T he phrase “quality of life” is increasingly tied to Killeen’s outlook for future growth.
The City Council took a significant step toward improving both the city’s amenities and aesthetics last week with the approval of an agreement with Harker Heights to extend the Heritage Oaks Hike and Bike Trail across city lines.
The result will be an extension of the trail eastward from Rosewood Drive to Purser Park, which is just across the city boundary with Harker Heights.
When finished, the trail will extend for just over nine miles, funded primarily by federal grants with a 20 percent local match from the city of Killeen.
When the trail is connected to the city’s Andy K. Wells Hike and Bike Trail in central Killeen, walkers and bikers will be able to travel from the Killeen Community Center to the Armed Services YMCA in Heights on one continuous pathway.
Parks and the concept of walkability are among the amenities Herald readers expressed an interest in when responding to an online poll the week of Oct. 15-21.
When asked what they want the city to look like as Killeen officials plan for future growth, the number one response was “Better walkability: More trees and sidewalks,” with 29 percent choosing that option. Close behind, at 25 percent, was the option of “More pools and recreation areas.” About 15 percent favored “More hike and bike trails.”
Taken together, the three options totaled 69 percent of respondents who advocated for a city with more outdoor recreation options and enhanced walkability.
Walkability is a measure of the ease of traveling on foot to amenities, such as shopping, restaurants, parks, schools and entertainment venues.
In cities with high walkability scores, these desirable amenities are widely distributed among residential areas, so that a car is not required to accomplish most errands.
However, when a city’s subdivisions are jammed together with no amenities interspersed, walkability suffers. Much of Killeen fits this description of residential development.
An analysis by Redfin, a Seattle-based real estate brokerage, finds that being able to easily access amenities on foot adds value to the home — at least in large metropolitan areas.
Redfin developed a Walk Score feature that gives points to a given home based on its walking distance to a variety of amenities and assigns a score between 1 and 100. To find out how your neighborhood rates, go to www.walkscore.com and type in your home address.
The most walkable neighborhoods have scores of 90 or higher, but they are rare — only 2 percent of the neighborhoods Redfin listed nationwide.
Tellingly, many neighborhoods in southwest Killeen, where growth has been strongest in recent years, have scores under 30.
If Killeen is to improve on those numbers moving forward, planners will have to re-examine the city’s approach to residential and commercial development.
In the short term, the city needs more neighborhood parks and sidewalks, more trees and better options for bicycle traffic.
It also seems the city is in need of better street lights — at least according to Herald readers.
A Herald Facebook question about the adequacy of the city’s street lights drew an avalanche of responses when posed last week. An overwhelming majority of respondents said they thought the streets were too dark and potentially unsafe for walkers, especially in the areas around schools.
A Herald article on the subject, published in today’s edition, noted that the city has more than 4,400 street lights. Their spacing and illumination is within national standards, but those standards — a light every 1,200 feet with 100 watts of illumination on residential streets — seems less than ideal.
Moreover, because of the terms of the city’s contract with Oncor, it is not able to retrofit the lights to accommodate more efficient LED bulbs.
Unfortunately, for established areas of the city, it’s unlikely that the additional street lights or other amenities will be added in after the fact.
But as the city continues to grow to the south, planners would be well advised to increase the street light coverage, as well as build in options for shops, restaurants and other desired amenities as new subdivisions are platted.
An increased emphasis on sidewalks, mature trees and recreational options can go a long way toward increasing the city’s quality of life.
Taken as a whole, these improved amenities would not only boost the city’s aesthetic appeal, but would also improve the health, safety and outlook of its residents.
And that’s a win-win, no matter how you slice it..