Harvest Century September 22nd

Hope for mountain bikers? Off-Road Cycling Master Plan starts rolling

Posted by on August 11th, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Kunec-North

Michelle Kunec-North is managing
the process for the city.
(Photo courtesy Kunec-North)

A year after hundreds of people attended a rally in support of in-town mountain biking trails, the City of Portland is starting its project to decide where such trails should go.

“It’s a way for people to get outside, to get in nature, to be active, to spend time with their families,” said Michelle Kunec-North, the city planning bureau staffer (and longtime recreational mountain biker) managing the process. “It’s the city’s goal to have active transportation, and it’s kind of an entry point, for kids in particular but for adults in some cases, to learning how to ride a bike.”

In an interview last week, Kunec-North added that off-road cycling options in Portland would also help build a generation of stewards of the city’s natural areas and boost the local tourism and bike economies.

A recent Oregon State Parks survey, she said, “found about 11 to 12 percent of people in Multnomah County have participated in off-road cycling — or as they put it, ‘rode a bike on a trail’ — in the last year. which is a pretty high percentage. … It was on par with things like day hiking. And they also found that Multnomah county had the largest percentage of participation of any of the counties in the state.”

River View Protest Ride-25

“Raise your hand if you think we’re compatible with the resource goals at River View,” asked the organizers of a rally last spring.

All that demand has materialized in huge political pressure for Portland to quickly create off-road routes and to make plans for how to make them part of the region’s celebrated parks system. Last fall, 2,500 people signed a petition to support the funding of the city’s Off Road Cycling Master Plan, and the city council found the money in April.

Kunec-North started work July 1.

“We’re about a month in, having spent most of our time getting organized,” Kunec-North said. “Talking to a lot of different groups and organizations.”

Kunec-North, who previously worked as a parks staffer in Clark County, Wash., and has specialized at Portland in inter-bureau projects, said her meetings over the last month have included the city parks, environmental services, water and transportation bureaus, as well as regional parks agency Metro. In the private sector, she’s met with the Northwest Trail Alliance, Community Cyclcing Center, Audubon Society, several local watershed councils, SW Trails, Oregon Walks, the Forest Park Conservancy and multiple bike shop owners.

Still on her list as of last Monday: friends of parks organizations, neighborhood associations near parks that have existing off-road cycling, groups that represent communities of color, youth cycling organizations, the Latina-based club Andando en Bicicletas en Cully, Travel Oregon, Travel Portland and the Intertwine alliance.

“There seems to be a lot more commonality than I might have expected from the onset, in terms of seeing a plan like this as setting up opportunities for kids to be outside and be active,” Kunec-North said. “And a lot of common concerns about both environmental or wildlife impacts and potential user conflicts.”

Though Kunec-North is laying the groundwork, most of the technical work on the plan will be done by an outside consultant to be hired this fall. Proposals to fill the city’s job description are due Aug. 28.

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Kunec-North said the finished plan might or might not set a goal for miles of routes, but that it’ll certainly include many kinds of riding.

“It’s not going to be solely focused on singletrack riding; that’s one type of experience,” she said. “Within riding there can be anything from a cross-country relatively flat experience without a lot of technical features to something that’s pretty steep or technically challenging. … What we’re looking at both is where in that spectrum in terms of types of riding and types of facilities. … Could we think of parallel trails next to some of our multi-use paths, where you might be able to jump off the path onto some sort of a natural surface trail that might have some bumps or twists and features in it? … Could we have more skill parks in addition to looking at other types of singletrack, doubletrack opportunities and riding experiences?”

“We’re trying to focus on anything from a kid going out to ride their bike to an adult who wants to go out and exercise and maybe work on some skills to a family where you’ve got maybe a wide variety of skills.”
— Michelle Kunec-North, City of Portland

In general, she said, “we’re trying to focus on anything from a kid going out to ride their bike to an adult who wants to go out and exercise and maybe work on some skills to a family where you’ve got maybe a wide variety of skills.”

“I hope I’m not underselling the natural piece too,” she added. “I think that’s an important component, and getting out and experiencing nature is a big part of the experience.”

As for the site that’s been a flashpoint of recent debate over local mountain biking, the city-owned River View Natural Area, Kunec-North cited the city’s “Access and Management Concept” for the site, which currently forbids bike access for reasons related to an ongoing lawsuit but continues to consider the site for future trails in the Off-road Cycling Master Plan.

“The trail alignments shown in the Concept were developed before mountain bikes were restricted on the site,” Kunec-North said. “If off-road cycling becomes an allowed use, the trails would be constructed to support it and other allowed uses.”

Sandy Ridge

Sandy Ridge, one of the many places Portlanders travel to ride mountain bikes.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Kunec-North said she’s personally been riding off-road for about 10 years and sometimes enjoys mountain bike racing. Her own favorite rides include spots like Surveyor’s Ridge in the Gorge and that “of course I go to Sandy Ridge all the time.”

“But I also had a great time out at easyCLIMB a few weeks ago, out at Cascade Locks,” she added. “And my friends keep telling me I need to go out to Lacamas Lake over in Camas.”

In general, Kunec-North said she’s pleased to be helping Portland catch up with the huge public enthusiasm for mountain biking.

“It’s not a fringe activity,” she said. “It’s got pretty high rates of participation that are higher even than those in what we might consider more traditional sports.”

Interested in these issues? Check out last week’s KBOO Bike Show, in which host Jocelyn Gaudi interviewed Kunec-North about singletrack in the city.

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28 Comments
  • Avatar
    WAR August 11, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    City: ‘Mountain bike trails are in the 30 year plan.’

    If you wait around long enough it might come to fruition.

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    Chris Anderson August 11, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    We should look to Austin for inspiration here. The Hike-and-Bike trail network has been there for decades and is a huge part of the livability appeal of the city. I have a hard time imagining how Portland could catch up: http://www.austinhikeandbike.com/

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      oregon111 August 11, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      I used to live in Austin when mtn bikes first came around – I have seen that the area out there has picked up on mtn biking

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      rain waters August 12, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Austins Walnut creek park is a great model of how multiple user groups can share a fairly decent trail system. I rode there weekly and encountered zero animosity or even snobby stink face for over a year.

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    Adam Herstein August 11, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    I’d love to see some mountain bike trails in the city that you can actually ride your bike to. Looking forward to seeing how this plan progresses and hoping to see some results on the ground soon!

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    spencer August 11, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    The RVNA plan was NOT made with bikes in mind. That is a fallacy. The plan eliminated the most popular bicycle trail from the site. The mountain bike plan must include trail riding in the city. That means sharing some trails that already exist. And not decommissioning the best trail in town at RVNA. BTW, its still exists and is full of cobwebs and occasional booby traps.

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    MNBikeLuv August 11, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    What might help people to understand how this can work (and work well) is to look at IMBA’s Class of 2015 that included multiple urban trail systems as Ride Centers or as Model Trails. That includes 2 in Minnesota, the MSP Metro area trails and the Duluth city trails. It also includes Bentonville, AR (Walmartville).

    There are multiple paths to make this happen. But what is definitely needed is plan with goals (with dates to complete them by). Just having a nebulous plan out there is not really making progress. In contrast, when you have a goal, stick to it and put the required resources in place, you can do this: http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/outdoors/3814852-progress-continues-duluth-mountain-bike-trail-system

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    Brian August 11, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    I am so happy that the City seems to have gotten this one right. Choosing Ms. Kunec North, someone who knows and understands mountain biking, to manage the plan was a fantastic first step. Thank you!

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    JBone August 11, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Congrats on the opportunity of a lifetime, Michelle! Thanks for getting out and listening to a wide group of stakeholders; this is so long overdue and you will be supported. Can’t wait to see the plan and hopefully help build and ride some of it in the next few years.

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    Charlie August 11, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    This is excellent news. Excited to see the city taking positive steps towards being a truly bike friendly city.

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    mike owens August 11, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Great racing Michelle!

    https://obra.org/people/92647/2015

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    davemess August 11, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Michael, any sense of whether she has ridden trails IN Portland?

    Key phrase here:
    “It’s not a fringe activity,” she said. “It’s got pretty high rates of participation that are higher even than those in what we might consider more traditional sports.”

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    mran1984 August 11, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    I will not be holding my breath for singletrack in “our” city. Really glad I own a second car so that I can mountain bike. Hostage for fun anyone?

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    oregon111 August 11, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    back in the VERY early 90s, we had a great riding area at powell butte,

    but then we lost 1/4 of the trails to development, and lost another 1/4 of the trails to a no-bike zone

    forest park would be the best answer – it has lots of available land

    but really, Bend is the best, closely followed by Oakridge – in the dry season

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      davemess August 12, 2015 at 9:45 am

      Were the trails lost to development on the West side of the park (meaning less steep)?

      I still think there is a lot of potential out there.

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    Matt f August 11, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Been waiting 15 years for some movement here…thank god something’s happening…and also very happy (and very surprised) that the city chose a mountain bike rider like Michelle to manage this process

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    Barney August 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    There is no need to re-invent the wheel here. Incorporating mountain biking trails into urban areas has been done all over the place. St. George Utah, Sedona Arizona, Grand Junction/Fruita Colorado may be smaller cities but they have found a way to include mountain biking in their recreational plans at the highest level. Even in much more sensitive and dramatic landscapes! Just look to these leading communities on how to proceed. The result of their efforts is a booming and sustainable contribution to the local economies. No downside!

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    Mossby Pomegranate August 11, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    Good luck with mountain biking in Portlandia. That activity is so looked down upon here. From the city leaders to holier-than-thou commuters…there just isn’t enough interest here to gain any traction.

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      davemess August 12, 2015 at 9:47 am

      While I somewhat agree that mountain biking has a bad rep in this city, did you miss this part?

      “found about 11 to 12 percent of people in Multnomah County have participated in off-road cycling — or as they put it, ‘rode a bike on a trail’ — in the last year. which is a pretty high percentage. … It was on par with things like day hiking.”

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        Wondering August 13, 2015 at 10:02 am

        Welcome to Poachlandia!

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    rick August 12, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Build better mtb trails!

    Mtb is transportation!

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    nate August 12, 2015 at 9:51 am

    Portland, ME (you know, the original Portland) has a nice trails network for a city of its size. My favorite part is how there is a well-marked route linking about a dozen or so of the “pockets” together so you can hit a bunch of them on a single ride while sticking mostly to back-streets to make the connections.

    Hard to see on this map, but there is a yellow highlighted “Forest City Trail”
    http://trails.org/our-trails/

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    Brian August 12, 2015 at 10:38 am

    I am stoked to hear about the need for more advanced trails/features in the area. It is ridiculous that there is nothing technically challenging to ride, not even one small section of trail.

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    Charley August 12, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    I love so much of what I’m hearing about this process. One idea, in particular, struck me as an excellent, low-hanging-fruit: putting fun singletrack (of whatever kind works in its context) next to existing paved paths. For example, there’s a ribbon of dirt that follows the Springwater down where all the homeless people camp (near Ross Island bridge). It’s not super interesting (flat, and mostly straight), but there’s potential for a little bit of singletrack. Parks and Rec should formalize and improve that trail, and seek out other, small but meaningful additions to our network. Simply opening the currently segregated trails at Oaks Bottom and along the Willamette nearby would add a few miles of fun, beginner level riding.

    I lived in North Portland for many years, and rode in Forest Park about once a week. Now I live across the Sellwood Bridge. . . and can’t ride at Riverview, so I DRIVE to Powell Butte. There ought to be singletrack in every quadrant, and, hopefully, within sensible riding distance, too. I mean, there’s a baseball diamond within one mile of every house in this town, I bet. How many baseball games are going on at those fields on a regular basis? Parks and Rec should get with the times and get on board with natural surface trails!

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    Wondering August 13, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Hoping there’s a PDX to the Pacific Crest trail. Portland should be a long-distance bike packing Mecca for dirties.

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    rick August 14, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    It needs to be at the River View Natural Area.

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    Suburban August 14, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    Oregon is absolutely full of mountain biking trails for all skill levels… So many miles of trails and roads of fun fat tire cycling that you could fill your whole life with enjoying them- If you wanted to.

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    MtnBKerr October 26, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    Congrats Michelle! I am devastated at the rate Portland has removed from its desire as an outdoor recreation city with open spaces and recreations for its communities. All those parks, and such a narrow group of users. My heart sank recently when I took in the displays and products in REI’s bike department — all commuting based products. Roads, not trails. Cities void of our natural world. Sigh. Centuries of travel through nature on horseback has only one natural replacement, the bicycle. I appreciate all that pack animals accomplished, but it’s not realistic to expect residents today to care and feed them. A bicycle and trails.

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