If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
That could be the motto for the City of Portland’s attempts to address the glaring lack of off-road cycling opportunities within city limits. But tonight the city took a big step forward on an unprecedented effort to solve that problem when the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability convened its first project advisory committee meeting for the Off Road Cycling Master Plan.
If all goes according to plan, 12 months from now Portland will have its first-ever citywide plan on not just how to provide bike access in parks but where it should be allowed. To be clear, this plan won’t put any lines on a map. BPS Project Manager Michelle Kunec-North made that clear at the outset of the meeting. “This plan alone doesn’t get something built. This will get us to a citywide understanding on where off-road cycling is appropriate and what type of facility is appropriate on that site.”
Make no mistake though, this plan will have the potential to be the guide for how Portland implements all future mountain bike trails — that means everything from singletrack, fire roads, pump tracks, skills parks, and so on.
Recent efforts to improve bike access in parks have been site-specific (Forest Park and River View Natural Area) and they’ve ended in controversy and hurt feelings on all sides. To leave those memories behind, this process is being developed by the planning bureau (not Parks & Recreation) with the help of private consultants hired to make sure the public process stays on track.
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales asserted his interest in his issue when he made a $300,000 investment in the plan. Hales’ Chief of Staff Joshua Alpert was at tonight’s meeting to speak on the mayor’s behalf.
“We’re trying to incorporate an activity that the city hasn’t done a good job of recognizing as a real legitimate activity in the past,” Alpert said, acknowledging past processes that have left off-road riding advocates bruised and battered.
In his remarks, Alpert struck a chord that was very supportive of cycling. “A lot of people who mountain bike are sick and tired of having to drive an hour to do this activity and as someone who’s environmentally conscious, it irks me that we’re forcing people to go out and drive for a sport they enjoy.” The key question the Mayor’s office says they hope this process answers how to balance bicycling with other park uses and city goals.
“A lot of people who mountain bike are sick and tired of having to drive an hour to do this activity and as someone who’s environmentally conscious, it irks me that we’re forcing people to go out and drive for a sport they enjoy.”
— Joshua Alpert, Mayor Charlie Hales’ office
It’s notable that the committee is made up of a strong majority of people who represent cycling-related interests. That fact was not lost on committee member Bob Sallinger, conservation director of Portland Audubon. At tonight’s meeting Sallinger pointed out that the committe is “pretty lopsided” and “biased.” He’s worried that people who represent bike advocacy groups and bike-related businesses are overrepresented.
“For example, the off-leash dog committee was full of dog advocates,” Sallinger pointed out, “And they didn’t feel it had an impact on natural resources and that’s the way the votes came out.”
In response, committee member Jocelyn Gaudi, who also happens to be marketing manager at a bicycle company, member of the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and sits on the board of the Northwest Trail Alliance, said, “We’re multi-dimensional people. I need the forest to ride my mountain bike so I have a vested interest in maintaining it.”
Tonight’s meeting was light on debate and dialogue, but that’s sure to change in the months to come. What’s striking to me so far is that unlike past processes, this time better bike access is all but assumed from the start. It’s the cycling advocates leading the discussion, instead of scratching at the edges eager for any crumb other interests are willing to give up. Whether that leads to new and improved access within biking distance from downtown Portland remains to be seen.
For more info, see the official website.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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