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In letter to Mayor Hales and commissioners, national orgs ‘object’ to River View decision

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Three of America’s largest and most influential bicycle advocacy organizations are not happy with Portland’s decision to prohibit bicycle access at River View Natural Area.

International Mountain Bicycling Association President and US Executive Director Michael Van Abel, People for Bikes VP of Government Affairs Jenn Dice, and League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke all signed their names to a letter (PDF) dated March 18th that was sent to Mayor Charlie Hales and all four city commissioners.

Here’s the text of the letter (emphases mine):

We are writing to express our concern with the recent decision to prohibit bicycle use in the River View Natural Area. Any decision to exclude bicycles is disappointing to our organizations as we truly believe that bicycles are an amazing tool for progress. They provide efficient and cost effective transportation, a family friendly form of recreation, and in the case of off road bicycling, a valuable connection to the natural environment. Yet despite that passion we know that sometimes other priorities for funding or even land use take precedence and bicycles are not given priority. We can generally accept those decisions. However, when those decisions are made in an arbitrary and capricious manner that cuts off due process, we must object.

The decision to prohibit bicycle access at River View Natural Area was made with little notice while the planning process was still on going. Cutting a public process short dishonors those citizens who have volunteered their time to their community. It undermines the professional input of the technical advisory committee. Most of all, it disregards the spirit of due process that we expect of government at all levels.

Beyond the procedural concerns, this decision shows an inconsistent application of standards and disregard for reliance on scientific evidence. In their response letter dated March 2, 2015 Commissioners Fritz and Fish stated that “PP&R and BES will be limiting activities at RVNA from now on to passive nature-based recreation uses.” (emphasis added) However, in the Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan bicycling is included as passive recreation and off-road bicycling is also allowed in the Powell Butte Natural Area. Moreover, the offered explanation for the prohibition cited environmental/ecosystem concerns without any scientific evidence that bicycle use has a negative effects also leads us to question the merits of this decision.

As a consolation Commissioners Fish and Fritz advised off-road bicycling advocates to support the budget request for $350,000 to develop a Citywide Off-Road Cycling Plan. That budget request was denied, leaving Portland’s off-road cycling community with a shortage of local trails and no governmental mechanism to improve the situation. This systematic pattern of issue avoidance has repeated itself in Portland for too many years.

We request that Portland Parks and Recreation, Bureau of Environmental Services, and any other city agency that administers public lands collaborate with the North West Trails Alliance and other local off-road bicycling advocates to develop a strategy to address the shortage of off-road bicycling opportunities in the city of Portland. We look forward to Portland living up to its status as a progressive thought leading city that embraces bicycling in all forms.

Sincerely,

Michael Van Abel
President and US Executive Director
International Mountain Bicycling Association

Jenn Dice
Vice President Government Affairs
People for Bikes

Andy Clarke
President
League of American Bicyclists

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The letter only mentions some of the problems and unanswered questions that are still swirling around this decision. It also, unfortunately, got that bit about the budget wrong. As we just explained in a previous post, the budget request for the Off-Road Cycling Master Plan is still alive.

Also worth noting is that the League of American Bicyclists is the organization that has given Portland its much-ballyhooed “Platinum” ranking. Many people in the community feel like Portland should have its platinum status revoked as a result of the River View decision. In 2006 the League made access to singletrack trails a criteria for platinum status and Commissioner Nick Fish had to defend Portland’s ranking after his failed attempt to get more singletrack access in Forest Park in 2010.

It’s worth noting that Portland’s most recent official Bicycle Friendly Community application (submitted in 2013) leaves the questions about singletrack access and mileage completely blank.

Detail of the City of Portland’s application to the League of American Bicyclists for “Platinum” Bicycle Friendly Community status.

Even so, Portland’s platinum status is probably safe for now. It would be a very bold move for the League to revoke it just for this River View decision, especially outside of the renewal application process. Our ranking was renewed in 2013 and won’t be up for renewal again until 2017.

Getting back to the letter… So far we’ve seen one response. It was sent to an IMBA rep Wednesday night from Commissioner Fritz. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear Laurel,

Thank you for your letter. Please pass along to the signatories that it contains inaccuracies. For instance, I included funding the Citywide Off-Road Cycling Master Plan in the Portland Parks & Recreation 2015-16 Proposed Budget, at the NW Trail Alliance’s request. The Council has not yet taken action on the Parks Budget proposal.

Unfortunately, mountain biking enthusiasts seem to be putting all effort into protesting the curtailment of cycling at River View, rather than lobbying the five members of Council for approval of the significant $350,000 budget request. I agree completely with the last paragraph in the letter – that is precisely what the Master Plan would accomplish, if funded.

River View is currently an element in a lawsuit regarding appropriate use of ratepayer dollars, so I cannot comment on the merits of the request to mountain bikers to stop using the property pending the Master Plan process. It seemed prudent to Commissioner Fish and me to make the decision without public process, given the lawsuit is still active.

Interestingly, unlike the March 2nd memo that announced the decision, Fritz does not mention conservation goals as the reason biking has been banned in River View. Instead, she claims the decision was based on the 2011 lawsuit, even though a judge ruled in the city’s favor in 2014. (We explained why Fritz might still have reason to worry about the lawsuit in a previous post).

This change in spin from Fritz could be a sign she’s that she has realized it was a mistake to put environmental concerns front-and-center, since — as the letter points out — there’s simply no relevant science or transparent feedback process she can point to that backs up her claims that biking is incompatible with River View’s conservation goals.

We are working on a meeting with Fritz as well as many other angles to this story. Stay tuned.

— Read all our River View coverage here.