“As Parks Commissioner, I take this challenge seriously—and I am pleased to report that we are making progress on city-wide solutions.”
— Commissioner Nick Fish, a letter to Andy Clarke
City of Portland Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Parks Bureau, has responded (read in full below) to League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke about the issue of bicycling in Forest Park.
When Commissioner Fish announced at the end of last month that he would not improve trail access opportunities for bicycles for at least two years, Clarke called the decision, “disappointing“.
The City of Portland is very proud of its “Platinum” Bicycle Friendly Community rating, and one of the criteria for that designation is urban singletrack cycling opportunities. In response to the Forest Park decision, the Northwest Trail Alliance has made it clear they will use the potential of a Platinum downgrade as leverage in their continued pressure on City Hall to move on the urban trail access issue.
Read Commissioner Fish’s letter to Andy Clarke (which was also CC’d to Mayor Adams, among others) below:
Andy Clarke, President
League of American Bicyclists
1612 K Street NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20006-2850
I write to follow-up on my recent announcement regarding singletrack cycling in Forest Park.
Portland is proud to be considered a “Platinum” bike-friendly city. Thanks to the League’s formal designation and the support of our local advocacy groups, we are working to expand our network of bike infrastructure.
Jonathan Maus reported on BikePortland.org that an important criteria to maintaining our “Platinum” status is expanding off-road biking opportunities. As Parks Commissioner, I take this challenge seriously—and I am pleased to report that we are making progress on city-wide solutions.
Last year, we launched a public process to look at how we can improve singletrack cycling in our biggest natural area, Forest Park. The committee produced several trail options to explore in the future. At the same time, the general consensus of the committee was that we needed to invest in the ecological health of the park.
In response to this widespread concern, the Parks bureau has committed to a number of important management actions that will have an immediate impact on the environmental needs of this critical natural area.
We also committed to improving some of the existing 30 miles of unimproved roads and firelanes currently open to cyclists in the park. Within the next two years we will narrow at least one firelane so that more of the trail meets singletrack criteria, adding switchbacks and enhancing the existing recreational loops. We are also laying the groundwork for successful land use applications to expand singletrack cycling in two years.
In addition to the improvements within Forest Park, we are working to improve singletrack cycling city-wide. For example, in Powell Butte Natural Area we are providing access to the Mt. Hood trail and re-designing segments to improve the cycling experience on over 10 miles of trails open to cyclists. We’re also in the process of creating two new bike skills parks through a partnership with NW Trail Alliance.
With the full support of Mayor Sam Adams and our regional partners, we are taking the lead on Gateway Green, a new 35 acre park that will prioritize off-road cycling.
These are important and long-over due steps. We also recognize that, when it comes to expanding access to active transportation options and recreational opportunities, there is a lot of work left to be done.
Continued collaboration between public agencies, non-profit organizations, businesses and bicycle advocates is vital to advancing Portland’s vision of a “platinum” level bike-friendly, nature-friendly, people-friendly city.
Thanks for your continued support and leadership.
Nick Fish, Parks Commissioner
CC: Sam Adams, Mayor of Portland
Zari Santner, Parks Director
Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org
Tom Archer, NW Trail Alliance
Rob Sadowsky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance
— Read past coverage of this issue in our archives.
Note to activists: Hold Mr. Fish, Mayor Adams and the Council accountable for what they say they are going to do over the next 2 years. It sounds great, but unless the pressure is kept up, promises – even those in writing – can be forgotten.
I am sad but not surprised. I have emailed with Commissioner Fish, and he truly does not get it!
I worked for years in Boulder Colorado to get more trail access, and it worked, but only after we got the less-than-helpful politicians out of office.
I’d like to see somebody organize this here!
sounds like obfuscation on the Forest Park issues to me.
PLEASE downgrade Portland, OR. (bronze, lead, etc). The only thing our politicians seem to value is the perception that we are bike-friendly.
Look! Over there! Something shiny!
Now forget about what we were just talking about.
The legacy of the rogue trails will be delay.
I second Ethan. The rogue builders were so interested in providing riding opportunities for themselves that they screwed everybody else over (and ended up losing their own private playground anyway).
They kneecapped us. It’s too bad they were never found out and charged with the crimes they committed.
Pointing out that there will be new opportunities on the outskirts of town doesn’t make up for the fact that the premier central location is still being neglected. Ignoring the requests for singletrack access in one of Portland’s main recreation destinations show that this aspect of Portland’s bike culture is not a priority.
The ‘rogue trails’ may be a convenient excuse, but they are not a valid reason.
If anything, the ‘rogue trails’ symbolize pent-up demand. Any politicians that don’t recognize this have their heads buried in the sand.
I think the rogue trails absolutely had an impact on the Commissioner’s decision. Even though he says otherwise, it was clear that the rogue trail put bicycling in a bad light politically, making it even more difficult for Fish to champion the cause.
I was in the committee meeting following the discovery of the trail and watched Parks Director Santner chastise the off-road cycling reps on the committee. It was absurd and unprofessional. NWTA reps and off-road advocates do not need to apologize in any way for that trail… but they were put in a position that made it seem like they should.
It’s very unfortunate. I believe this outcome might have been different if it weren’t for that illegal trail.
UPDATE: I am not saying the rogue trail was the only factor… just that it was a factor despite Fish saying it wasn’t.
Mr. Fish’s response is laughable at best. “Within the next two years we will narrow at least one firelane so that more of the trail meets singletrack criteria, adding switchbacks and enhancing the existing recreational loops.” He won’t even commit to saying what firelane, and how much of the firelane will be narrowed. Within two years? Unacceptable.
Then again, if he gets 1/3 mile of any firelane to look like singletrack, he can boast that under his watch PP and R has DOUBLED the amount of singletrack in the park.
I hope the League follows up with this and digs a little deeper, and holds Mr. Fish and the city accountable.
So the League of American Bicyclists is going to allow Portland to keep the Platinum designation based on some promises made by Commissioner Fish? Aren’t these some of the same promises that were made to the off-road cycling community?
I believe the only fair process is to down grade Portland until they (we) actually meet the designated criteria for Platinum status.
If this is what Nick Fish calls “making progress” I can see why he is so at home in Portland city government.
I am curious about how many miles of public access single track mountain bike trail or unpaved double track open to off-road cycling exist in Boulder, Colorado and Davis, California- the two other BFC platinum-rated municipalities- have within their actual city limits?
Can anyone answer this question for us?
if you narrow a firelane and put in switchbacks, does it still function as a firelane? and why does anyone care what andy clarke thinks?
Another option is to show the commission just how absurd their stance is. Let’s develop a report showing just how damaging dogs are to the park. There are literally hundreds of trails that dogs have made off of main trails. These little trails are a clear example of the type of erosion the board is concerned with. Add to that all the feces and plastic bags left in the park by dogs, the chasing and harrassing of wild life and it becomes apparent that dogs in the park are a serious issue, one that may threaten the health and vitality of the park.
I think it’s time that the commission took a look at the environmental effects of canine use of the park. Maybe this could be used to show the board the error of their ways. Could the park board be sued for user discrimination? Is it really so outlandish to hold all users to the same standards, not just the extra stringent ones for cyclists
Just a valid point and idea.
Readers to bikeportland have Commissioner Fish’s letter to League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke, but where is Andy Clarke’s letter to Comm Fish? What specifically did Clarke ask of Fish to get such a general type of response related to the issue of off-road bike access to Forest Park’s single track, that Fish provided him with?
I’m interested in what Andy Clarke knows about Forest Park, and nature parks in general, and under what specific circumstances and conditions he believes off-road biking on single track in those types of parks can be a positive addition that will not compromise their integrity and character.
good question Jim Labbe.
are, No. It wouldn’t function as a fire lane per se, but the ones chosen are not needed by the fire department.
Let me google that for you, here is the best result I could find: http://www.getboulder.com/sports/sports_bicycle.html
If you add it up, that would be 51.8 miles of unpaved trail. I don’t know how far from downtown you have to go to get to the trails, but if Powell Butte counts…
This link claims over 48 miles of trail:
As much as I am frustrated with the outcome of this, I think its important to point out that Commissioner Fish is just about the only person in City government that has shown any sort of helping hand on this issue. He knows mountain bikers are not happy, but he also needs more, not less, support.
As to the illegal trail building, it certainly influenced the decision. But only because those opposed to trails in all circumstances used it to their advantage so well and the NWTA reps used it so poorly. It was an opportunity for both groups, but only one figured out what to do with it.
By all means, let’s base long-term public policy on what “awards” we can win.
Because what would we be if we didn’t have awards and labels to tell us whether we’re good or not?
Thanks Alex. I did some calling and inquiring myself.
City of Davis (Population 64,938)The Parks Department reports that there are ~1.5 miles of unpaved road open to mountain biking within the city limits. It did not sound like Davis has any large publicly owned-wild areas that offered off-road cycling opportunities immediately outside the city that would be functionally equivalent to a city Park.
I spoke to someone at the City of Boulder (Population 94,268) too. They have an interesting situation in that the City owns and manages a lot of public open space outside the city limits proper. So the actual mileage technically within the City limits is not a good reflection of the total level of access. The total you provide is probably an accurate.
By my count, City of Portland (population 582,130) currently has just over 38 miles of singe-track, trail, fireline, or unpaved road open to off-road cycling within the city limits.
echohuman sounds like a label to me.
A downgrade to Gold status would be a great opportunity for Portland.
If we keep the Platinum, there should be a level one notch higher, to distinguish cities like NYC & SF that are going “all in” with serious, innovative bikeways that include cycletracks, road diets, carfree streets and other great world-class improvements.
Portland has made a great commitment to building a large bike boulevard network over the coming years, but does not seem poised to make some iconic, ambitious projects see the light of day in the near term. Cities who act with gusto should be recognized for taking greater leadership roles in the movement for complete streets.
There is a link to a map on the second link I provided.
It looks like it is very bikeable from downtown.
What gets me is that the decision was supposedly due to “environmental” concerns, but when you actually read about what those concerns are, none of them have anything to do with allowing people to ride bikes on trails. Like the English ivy- what, do riders go in and plant that stuff for fun? Or, the more general worry cited was that the PPR spends only 1 percent of its budget on Forest Park. So. . . what the heck does that have to do with bikes on trails? Isn’t that Santner’s fault? And, if so, why don’t they just fire hire?
I’m curious… Is the League’s grading system based at all on off-road use.access? Or is the point they’re trying to make that of bicycles as transportation (presumably on paved roads and streets)? Some clarity would be helpful.
However, I also agree that “awards” from an advocacy/lobbying organization should not be a foundation for public policy decisions.
the League’s grading system is a whole ‘nother story in itself. For example, miles of bike lanes counts but somehow the actual quality of those bike lane miles doesn’t.
but that’s another discussion.
38 miles may sound like a lot of miles. But, break it down: For singletrack there’s a mere half mile in FP; Powell Butte has a bit more, somewhere around 3 – definitely well under 6 miles. Firelanes, unpaved roads are not going to attract the average mountain biker. Saying there’s 38 miles of stuff available to mountain bikers to ride in Portland Parks would be like saying there’s thousands of miles of beautiful tree lined roads and streets in Portland that hikers and joggers have available to them, so they don’t need the trails in FP to recreate on.
If hikers and joggers do not want to share trails with mountain bikes, then build a trail that is specific to mtb use. That can be done. It can be done physically and without damaging the environment/ecology of FP. IF you don’t want new trails built then dedicate a singletrack trail to mtb use. The solution is really simple.
We’ve been talking about this and trying to get somewhere for 20 years only to have doors slammed in our faces and the issue delayed by more study requests and threats of litigation. The issue about riding more singletrack in Portland is no more advanced than it was 20 years ago.
There are 5 miles of single track open to cyclists in Powell Butte Nature Park. While it has not gotten a lot of press here at Bikeportland, there is a pending proposal to effectively open all 10 miles of trail on Powell Butte to single-track.
I agree, that, for some the standard of progress in offering more off-road mountain biking in Portland has clearly increased over the last 20 years, especially as sport itself has grown and evolved to become more interested specifically in single-track opportunities.
5 miles of mediocre single track after 12+ miles each way from downtown is rather unappealing when you have 5000+ acres and so many miles of much better single track closer to town in Forest Park. I think no one talks about Powell Butte because of the quality of the trails.
When you said “an accurate”, did you mean “inaccurate” or “an accurate estimate”. If powell butte counts for the miles you counted of unpaved trails, then, based on the map I provided, the total was accurate.
Alex. I meant yours was an accurate estimation.
I use to ride my mountain bike in Forest park when I was growing up in Portland, but was never very interested in single-track riding. I suspect that is true of many Portlanders; not all mountain bike riders are single-track enthusiasts. Single-track as a sport is a relatively recent recreational activity, especially in parks inside large metropolitan areas.
In this context and in the context of Portland’s history, I do think the Platinum status issue is a little overblown. Off-road cycling opportunities (and single track in particular) is one of the criteria for determining the Platinum status and it is one Portland is not doing as poorly at as some would like to portray. IMO.
But more importantly, Portland became a leading city for bicycling because it created a homegrown vision for quality cycling and worked hard to make that vision a reality, not happen because it sought accolades from afar. I think that will be true in the future.
That said, I greatly appreciate the League of American Cyclists BFC program and their broader policy work on behalf of cycling.
League of American Cyclists member
I love single track, and I’m not asking to take over the single track in Forest Park. But is there any reason that Fish and the commissioner can’t give mountain bikers one or two days out of the WHOLE YEAR
“I think a lot of people are going to become very angry and they’re going to resort to illegal methods to try to slow down the destruction of our national resources, our wilderness, our Forests, mountains, deserts.”
“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourist can in a hundred miles.”
–Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
I grew up here, but if Portland loses Platinum Status I’m moving.
I concur the bike friendly community scales have been tipped: NYC is leaping ahead to the world class league where Portland is doing great steady minor league work. This point was discussed back at the Portland Carfree Cities conference by the guest speaker. And agree that the LAB scoring needs to be reset or a new top tier be set.
Conversely there needs to be a new lower level. I was in Lexington KY last week and was shocked at the lack of bike lane facilities (etc) seen for the Bronze level signs I saw. When I compare similar areas to Vancouver WA that I know – also a two time Bronze winner. (I am no longer recommending a Silver for Vancouver given the programmatic and funding cuts to bicycling and complete streets made over the last 2 years).
A lot of you make it sound like your vote actually means something here.
If Things don’t go your way, vote the guy out, right? Sure, fine.
Then we have to sit through another election cycle where untold hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on advertising so we can elect another candidate who will be hamstrung by the system, his own ambition, or maybe eventually both.
Is there any wonder why some feel a disconnect between organizations like LAB and the BTA and what is really happening out on the streets? Where’s the direct action? Why do we have to sit through years upon years of ineffective dog-and-pony shows, each one cast with highly-paid lobbyists and policy wonks who make their living by trading favors or simply by looking busy?
Seriously, I understand the guys who put in the illegal trails. Direct action still gets the goods, at least in the short-term. Sure, they made it worse for law-abiding types, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, the law is an ass, especially for bikers. And it has been for a long time. What else should anyone expect here?
The League of American Bicyclist bike friendly cities program isn’t a federal agency whose criteria has to be met to receive funding for projects; it’s an incentive program.
The LAB is a good organization with some great ideas. In respect to Portland’s Forest park though, it hasn’t been shown what LAB’s president, Andy Clarke knows or doesn’t know about this park, its character and identity, and specific conditions related to it. Maybe he knows something about the park…besides the simple fact that it’s 5000 acres in size, and directly adjoining the city…or, maybe he doesn’t.
Anonymous — illegal trail builders made it worse not just for the law-abiding types, but for themselves as well. their trail is gone, as is any hope for legal trail access in the short-term.
What would the world look like if more bikers got tired of waiting for the dog-and-pony show we call politics and simply took their next best steps in the name of actively promoting bike use and discouraging car use?
I’m just saying that these illicit trail-builders are not the only impatient people in the bike scene, that’s all. These guys aren’t the first, and won’t be the last, to take direct action while lobbyists and elected officials twiddle their thumbs or make meaningless “legal” gestures.
Not everyone in bicycleville is on board with the likes of the LAB and BTA, that’s all.
Mountain bikers are no different than off-roaders of any stripe. They think they have an inherent right to go into any part of the world they like and rip the hell out of any piece of nature they choose. And cook up up a stupid rationalization to allege that they are the most wonderful people on the planet.
When I am mayor we shall go for the “scandium” rating: keep EVERYONE out of Forest Park for 300 years; that should give it a good start on its way back to real wilderness, which is by far its most valuable asset.
Remember: Scandium is twice as costly as platinum!
I disagree with your statement regarding inherent “rights.” Mtb’ers are not claiming it is a right: “any basic right or freedom to which all human beings are entitled and in whose exercise a government may not interfere (including rights to life and liberty as well as freedom of thought and expression and equality before the law).” What we are asking for is the “privilege” of recreating in the park, and it is a “privilege” we are more than willing to earn if given the opportunity by our local government. There is a big difference, and your mischaracterization is unfair.
We are the second most wonderful people on the planet, we finished just behind microbrewers in an international survey.
How does Commissioner Fish justify saying: ” For example, in Powell Butte Natural Area we are providing access to the Mt. Hood trail and re-designing segments to improve the cycling experience on over 10 miles of trails open to cyclists.”? Over the last 2 years we’ve lost 30-35% of the walking, horseback riding and mtb single track on Powell Butte (city has fenced off numerous trails to reclaim them for wildlife and vegetation). 30% of the dirt double track is now heavily graveled (City water reservoir construction required that some of the dirt double track be graveled). Other trails have been pretty much decommissioned for riding because of an application of 3-4″ of wood chips and other trails are closed by the use of Hawthorn Cutting (nasty thorns lambs piled up to block connector trails).
PUMP/NW Trail Alliance had done allot of the re-design work at Powell Butte, not the City.
Wilderness does not exist for you.
Last time the LAB said off-road cycling progress was needed, and it hasn’t happened. In fact, we are actually worse off – Powell Butte has a loss and Nick publicly said we get no trails anytime soon in the one great place that we could ride in Portland. “Re-greening” firelanes is probably a joke and remarkably, even that is opposed by people who don’t want bikes.
If all they need is talk, they just need to re-read Nick’s letter as many times as ncessary to feel warm and fuzzy. If they want and judge action and results, and want their standards to be taken seriously, it’s another matter.
Good thing we’re not talking about riding in the wilderness, right?
To the guy who said he’d leave Portland if the city loses it’s Platinum status: really? Your whole existence in this town is based on that? Yikes.
Jim Lee (#42) wrote: “When I am mayor we shall go for the “scandium” rating: keep EVERYONE out of Forest Park for 300 years; that should give it a good start on its way back to real wilderness, which is by far its most valuable asset.”
In the face of Portland’s growing population and increasing demands for housing and infrastructure, good luck with that.
The problem here is a question of finding the right balance. While Forest Park does not simply exist FOR us, we do exist WITH it. Pretending that we can maintain an absolutely pristine wilderness cheek-by-jowl alongside a city of more than half a million people — in a metropolitan area with over two million! — is delusional at best.
Managed growth — selective, careful use and regular maintenance of the trails, combined with rotating closure of certain spaces every 10 years (or less, or more, depending on environmental studies and other information) to promote regeneration, and trail-user fees may all be steps that are needed to allow ongoing access to Forest Park. But let’s stop pretending that we live next to a real “wilderness”. That myth is destroying rational discussion around this issue and serves no one.
beth h #49
I’d like to just say one thing. Bravo! A sane, rational approach and one that should work.