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NW Examiner highlights “illegal cycling” in Forest Park

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Cover of NW Examiner April issue.

The NW Examiner, a free monthly newspaper with a circulation of 30,000 homes and businesses in various neighborhoods of northwest Portland, has made mountain biking in Forest Park it’s cover story for the second time in three months. In the April edition (PDF only), editor and publisher Allan Classen has penned an article titled, Illegal cycling muddies drive for greater use of Forest Park.

Classen’s article comes just a week after author and Forest Park activist Marcy Houle emailed Mayor Charlie Hales, city commissioners, and Parks bureau staff photos of bicycle tracks through the mud of what she claimed to be Wildwood Trail (which is off-limits to bikes). Houle is featured throughout Classen’s article, which reads more like an editorial against mountain biking than a news story. (Note that Classen wrote an editorial in June 2010 where he likened people who ride in Forest Park with “bicycle zealots” with “evangelistic fervor” who “love to ride bikes down steep mountain trails at high speed on Sunday mornings.”)

Here’s a snip from Classen’s article:

“…Last month, the thin green line gave way to a number of mountain bikers who had their way with Wildwood Trail, the primary path linking this 5,000- acre wilderness park… If the vandalism suggested to some that mountain bikers can be destructive, irresponsible and an embarrassment to their political allies—warranting official condemnation and remedial action—the response from City Hall was luke-warm at best.”

The cover includes a photo of a man on a mountain bike with the caption: “An unidentified mountain biker in February on Maple Trail, on which cycling is banned.” The article included many quotes from Houle’s email and it mentioned a recent neighborhood forum where a resident and neurosurgeon “spoke on the health risks of single track cycling.” Classen also published two very suspect claims that last summer, “An 80-year-old hiker on a trail was killed by a cyclist, and a Portland mountain biker was paralyzed after flipping over his handlebars.”

Classen, like Houle, seems to be goading Parks Commissioner Nick Fish and Parks Director Mike Abbate into reversing their support for improved bicycle trail access in Forest Park.

To show the mountain bike perspective, Classen pulled comments off the internet and various biking websites. Then, in a separate section titled, Muddy tracks no cause for alarm to bike advocates, Classen included responses from an email interview with both me and citizen activist Frank Selker. Here’s how Classen introduced the section: “Photos of muddy bike tracks on Forest Park trails may tell the whole story, but not the same story perceived by some cycling advocates.”

Here’s how I answered Classen’s question of, “Do bicyclists cause more trail damage than pedestrians do?”

“All human uses of the park damage the trails in different ways. As it stands currently, people walking and running do far more damage to Forest Park than people on bicycles. Bicycle use is small compared to other uses. Also, there are large-scale competitive running events in the park. It is also well documented that people on foot make rogue trails, encampments and do many other things that damage the park’s trails.

Another part of this conversation that deserves attention is the environmental/park damage done by automobiles. The vast majority of people who ride bikes in the park get there under their own power. This means they are not spewing harmful emissions into the park’s air, and they are not putting oil, gas, brake-dust fibers and so on into the streets, where it runs off into the park’s streams. They are not crowding the neighborhoods around the trailheads with their vehicles.”

You can read Classen’s article by downloading a PDF of the NW Examiner (13 MB).

Meanwhile, the Board of Directors of the Northwest Trail Alliance sent a letter to Mayor Hales and the rest of City Council on April 5th in response to the Marcy Houle email and photos. Here’s an excerpt:

“Recent reports of cyclists riding on pedestrian only trails in Forest Park are of great concern to us… We are also concerned about reports of trail damage from cycling, and we intend to investigate these reports. Though we suspect there is evidence of riding activity on certain pedestrian-only trails, we disagree with statements claiming that impacts from this activity are causing irreparable harm. These same trails have withstood heavy pedestrian use for years, and in some cases decades.

Recent statements have also suggested that this activity has gotten out of hand. Rest assured this activity is a result of a small fraction of riders; by far, most support and obey the current restrictions on bikes within the Park. With this in mind, the actions of the few should not be used as a reason to delay or derail efforts to implement long term solutions in the Park or elsewhere in the City.”

All of this back and forth shows how important this issue is for both sides of the argument. Hopefully Parks Commissioner Nick Fish and the policy makers at the Parks bureau are able to weave through all the emotion and debate and simply do the right thing.

More on this issue in our archives.