HURST -- Gary Foster explores the Cotton Belt Trail in a high-performance tricycle.
The electrical engineer from North Richland Hills rides once or twice a week for exercise, and lately he has noticed that the paved hike-and-bike trail through Northeast Tarrant County is becoming more popular.
"A couple of weeks ago, I saw 30 of them," he said of his fellow riders and joggers.
Foster has his doubts about cycling ever becoming a legitimate commuting mode in car-loving North Texas. But advocates say the region is making progress in building a system of trails -- known as a veloweb -- that would let pedestrians and cyclists travel long distances without dodging cars.
The latest example is a new mile of the Cotton Belt Trail that recently opened near Precinct Line Road at Glade Road in Hurst. A grand opening for the new section, which connects to a portion that opened late last year near L.D. Lockett Road in Colleyville, is tentatively scheduled for April 28.
But unofficially, the trail is already open and frequented by riders and runners.
The new stretch takes joggers and bikers away from the whir of car traffic to a previously little-known area of natural beauty. It features a 200-foot bridge across Little Bear Creek, horse barns, ducks, turtles and a pristine swampy area.
"It has been about 14 years in the works, but finally we are ready to dedicate it," Hurst Deputy City Manager Allan Heindel said. "We were sort of the missing link."
The 10-foot-wide trail is all paved, and signs and markings are in place, Heindel said. All that remains is for the Texas Department of Transportation and its contractor to finish a "punch list" of typically minor tasks.
The new segment makes it possible to travel nearly eight miles of the Cotton Belt Trail uninterrupted, from John McCain Road in Colleyville to Browning Drive near Northeast Loop 820 in North Richland Hills. Most of the trail is separate from automobile traffic, although users must cross a few busy streets such as Precinct Line, Davis Boulevard and Rufe Snow Drive.
And soon, the Cotton Belt Trail will be expanded even more: North of John McCain Road, a half-mile of trail is scheduled to be built as part of the Texas 26 expansion in Grapevine.
When that's done, it will be possible to pedal or jog into downtown Grapevine and connect to the city's recreational trails extending to Lake Grapevine.
Regional planners also aim to eventually expand the Cotton Belt Trail to more than 20 miles, following the historical Cotton Belt Line railroad tracks as far south as the Fort Worth Stockyards. From there, cyclists could access the Trinity Trails.
A 1,668-mile vision
Some car lovers still scoff at the notion that a sophisticated veloweb of trails may someday cover the entire Metroplex.
But supporters say they're looking forward to the day -- perhaps in 20 years -- when large numbers of people commute to their jobs by bicycle, tricycle or other modes that today seem like little more than a niche.
"When we rewrote the metropolitan transportation plan last year, the original veloweb of 640 miles was expanded to 1,668 miles. It's now connecting 116 cities and 10 counties," said Deb Humphreys, transportation planner at the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
She added that 237 miles of connecting trails are on the ground, 31 more are funded and 1,400 are in various planning stages.
"The Cotton Belt Trail is a really long, linear trail. It's very popular and connects a lot of communities," she said. "We need these options."
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796