Rendering of new trail network proposed by Trailnet

Trailnet wants to launch a network of trails for walkers and bikers along streets in the St. Louis region. Rendering by HOK, courtesy of Trailnet.

Trailnet has a big plan to build a network of paths for walkers and bikers along streets.

“What we want to do is change the way that St. Louis thinks about transportation and what streets can do,” said Marielle Brown, director of policy and outreach at Trailnet, which advocates for better walking and biking in the St. Louis region.

To do that, Trailnet is proposing protected and connected walkways and bikeways that could connect downtown, Forest Park, the Ville neighborhood, the Delmar Loop, Old North, Clayton and places in between.

The model for the project is the 8-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail. That city gave permission to use its right of way to build the trail in 2004. The first stretch of trails opened in 2007, and its full 8 miles were usable by 2013.

Trailnet, which started looking into building such a system a couple of years ago, also hopes to build its trail system on right of ways and thus avoid paying for and going through the process to acquire land.

Brown pointed out that the Indianapolis trail has spurred development, such as apartments above ground-floor retail, and increased tax revenue, as well as bringing young people downtown.

“We really want to see that future for St. Louis,” she said.

The Indianapolis project cost about $88 million and is 4 miles shorter than the 12-mile route Trailnet hopes to build. The group plans to raise money through public-private financing.

No route has been finalized for the St. Louis network. That’s the next step, which will include working with groups like Great Rivers Greenway to connect current and future trails, and getting input from people to nail down specifics.

“We see this more as a linear spine with a north-south access and an east-west access rather than a loop based on the way our city is designed,” Brown said, stressing that the new route will not be a replacement for current trails, but rather a way to connect existing paths.

It also means getting buy-in from local streets and transportation departments, said Ralph Pfremmer, executive director of Trailnet. He said he does not anticipate seeking tax dollars from St. Louis or St. Louis County for the project.

He pointed out that Trailnet created Grant’s Trail and the Riverfront Trail — big ideas when first suggested that many said were too big to happen.

“The timing is right now because the millennial generation is starting to settle down,” he said, saying people are seeking urban living. “Now is the time to capture this, especially with the development climate.”

But there’s much to be done before the trail could get up and running. The planning process isn’t quick, nor is getting funding — Trailnet hopes to start building the path network within five years.