Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz has taken a lot of heat over the past week for the decision she made along with Environmental Services Commissioner Nick Fish to ban biking at River View Natural Area as of March 16th. The decision was made abruptly and came as a huge shock to many advocates who were working in partnership with the City of Portland to restore the 146-acre parcel and hoped to see biking access improved and officially sanctioned at the end of a public process.
We are working on the story and hoping to understand more about the decision from the commissioners, advocates, and other insiders this week.
In the meantime however, it looks like Commissioner Fritz has already heard from so many concerned Portlanders that she has issued an update about the decision, saying that there’s still a chance the city will reverse course. Here’s what she just posted to the official River View Natural Area website:
A message from Commissioner Fritz regarding the recent changes at River View Natural Area:
The decision to prohibit mountain biking for now at River View was made in partnership with Commissioner Fish and the Bureau of Environmental Services, with due consideration of the reason for dedicating ratepayer dollars to purchase the site to protect water quality. We are not saying River View will never be used for mountain biking, rather just not now, before the citywide assessment of appropriate places for cycling is funded and completed. I encourage you to participate in the upcoming City Budget process, to urge funding for the citywide Master Plan for cycling that Portland Parks and Recreation and I have proposed in our requested budget allocations.
-Amanda Fritz, City Commissioner
Besides giving the public a ray of hope that the ban might eventually be reversed, the key part of this comment is, “with due consideration of the reason for dedicating ratepayer dollars to purchase the site to protect water quality.” This is a reference to the 2011 lawsuit filed against the City of Portland for what the plaintiffs said were purchases made with water ratepayer funds for parcels and projects that had nothing to do with water quality. A judge ultimately ruled in favor of the City of Portland, but the courts are still monitoring the purchases.
The largest target of that lawsuit was the $6 million the city paid to purchase River View. While it seemed obvious to assume that lawsuit is what scared Fritz and Fish into the abrupt bike ban decision, they had previously maintained that it had nothing to do with it.
The initial memo about the decision (PDF) she and Fish released on March 2nd said nothing about the lawsuit and focused entirely on their “abundance of caution” to protect the parcel’s streams, ecosystem, and fish habitat.
The insinuation that bicycling was somehow in conflict with conservation goals — something that has never been proven by any city studies — was salt in the wound for bike advocates.
What’s even more confusing is that we’ve since heard from high-level sources at the Parks Bureau that the lawsuit had nothing to do with the decision and that it’s more general antipathy toward mountain biking that exists among some Parks and Environmental Services staff as well as influential advocates that have pressured the city to prohibit bicycling. We’re still trying to get to the bottom of all this.
Either way, Fritz’s acknowledgment that this decision is not final is a hopeful sign — but I doubt it will do much in the short-term to alleviate the frustration and anger that her handling of the issue has caused so far.