Citing concerns that cyclists and cars exiting and entering the lot might crash into each other, some city officials have said they want to remove the small lot. It was designed and built with federal money, but some say it has since become a hazard to bike riders.
Mike Poe, president of the Northeast Alabama Bicycling Association, thinks it makes sense to do away with the spaces.
“It really is just too congested,” he said.
When traveling south from Piedmont on the trail, cyclists pass through a thickly wooded area that Poe described as a tunnel of trees. The path empties abruptly into the small lot, where cyclists have to navigate around any cars before crossing Alabama 204 and reconnecting with the trail.
While some city leaders said they are concerned for public safety, some added that parking at the lot is problematic. Council Chairman Mark Jones said motorists often double park and added that though the lot was designed for trail-goers, it’s often used by Jacksonville State University students who are trying to avoid paying for a student parking pass. The lot is across the street from JSU’s campus.
While some officials and cyclists would like the lot removed, the city has a few obstacles to overcome before that can happen. First, Mayor Johnny Smith said, the city must determine whether it has the authority to destroy something built with federal money.
“We’re going to track the federal funds to see if we can even do this,” Smith said.
If the federal government gives the city the go-ahead, officials still have to determine how to pay for the project’s estimated $10,000 cost.
If the city pursues a grant to remove the lot, officials believe the cost of the project will balloon to $30,000. While the city would only have to pay a portion of that amount, officials said they would still end up paying $11,000 if they secured a grant to fund the project.
“Sometimes when you get a grant you end up paying more in your match than you would if you did it yourself,” Jones said.
Council members said the cost of grant funded projects can increase dramatically due to special requirements and additional fees that apply to state or federally funded jobs. Additionally, by using city employees, instead of contracting the work out, as may be required in the grant process, the city can sometimes save money, said Councilman Jonathan Tompkins.
“We can save some money without having to jump through all the hoops that the state would have to jump through if we went through them,” Tompkins said.
No matter the fate of the four parking slots at the trail lot on Alabama 204, cyclists aren’t likely to face a shortage of parking anytime soon. Jones said a lot that adjoins the city’s refurbished train depot a short distance away along the trail has greatly expanded parking options since the 204 lot was built.
Trail event this weekend
Within sight of the depot parking lot a small park and garden have been emerging for the past five years. Today at noon the volunteers who developed it — the Jacksonville Garden Club and the Jacksonville Master Gardeners — and the city will give the park a name.
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.