Will the City's Plans to Increase Off-road Cycling Opportunities in Portland Mean More Mountain Bikes on Forest Park's Trails?
A few weeks ago, I learned that the City of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, in conjunction with Portland Parks & Recreation, the Bureau of Environmental Services, the Bureau of Transportation, the Portland Water Bureau, and other local government and community partners, is in the process of formulating an
Off-road Cycling Master Plan
to "develop a citywide plan for a system of off-road cycling facilities - such as sustainable trail networks, skill parks and pump tracks".
Longtime Forest Park preservationists Marcy Houle, author of the wonderful trail guide One City's Wilderness: Portland's Forest Park, and pediatrician Catherine Thompson, M.D. are concerned
that the plan will ultimately lead to increased mountain biking on Forest Park's trails. These might include include some trails currently designated as pedestrian-only, and/or they might include new trails cut through the park..
As it stands now, there are about 70 miles of recreational trails in Forest Park. Mountain bikers are currently permitted on around 28 of those miles of trail, primarily on wider trails and service roads such as Leif Erikson Drive and the Fire Lanes. However, Houle and Thompson worry that even now illegal cycling on narrow, pedestrian-only trails goes unchecked, jeopardizing the safety of hikers and trail runners, disturbing their tranquil enjoyment of the woods, tearing up the trails, and endangering wildlife. They fear that increasing legally-sanctioned mountain biking in the park would undermine the management objectives set forth in the Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan, Ordinance No. 168509, which grants highest priority to protecting Forest Park's ecological health and preserving its wildlife habitats; specifies that all forms of recreation in Forest Park must be passive in nature; notes that Forest Park is unique among the nation's city parks in its mission to "[p]rovide for Quiet, Reflective, and Spiritual Experiences," and declares that all visitors must feel safe when using the park's trails.
Victoria Cartwright, M.D., also a pediatrician, recalls an incident a few years ago in which she and a friend were running around a hairpin turn on Wildwood Trail when a couple of cyclists were suddenly upon them. "They came up really fast!", she recalls. She and her running partner barely had time to jump out of the way, and the cyclist in the lead had to stop so suddenly that his buddy nearly rear-ended him. After that close call, Cartwright confesses that when she runs on the trails, she often has an "escape plan" in mind in case she encounters another cyclist and has to dive for safety. Although she has yet to come face-to-face with another cyclist, her fears are kept fresh by the bicycle tire tracks she often spots on Wildwood near Germantown Rd. She worries that children and older hikers especially are at risk of being hit by cyclists on the trails, and that the dangers will only increase if cyclists' use of some of the park's narrower trails becomes sanctioned by the City.
A Project Advisory Committee has been appointed to guide the development of the Portland Off-road Cycling Master Plan and to foster community outreach and engagement. The vast majority of the
members of the Project Advisory Committee
appear to be cycling community advocates. However, Renee Myers, Executive Director of the
Forest Park Conservancy
(formerly Friends of Forest Park) serves on the committee. Charged with the mission of restoring and protecting Forest Park, the Forest Park Conservancy does not oppose mountain biking in the park, and its position on specific routes will depend upon what is ultimately proposed in the City's Master Plan. Myers stresses, "The City is gathering public input right now on options for off-road cycling opportunities including pump parks, training areas, and mountain biking trails. We expect to see specific proposals in the fall. At this time, interested community members should fill out the
the City has developed and stay informed by signing up to receive
According to the City's web site, the the Project Advisory Committee will begin drafting the Master Plan in September, meaning that time is of the essence.
As runners and hikers, I encourage you to inform yourselves and to make your voices heard, in particular highlighting any concerns about how increased mountain biking in Forest Park would impact the safety and quiet enjoyment of trails by runners and hikers. In addition to completing the
mentioned by Myers, consider attending a Project Advisory Committee
. The next of these monthly meetings is scheduled for
Thursday, August 25
from 4pm-7pm at 1900 SW 14th Ave., Conference Room 7A on the 7th Floor. Also, consider signing an on-line
being circulated by Houle and Thompson
which asks the mayor and the commissioners not to allow single-track cycling on pedestrian-only trails in Forest Park. Finally, please share this information with your friends and neighbors who run, walk, and hike on Forest Park's trails.
Recent media coverage of the issue includes a KGW news segment that aired on August 9, 2016, as well as an article that appeared in the August 2016 edition of the Northwest Examiner. The only somewhat recent coverage of the Off-road Cycling Master Plan in the
appears be be an
opinion piece by John Miller
from January 2016.