A few minutes ago at their weekly meeting, Portland City Council voted in favor of a motion to fund the Off-Road Cycling Master Plan. During a discussion of an agenda item about the City’s Spring Budget Monitoring Process — known as the “spring bump”, Mayor Charlie Hales put forth a motion to split the plan’s $350,000 price tag between the Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau and the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability.
The mayor’s proposal uses $50,000 from Parks’ budget and $300,000 from BPS. The motion was passed with Commissioners Saltzman and Amanda Fritz both voting in support (Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick are out of town and were not present). With Fritz on board, all five commissioners are in support of the plan is it’s ultimate passage is all but assured when Council votes on the budget adjustments sometime in the next few weeks.
Last week we reported that Hales wanted to fast-track the plan in part because he feels, “We can’t ask people to climb in their cars and drive for an hour to recreate outside of the city.”
The Off-Road Cycling Master Plan was first requested by Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz in February 2014. At that time she had just denied a request by the Northwest Trail Alliance to build a new singletrack trail adjacent to Firelane 5 in Forest Park. “PP&R leaders and I believe that a citywide Master Plan for cycling recreation is needed prior to embarking on individual projects,” she wrote on her blog at that time.
Fritz and Parks Director Mike Abbaté have used that same rationale to not move forward on any dirt bike trail access decisions over the past year, most recently around the River View Natural Area access debate.
The Mayor’s decision about where the money for the plan comes from is very significant. The process will now be led by the Bureau of Planning — and not by Parks or the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES). This is an important point because both Parks and BES are embroiled with mountain bike advocates over their role in keeping bikes out of local parks and naturals areas.
“This is an excellent solution,” said NW Trail Alliance’s Advocacy Chair Andy Jansky, who testified at today’s council meeting. “It addresses concerns that many people had about having Commissioner Fritz or Fish involved.”
Jansky said having the Planning Bureau take charge of the Cycling Plan also means that the realm of possibilities for where trail riding can take place has now opened up. The planning bureau has jurisdiction over all land parcels in the city, not just official city park land.
The passage of the plan received lots of citizen support at today’s hearing. Daniel Greenstadt (one of the three authors of a recent opinion piece in The Oregonian that urged Mayor Hales to advocate more strongly for bike trails) testified with his young daughter on his lap. “My family really enjoys hiking, biking and recreating in our public parks,” he said, “and we’d love to have more opportunities to do that.”
Then his five-year-old daughter spoke up: “My daddy and me want more trails. Thank you!”
Jansky put a finer point on how this issue impacts kids. “To you and me, one year isn’t that long, but to an eight-year-old kid a year without a trail is like a lifetime.”
NW Trail Alliance Vice President Aaron Berne shared his memories of riding the trails at River View between classes as a law student at Lewis & Clark College. “The mayor’s support for this is a deep breath of fresh air for me,” he said. “There’s a dearth of trail access in Portland, despite 1000s of wooded acres. This needs to change.”
And in a nod to an issue that has been percolating around the bike trail access debate, both Berne and Jansky told Council that they are looking forward to an open and unbiased planning process.
The next step is likely the issuance of a Request for Proposals from the Bureau of Planning that has more details about what we can expect in the plan itself. Stay tuned.