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New era for off-road cycling begins as master plan committee meets for first time

Posted by on January 28th, 2016 at 5:51 pm

mtb-aerial
Committee members get down to work.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

That could be the motto for the City of Portland’s attempts to address the glaring lack of off-road cycling opportunities within city limits. But tonight the city took a big step forward on an unprecedented effort to solve that problem when the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability convened its first project advisory committee meeting for the Off Road Cycling Master Plan.

If all goes according to plan, 12 months from now Portland will have its first-ever citywide plan on not just how to provide bike access in parks but where it should be allowed. To be clear, this plan won’t put any lines on a map. BPS Project Manager Michelle Kunec-North made that clear at the outset of the meeting. “This plan alone doesn’t get something built. This will get us to a citywide understanding on where off-road cycling is appropriate and what type of facility is appropriate on that site.”

Make no mistake though, this plan will have the potential to be the guide for how Portland implements all future mountain bike trails — that means everything from singletrack, fire roads, pump tracks, skills parks, and so on.

Recent efforts to improve bike access in parks have been site-specific (Forest Park and River View Natural Area) and they’ve ended in controversy and hurt feelings on all sides. To leave those memories behind, this process is being developed by the planning bureau (not Parks & Recreation) with the help of private consultants hired to make sure the public process stays on track.


Portland Mayor Charlie Hales asserted his interest in his issue when he made a $300,000 investment in the plan. Hales’ Chief of Staff Joshua Alpert was at tonight’s meeting to speak on the mayor’s behalf.

“We’re trying to incorporate an activity that the city hasn’t done a good job of recognizing as a real legitimate activity in the past,” Alpert said, acknowledging past processes that have left off-road riding advocates bruised and battered.

mtb-purposeslide
Slide from presentation by City of Portland.

In his remarks, Alpert struck a chord that was very supportive of cycling. “A lot of people who mountain bike are sick and tired of having to drive an hour to do this activity and as someone who’s environmentally conscious, it irks me that we’re forcing people to go out and drive for a sport they enjoy.” The key question the Mayor’s office says they hope this process answers how to balance bicycling with other park uses and city goals.

“A lot of people who mountain bike are sick and tired of having to drive an hour to do this activity and as someone who’s environmentally conscious, it irks me that we’re forcing people to go out and drive for a sport they enjoy.”
— Joshua Alpert, Mayor Charlie Hales’ office

It’s notable that the committee is made up of a strong majority of people who represent cycling-related interests. That fact was not lost on committee member Bob Sallinger, conservation director of Portland Audubon. At tonight’s meeting Sallinger pointed out that the committe is “pretty lopsided” and “biased.” He’s worried that people who represent bike advocacy groups and bike-related businesses are overrepresented.

“For example, the off-leash dog committee was full of dog advocates,” Sallinger pointed out, “And they didn’t feel it had an impact on natural resources and that’s the way the votes came out.”

In response, committee member Jocelyn Gaudi, who also happens to be marketing manager at a bicycle company, member of the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and sits on the board of the Northwest Trail Alliance, said, “We’re multi-dimensional people. I need the forest to ride my mountain bike so I have a vested interest in maintaining it.”

Tonight’s meeting was light on debate and dialogue, but that’s sure to change in the months to come. What’s striking to me so far is that unlike past processes, this time better bike access is all but assumed from the start. It’s the cycling advocates leading the discussion, instead of scratching at the edges eager for any crumb other interests are willing to give up. Whether that leads to new and improved access within biking distance from downtown Portland remains to be seen.

For more info, see the official website.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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25 Comments
  • BeavertonRider January 28, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    $300k would be useful in repairing some roadway or improving road safety.

    See? This is what I am talking about… This off-road cycling issue is completely unimportant considering that the City cannot handle bike theft and has to propose a new gas tax because supposedly it cant afford to do road work.

    But, allocate $300k like this, from out of nowhere? Whered this money come from? If it wasnt needed where it came from, then why not allocate it to something that is not only inportant, but also benefits all residents?

    How many other “investments” like this are there which deprive real, core City functions of funding?

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    • MNBikeLuv January 29, 2016 at 9:43 am

      Please remember that the $300,000 wouldn’t have had to spent if the city would have allowed previous attempts at singletrack to happen. The can got kicked down the road to the point that torches and pitchforks were coming out. The master plan was way to calm everyone down after the Riverview mess. Master plans cost money.

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      • BeavertonRider January 29, 2016 at 10:17 am

        This assumes that off-road riding within the City is a priority. Perhaps it is, though that begins to olae considerably when considering that alarming backlog of road mainteance and road safety projects.

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        • MNBikeLuv February 3, 2016 at 6:32 am

          First, money for parks and roads are two different pots of money.

          Second, in most other cities that have urban mountain biking, either the construction is free to taxpayers (the MTB club pays for it) or its paid for by taxpayers but the MTB club does work and maintenance of the park its in, paying back the taxpayers in the long run by reducing parks department maintenance overhead.

          Third, the “we don’t have money” line is an excuse by people who don’t like something but a reason larger than their personal feelings as to why we shouldn’t do something.

          p.s. To your original previous point, MSP has reduced homelessness by 17% (families) and 10% (overall) 2015 respectively without upping their budget, but by streamlining coordination and getting the state to adopt a statewide plan so that all communities are in the fight togther. See: http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-is-getting-closer-to-ending-homelessness/366775871/

          As to the cost and allocation of resources that an auto-focused zoning and planning, I would suggest a long day reading a lot of the articles on StrongTowns.org.

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    • Dan January 29, 2016 at 10:15 am

      I agree. Especially with the wealth of mt bike trails that exist in the region, albeit not within city limits.

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    • Alex January 29, 2016 at 11:57 am

      $300k isn’t that much. Especially not compared to the $1.5 million they are talking about putting forth for a main entrance to the park – http://bikeportland.org/2015/07/17/forest-park-get-new-main-entrance-nature-center-highway-30-150887.

      > “This off-road cycling issue is completely unimportant”

      To you – it is very important to the 300+ people who showed up to protest the shutting down of RVNA and the very active mountain bike community in Portland.

      > How many other “investments” like this are there which deprive real, core City functions of funding?

      I would say that there are a ton of benefits to adding more mountain bike access in PDX. I, for one, have become a greater steward of the environment and recognizing my impact on it because of mountain biking. Because of mountain biking I maintain a healthier lifestyle, which cuts down on healthcare costs for everyone else. Even those 2 things multiplied across a community are worth a great deal more than $300k.

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      • BeavertonRider January 29, 2016 at 2:17 pm

        There may be nice benefits associated with off-road biking in the City. But, and this is important, there’s a finite number of tax dollars for the City to spend and an infinite number of competing spending wants. Hence, choices must be made.

        In my opinion, it’s not even a close call when assessing the priority or importance of off-road biking. It pales is comparison to the importance of roads, housing, and public safety. Yet, the City, as well as many here, complain that there’s not enough funding for roads, housing, and public safety. But the City will spend $300k on this committee…a committee? This aint even producing something residents can ride on…it’s a committee. As well, the City is going to spend $1.3 million on a tennis bubble, too.

        So, between just these two projects, that $1.6 million. So while by itself, $300k doesnt sound like much, when consodered alongside the supposed “emergency” funding for a tennis bubble, among other things, there’s tons of cash being wasted here.

        There’s no legitimate basis to argue that this committee is more important than investigating bike theft (which, as Jonathan reported a few weeks ago, the City lacks enough money to properly staff) or road safety.

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        • Alex February 1, 2016 at 4:33 pm

          People complain about funding all the time for all sorts of things. How do things get prioritized? There is a legitimate user group that is being completely ignored – all while there are millions of dollars being dropped to just begin funding for a new entrance to Forest Park – not even to get it done.

          I understand that it isn’t everyone’s priority – but it is a large contingent of Parks users and there should be a priority assigned to it, not ignored, which is what it seems you are suggesting.

          One final note – as Opus The Poet notes at the bottom of these comments – the funding for this and the funding for bike theft come from two very separate funds – and they are not fungible. Also, as Ted Timmons notes in this thread – “It’s a bit of a fallacy to make that type of argument”.

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    • Adam H. January 29, 2016 at 4:52 pm

      $300K spent on building a mountain biking facility in the city that people can actually bike to will remove those trips to facilities outside Portland that were previously taken by car. This will create less wear and tear on the roads.

      See? I just proved its value.

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    • Ted Timmons (Contributor) January 29, 2016 at 7:28 pm

      We can spend this $300k on repairing some roadway or improving road safety. Or on saving refugees from dying. Do you want people to die so your road has fewer potholes?

      It’s a bit of a fallacy to make that type of argument.

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  • Mike Quiglery January 29, 2016 at 5:53 am

    Keep in mind that once you open a trail for mountain biking it’s ruined for every other user.

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    • Brian January 29, 2016 at 6:49 am

      Ruined? How so?

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    • Alex January 29, 2016 at 7:53 am

      Thank you Mike for your valuable input. I will be sure to let everyone who enjoys the McKenzie River Trail by foot know that the trail is ruined and they shouldn’t be enjoying it because mountain biking ruined it.

      Also, thank you for being a great example of the vocal minority’s ability to reason and have a rational discussion! You are here proving our points – it is greatly appreciated.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 29, 2016 at 9:22 am

      I couldn’t disagree more Mike. In fact, I’d argue that the opposite is true.

      With better bike access in our parks we will be embracing many more stewards and volunteers that are essential to help maintain and improve these areas.

      All uses can have significant impacts to trails… yes even hiking! The key is good management strategies and oversight to encourage responsible behaviors and thwart illegal/damaging ones. I couldn’t help but think that this recent tweet by the Forest Park Conservancy showing trail damage on Wildwood would have been very controversial if the image showed bike tires instead of footprints…

      https://twitter.com/PDXForestPark/status/691781569426669568

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    • MNBikeLuv January 29, 2016 at 9:45 am

      I got 28.5 miles of local trail originally built for mountain bikes that are used by trail runners, hikers, geo-cache people and hunters that says otherwise…

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    • Zimmerman January 29, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      Keep in mind that once you post this discredited, alarmist nonsense in the comment thread it’s ruined for every other user.

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  • spencer January 29, 2016 at 8:14 am

    Thank you Mike for your insight. I agree to disagree with you. You are entitled to your opinion, but not entitled to disparage other trail users with vitriol. Your narrow-minded and self serving position will continue to retard and sicken public conservation efforts in the Portland area for years to come. This planning group is tasked with a difficult task, and I commend them for taking it on. I hope to encounter you in the future and we can enjoy nature together on the trails!

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  • Brendan Treacy January 29, 2016 at 10:04 am

    So…Painfully…SLOW. But at least something is happening, I guess..

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    • Brendan Treacy January 29, 2016 at 10:07 am

      It took 12 months to put together a plan, for a plan, for a plan. Now we’ve got it! And if all goes according to plan, in 12 months we’ll have that plan for a plan.

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      • spencer January 29, 2016 at 2:05 pm

        in the mean time, be polite to all trail users when you encounter them

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  • yoterryh January 29, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Stand by to prepare to get ready to hold your breath. Again. Sigh. Still, a ray of hope, possibly.

    I’d love to see some singletrack in Portland before I’m too old to ride it. Of course I’ve only been riding here since 1986 though so, you know, any time now.

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  • Opus the Poet January 30, 2016 at 1:27 am

    For everyone complaining about what else could have been done with the $350K remember that city budgets are not fungible, there are “buckets” that can only be used for the designated purpose and if not used are gone forever. That’s why sometimes softball or soccer facilities are built when other recreational uses are unfunded, because the money came with strings attached.

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  • Dan A February 2, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    I found it interesting to read bikesnobnyc today that there is a 358-acre park near the middle of Queens, NY that fits 6.5 miles of XC MTB trails (beginner/intermediate/expert), along with a beginner/immediate jump park with a pump track.

    Meanwhile we have a 5100-acre park on the edge of the city with 1/3 of a mile of singletrack.

    We are doing it wrong.

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    • MNBikeLuv February 3, 2016 at 6:42 am

      Highbridge. In East Harlem (island of Manhattan) and with almost the same amount of miles as Powell Butte. Also, in the northern 40 acres of the Highbridge park. Dirt jump track also. http://www.nycmtb.com/?page_id=285 Used to be a homeless camp.

      Its pretty fun with lots of east coast rock based trail challenges. The trails work their way down the bluffs to the floodplain below and then back up.

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