section is the sidewalk connector. It joins the Preston Ridge and Cottonwood trails through a series of wide sidewalks that run along Coit and Spring Valley roads. It’s in the final bidding process now and I’ve been told construction should start soon. More than once I have driven the stretch (in my car) and wondered how the hell are they going to make this happen? I’ve recently learned the details for the sidewalk connector and I am optimistic about the plan.
It’s actually going to be built on the east side of Coit, and north side of Spring Valley, which puts it within the Richardson city limits. This is for logistical reasons – there are fewer shopping center entrances on the Richardson side of Coit, and just as importantly, by traveling along the east side of Coit cyclists will be able to avoid crossing the Coit and Spring Valley intersection.
The connector will begin at the Haymeadow drive intersection just north of Coit Road. The existing pedestrian sidewalk along the west side of Coit will be replaced with one that is 8 feet wide, 6 feet wide in some sections where it’s impossible to go wider. That sidewalk “trail” will go along Coit and then turn east at Spring Valley. The sidewalk trail will then utilize the existing pedestrian crossing at Mayham road, where the Cottonwood Trail now begins.
The Preston Ridge Trail is a “major linear” trail, it’s mostly a divided 12 foot wide concrete slab that is situated in a cluster of Oncor greenbelts. The trail gracefully curves and weaves through a long series of transmission towers. I used to think transmission towers were really unsightly but now I imagine them as enormous tin soldiers, all standing at attention. Kooky, I know but it makes them more visually interesting.
All trail entrances use street-level ramps, so there are no curbs to negotiate. This also makes the trail wheelchair friendly. My neighborhood was built back in the 60s and many of our sidewalks lack street-level ramps, so my neighbor who travels by wheelchair is forced to “take a lane” whether he wants to or not. The curb ramps were a smart design, thanks Dallas.
In 2008 neighborhood volunteers planted over 400 trees and even more were planted in 2009. The greenbelts are huge, though, and most of the path is still largely grassland. It’s a major, ongoing landscaping effort. There are several seating areas along the trail and the one by the Davenport appendage has a water fountain for people, and one for dogs too.
From a County perspective, Preston Ridge Trail is located within County Commissioner District 1, which is lead by Maureen Dickey. Elected in 2005, Dickey has been a trail advocate all along. The trail is within Dallas City Council District 12, and former City Council Member Sandy Greyson was honored for her advocacy and contribution to the trail back in 2006. Ron Natinsky now leads District 12 and he too has been a trail supporter. District 11 is the home of the proposed sidewalk connector that joins Preston Ridge to the Cottonwood Trail. Linda Koop has represented District 11 since 2005. If you follow cycling culture in Dallas you know Koop has a lot of fans out there on two wheels, across district boundaries.
And neighboring cities Richardson and Plano are governed by folks who have installed trail (and lane) systems that are on the ground, and they have more are on the books. Most importantly, their elected officials and city leadership express a progressive attitude about cycling and alternative transportation. This entire region holds enormous potential for cyclists, especially those wanting to commute for work or pleasure.
On a less formal note, eventually the entire Preston Ridge Trail will be a magnificent display of trees, shrubs and flowers. Ongoing watering, planting and maintenance is being provided by the Friends of The Preston Ridge Trail and other volunteers. They are the ones rolling up their sleeves and picking up shovels and doing the important work. They also work as a neighborhood liaison to the city and county to bring additional improvements. They could use your help, your money, or your time so drop by their website to see how you can contribute to the cause.
Finally, it should be pointed out that Oncor is not obligated to provide their grounds for a park system or public trail. I moan about my electric bill as much as the next guy, but I think for Oncor to partner with the city and county to allow their grounds to be developed for public use is exemplary and very progressive on their part. Bravo, Oncor.
The Preston Ridge trail was deemed the beachhead for trails in the far north Dallas corridor. It was the beginning of a series of trails that would one day reach as far north as Hwy 121 and ultimately reach most other parts of Dallas county. While not as sexy as the boutique Katy Trail, the Preston Ridge trail is the northern gateway to the Dallas trail system and a key component to the broader alternative transportation system that is finally beginning to unfold. Within a few months we’ll be riding bicycles from the Plano city limits to downtown Dallas, on dedicated bike trails. This is a huge step in developing a county wide cycling infrastructure.
For those interested in cycling improvements in the greater north Dallas region, be sure to add Bike Friendly Richardson to your list of must-read blogs. They have been publishing some helpful and informative trail updates that are going on in Richardson.