The Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability has released a draft of the long-awaited Off-road Cycling Master Plan and they’re taking comments on it until December 17th.
The 125-page “discussion draft” (PDF) was given the green light in April 2015 by former Mayor Charlie Hales with the hope of finally moving the contentious off-road bicycle access debate forward. BPS says its purpose is to create a, “roadmap for developing a connected, citywide system of trails and bicycle parks” and guide the City’s investment in off-road cycling facilities for the next 15-20 years.
While the plan is likely to touch off heated debates, BPS says right in the opening “Purpose” section that it’s only “conceptual”. “It does not change or create any City regulations or ‘greenlight’ any recommended projects. Future projects will require site-specific planning and community engagement, more detailed site analysis and design, environmental reviews, and funding for planning, construction and long-term operations and maintenance.”
We have a feeling that statement won’t stop people from being concerned that it is too friendly to biking — or not friendly enough.
The plan’s six main sections are worth reading over carefully as this plan is likely going to be the foundation of local advocacy on this issue for the foreseeable future.
In the section that puts the issue into a local context, BPS acknowledges the current shortcomings with off-road cycling in Portland. Citing a “limited range of experiences,” the plan says an uneven geographic distribution of riding areas “require many Portlanders to drive to them.” This statement encapsulates a top priority for the Northwest Trail Alliance bike organization: Being able to “ride to where you ride.”
The plan also lays out the lack of singletrack in Portland — which is arguably the main gripe that led to the creation of this plan in the first place:
Less than one-quarter of existing total trail mileage is on narrow or mid-width trails (under 6 feet), while nearly 70% is access roads wider than 10 feet. While these wider trails provide options for beginner riders, intermediate and advanced riders may feel that wider trails lack the physical challenge and visual interest that narrower trails provide. Additionally, the City’s inventory of narrower trails includes a number of poorly maintained fire lanes in Forest Park, which tend to be more technically challenging and do not provide a safe and sustainable riding experience.
Keep in mind that this plan is not just about your typical bike trails. It also includes information about BMX parks, jump parks, freeride and downhill areas, pump tracks, and so on. The idea is build out a network of off-road cycling experiences in Portland that appeal to riders of all ages and abilities. It also includes detailed design guidelines for how the trails, paths, and other features can be built so they last long and have minimal impact to the environment.
But make no mistake about it, everyone will focus on the part of the plan where new trails are recommended. The draft plan says Portland should improve all of its existing off-road facilities and develop “19 additional trail and bike park locations and three urban off-road cycling trail corridors.”
The plan splits up the recommendations into three categories: natural surface trails, urban trail corridors, and bicycle parks.
New bike parks — defined as places like pump tracks or skills trails where people can practice and learn — are recommended in 14-16 existing city parks (in addition to improving the ones that currently exist in Ventura Park, Gateway Green and New Columbia). Urban trail corridors — which “combine paved and unpaved trails to create longer and more varied riding experiences” — are recommended along the Springwater, the future NP Greenway path, and the I-205 path. And finally, new off-road cycling trails are recommended at the “Dog Bowl” at North Willamette and Jessup, Lesser Park in southwest, the Loll-Wildwood Natural Area, River View Natural Area, and Washington Park (in addition to improvements to existing trails at Gateway Green, Mt. Tabor Park, Powell Butte and Forest Park).
Among the most noteworthy recommendations are new riding facilities in Forest Park, River View, and Washington Park.
The plan devotes 12 pages to Forest Park (a historically contentious site we highlighted last year) and the five “conceptual trail improvements”. They’re all noteworthy given how Forest Park is ground zero for off-road biking potential in Portland. The recommendations include:
– Improve Firelane 1 and build a new trail parallel to Highway 30 (High Priority)
– Improve Firelane 4 and open it to off-road cycling (High Priority)
– Open Firelane 7, Firelane 7A and Oil Line Road to off-road cycling (Medium Priority)
– Improve cycling access to the park from the St. John’s Bridge (Medium Priority)
– Build a new trail south of NW 53rd Drive (Conditional)
And how about some dirt trails to ride in Washington Park? Here’s the recommendation on page 78:
Design and build a natural surface off-road cycling trail loop in the area east of Kingston Drive, as envisioned in the Draft Washington Park Master Plan. Trails could include a descending flow trail and an uphill skill trail. Building a trail here will require additional planning and community input.
If you care about riding in dirt without driving first, it’s well worth your time to peruse this draft plan. It’s the result of considerable work by BPS and a top-notch stakeholder committee. By the time the comment period closes and the plan is ultimately adopted by Council, the City will have spent well over two years creating it. Now is the time to help refine the plan by leaving comments between now and December 17th. The best way to share feedback is with this nifty online map where you can click on potential development sites, see what’s being considered, and then add your two cents.
Stay tuned for more analysis and opportunities to get involved as this plan continues to evolve and firm up.
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