New mountain bike group steps up to fill off-road advocacy void

Posted by on May 1st, 2008 at 5:46 pm

“We call for better access to city parks and recreation areas for off-road riding.”
–From a statement issued today by a new coalition of mountain bike advocates

Hoping to join the Platinum party and no longer wanting to play second fiddle to its on-street cousin, mountain biking in Portland is poised for progress.

Today, a coalition of mountain bike advocates who want to bring more off-road riding opportunities to Portland, issued a statement congratulating the city on its Platinum award while sounding an alarm that Portland lacks a “comprehensive strategy to provide opportunities for off-road cyclists” and that “the mountain bicycling community believes there is still work to be done.”

PUMP's Forest Park mountain bike tour

Chris King Precision Components employee
Chris Distefano (L) and Commissioner
Sam Adams’ Chief of Staff Tom Miller
riding in Forest Park last summer.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The coaltion includes “a citizens’ group” that has teamed up with the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and the Portland-based trail planning firm Alta Planning and Design to “analyze the potential for new trail opportunities in and around Portland.”

This announcement shows clear progress in a conversation around mountain bike opportunities in Portland that has been heating up in recent years.

In June of 2006, local mountain bikers felt snubbed when the Portland Parks and Recreation department unveiled a 20-year vision that didn’t mention mountain bikes at all.

Later that same month, with Portland’s Platinum plans going full steam, the League of American Bicyclists said “access to singletrack” would be a key criterion for achieving the coveted award.

Also adding urgency to the lack of mountain bike experiences in Portland was an article in the New York Times one year ago that showcased how several other major U.S. cities (but not Portland) had found ways to bring fat-tired fun to an urban setting.

Using that article, and the local discussion it spurred as ammunition, bike industry employee and former IMBA Board Member Chris Distefano gave a stirring speech to Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee about his dissatisfaction with Portland’s off-road riding opportunities.

PUMP's Forest Park mountain bike tour

(Photo © J. Maus)

Also last summer, the Portland United Mountain Pedalers (PUMP) led local policymakers on a tour of Forest Park — taking them down the only quarter-mile of trail in the city built specifically for mountain bikes.

So why is Portland so dirt-riding deficient?

PUMP has been active for over 20 years, but, as an all-volunteer organization that focuses primarily on rides and trail maintenance, their impact on influencing bureaucrats and forging necessary political alliances has been limited (not to mention that most of their time has been spent on issues in areas where they ride most often — usually more than a hours drive from Portland).

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) has the know-how and budget to play politics with the power brokers, but they’ve never really delved into the off-road realm.

This (yet unnamed) fledgling coalition — which solidified at the recent Oregon Bike Summit — hopes to fill a void and work with PUMP, IMBA, Alta Planning, and most likely Metro and Portland Parks and Recreation to create a Portland Mountain Bicycling Action Plan.

According to IMBA trail specialist and member of this new coaltion Jill Van Winkle, IMBA and Alta have both already dedicated professional resources to the effort and she hopes to “use that seed [from Alta and IMBA] to get other contributors on board to be a part of this effort.”

A group in Seattle created a mountain bike
skills park under an overpass of the I-5 freeway.
(Photo: Seattle LUNAChix/Flickr)

Van Winkle says the time has come for action. “Everyone was getting exhausted by just saying ‘we want more trails, we want more trails’…we wanted to take action. Now, with professional resources, we can really help move that forward.”

Van Winkle — whose husband Chris Bernhardt is a former IMBA staffer who now works at Alta’s Portland office heading up the firm’s new soft-surface trails division — says the group will consider some innovative options for creating non-pavement riding experiences.

These might include: building “daisy-chain” links that utilize existing unpaved right-of-way to connect riding areas; following the lead of Seattle’s I-5 Colonnade project that created a mountain bike skills park under a freeway overpass; and working on public/private partnerships to include mountain biking in existing and future parks and open spaces.

According to the statement released today, “These actions could produce substantial new mountain biking facilities for Portland in less than 4 years.”

The group hopes to present more details about their plans at the upcoming meeting of Metro’s new Blue Ribbon Committee for Trails.

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26 Comments
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    gabriel amadeus May 1, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Yay!

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    aaron May 1, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    yes please! i hope the group gets a name and establishes itself. i\’ll help out. there\’s plenty of unrealized potential around town that if built up for MTB use would prevent me from having to drive to get to decent singletrack.

    i doubt it\’ll ever happen, but forest park could be sickter. brah!

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    Icarus Falling May 1, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Sounds like a good start to a lot of future fun.

    I wonder if they would be interested in ideas for Vancouver singletrack ventures?

    There is a virtual gold mine of possibilities over here, as in the decommisioned Camp Bonneville, not to mention many, many other spots.

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    casey May 1, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    This is great news, I\’ll definitely have to get involved with this group and do what I can to help out.

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    dan May 1, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Jonathan, thanks for the heads up with this group, please keep us informed of their status- when they get a name and/or website where we can sign up to volunteer.

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    chris May 1, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Halleuja, praise be to God!

    I came to Portland expecting forested trails of buff singletrack through dappled forest, and found…

    National Wildlife refuges and forests that I am not allowed to ride in…

    An urban semi forested fireroad where runners openly sneer at me…

    A culture dedicated to Ski Bowl\’s lifts, rather than the Zen of a morning climb up a daunting peak, followed by a downhill singletrack that you actually earned.

    We have the geography to be an epic MTB location. We just seem to lack the will, IMHO.

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    Tom Miller May 1, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    On behalf of Commissioner Adams, I can speak to our excitement that this effort is being launched. We want to see MTB accommodated in the city limits. We will certainly engage this conversation and effort.

    As we\’ve reported elsewhere, if voters decide Sam should be successful in his bid for mayor, he will keep the transportation assignment. This would be an unprecedented decision that reflects our view that transportation (and its recreational off-spring) needs a champion at the very highest level of electoral accountability.

    We think there may be a good opportunity to crack this nut with the Gateway Green project, which could accommodate single track, free ride, cyclocross, and perhaps more.

    In terms of advocacy, Jonathan reports correctly that the advocacy effort within city hall hasn\’t reached the necessary level. PUMP has had other priorities to maintain and protect what it already has, which is entirely understandable. But people need to understand that city hall gets pulled in a hundred different directions each day. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    DiStefano, BTA, Alta, et al. know their way into our office. We\’re 100% accessible.

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    Scott Mizée May 2, 2008 at 4:33 am

    Great news folks! We look forward to collaboration between npGREENWAY and this new coalition.

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    Peter W May 2, 2008 at 7:12 am

    Awesome news!

    The PSU Cycling Club wants to get into more Mountain Biking, and we\’d love to have good trail access that we don\’t have to drive to.

    Between the club and other bike advocates at PSU, we\’d definitely be interested in helping.

    I look forward to hearing more about the group and how folks can help out!

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    Kristin May 2, 2008 at 7:25 am

    Oh happy day!

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    Matt F May 2, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Bout time!!! I\’ve had to buy a road bike for crissakes…something I never thought I would do…

    Ditto on what Chris (#6) said.

    I think that there a lot of frustrated mtn bikers in the community who will come out of the woodwork and get involved once this thing gets rollin\’.

    ~matt f

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    E May 2, 2008 at 7:46 am

    woo hoo!! 😀

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    joeb May 2, 2008 at 8:34 am

    So would the proposed Sullivan Gulch trail run right into Gateway Green and connect up to the 205 trail. Ride to ride right there.

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    steve May 2, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Tom Miller-

    Why don\’t you just pay for a campaign ad?

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    Zaphod May 2, 2008 at 9:20 am

    steve,
    What are you doing? It\’s so easy to be cynical versus getting engaged and getting something done. The previous comments are all discussing how to move real off-road riding forward and have a synergistic and collaborative feel to them.

    If people in a position of power have our ear, all the better for success. Is Tom\’s comment a plug? Sure but it\’s clearly stating that we can work together. If we don\’t have that connection, progress will not move as quickly. Decisions at the voting booth are about priorities. It\’s a good idea to let your constituents know what those are.

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    steve May 2, 2008 at 9:31 am

    You miss the point Zaphod. The previous comments were discussing how to move Mountain biking forward. I agree with the tone of those posts and most of the content.

    Tom was not discussing anything other than why we should vote for his boss. And as far as I can tell, the reasons have nothing to do with Mountain biking.

    Keep drinkin the kool-aid, brah.

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    Fred May 2, 2008 at 9:53 am

    PUMP is very focused on building single track within Forest Park. They are making great strides but it takes time to make change.

    I guess I am not surprised that another contingency has emerged to take on the single track task with the popularity of freeride and urban riding. Think about how reserved everyone was 10 years ago when skateboarders wanted skate parks. Now every community wants one.

    I have been very interested in single track within other areas of the city, specifically the west hills. There is great potential around OSHU, Terwilliger, etc.

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    Coaster May 2, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Sign me up!

    I too was surprised at the lack of MTB opportunities when I moved here. I\’ve also been surprised at the pace of accepting MTB\’s within Forest Park.

    It\’s time for the bird-watchers to share OUR beautiful park with other trail users. We need \’built for MTB\’ trails to prevent user conflict! We need new voluteer\’s to help build and maintain those trails! And we need an organized group with goals and planning to actively engage the \’powers that be\’ in order to secure our rights to access!

    Let\’s get started!

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    Tom Miller May 2, 2008 at 11:45 am

    The reasons for my comment in support have everything to do with mountain biking. It\’s simple: we support the effort and want to get something done. As a reality check, it won\’t happen in this calendar year.

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    burning shame May 2, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Sweet! This is great news! Just think of all the carbon emissions we\’ll be eliminating by not having to drive 1 + hours to get to a trail. Keep us posted and thanks.

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    btodd May 2, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    good news.

    now maybe i don\’t have to move back to Florida to ride singletrack.

    I am ready to help.

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    AllOver May 2, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    I think some of the other posters negativity is simply due to history. Portland has a history of ignoring pretty much any and all past efforts of mountain bikers to get single track in Portland.

    PUMP is starting things up with their trail in Forest Park, and more power to them, but I\’m not even interested in riding it because it is so short. Instead I\’m forced to drive a minimum of 1 hour to get to a trail of any real length.

    I\’ve read from reputable sources before that Portland has the largest park area (Forest Park) of any other decent sized city in the country, and yet there is next to no single track for mountain bikes (again, I\’m very excited about what PUMP is doing, but it\’s just too small at this point through no fault of their own [read city government\’s fault].

    If you haven\’t heard Chris Distefano’s speech then listen to it, it sums up things very well.

    http://bikeportland.org/2007/05/09/committee-hears-case-for-mountain-biking-in-portland/

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    Fred May 2, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Coaster and others,

    PUMP is making great strides in getting single track on track in Forest Park. It won\’t happen overnight because of the political, planning and permitting process, but it looks like it\’s going to happen in time. PUMP and Friends of Forest Park are already discussing where to incorporate new single track.

    Come out tomorrow morning and join us in doing trail construction on Newton Road. We are going to be building some cool new improvements to the trail.

    Come out and work with PUMP to help make single track a reality.

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    Tom Miller May 2, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    For those focused on Forest Park access, you should have a chat with Jim Labbe.

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    Shane Gould May 3, 2008 at 12:29 am

    Here is the press release that went out from IMBA.

    IMBA and Portland United Mountain Pedalers wish to congratulate the city of Portland on achieving the League of American Bicyclists\’ Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community award, the first large city in the country to be awarded this status. Portland is a community that values bicycles for transportation and recreation. From innovative bicycle facility designs to PedalPalooza, the city effervesces with a vibrant, two-wheeled, human-powered culture that is second to none.

    Although the accolades are well deserved, the mountain bicycling community believes there is still work to be done in Portland. Specifically, we call for better access to city parks and recreation areas for off-road riding. While other large cities — including Seattle, Philadelphia, Austin and even New York — have quality mountain bicycling experiences right in the center of their cities, Portland does not. Nor does Portland currently have a comprehensive strategy to provide opportunities for off-road cyclists. Of the 40 miles of non-paved trails in the city\’s parks, there are less than 6.5 miles of singletrack. Only a quarter mile of trail in Portland has been built specifically for mountain biking.

    Citizens Formulating Mountain Biking Action Plan
    To address the lack of riding opportunities, a citizens\’ group has teamed up with IMBA and Portland-based trail planning professionals Alta Planning + Design to analyze the potential for new trail opportunities in and around Portland. The group will consider diverse options, such as building \”daisy-chain\” greenway links to give access to singletrack trails, following the lead of Seattle\’s innovative model facility at Colonnade, and various public/private partnership projects. Connecting to Portland\’s bicycling transportation infrastructure will promote \”ride to ride\” cycling opportunities. These actions could produce substantial new mountain biking facilities for Portland in less than 4 years.

    Portland loves finding unique solutions to its bicycle issues. This is the spirit that makes Portland a Platinum Community. But we\’re not going to rest on our laurels. How do we get more people on bikes? How do we grow as a cycling community? We fill the void in mountain biking opportunities, so that Portland continues to expand its potential as a fantastic cycling community.

    —-

    PUMP is ready to help the city through this new coalition with IMBA and Alta planning maintain the Platinum status it has earned by increasing mountain bike access in Portland.

    Shane Gould
    Board Member Portland United Mountain Pedalers

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    Coaster May 5, 2008 at 11:41 am

    PUMP,

    I commend you, PUMP, and your persistence in working with the Friends of Forest Park. However, I\’m frustrated at the lack of communication and planning. I visit the PUMP site regularly and despite it\’s recent update, I am hard pressed to find a real set of goals outlined that will help get us there. The site says PUMP is commited to \”promote, protect and enhance mountain biking\” but I see very little planning to achieve these goals. I have voluteered, I have attended meetings, and I have initiated conversations. And everytime I am assured, \’we have a plan\’, but I never see it. If you have a plan, why not post your big plans on your site? Why not communicate what exactly you plan to do and how you plan to get it done. I want to help, but until I see and understand a series of steps to get there, I can\’t do anything. I am guessing there are many others like me, frustrated at the current situation. Without leadership and guidance, we can\’t volunteer. Take a look at the WTF site, http://www.westsidetrailfederation.org/, they have a vision and it\’s up for all to see. I can see the next steps there, and I know my time will be well spent. Please PUMP, get more organized, PORTLAND NEEDS YOU.

    I am critical because I care.
    Coaster

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