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Draft Off-road Cycling Master Plan now available for comment

Posted by on November 2nd, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Image from draft plan showing possible singletrack loop at the “Dog Bowl” in north Portland.

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.

Hot off the press.

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.

Singletrack aside, Portland simply lacks off-road riding opportunities in general. Check out this chart in the plan that compares us to other cities:


Another chart of off-road facility level of service (or LOS, to borrow a traffic engineering term) gives us an idea of what BPS is shooting for:

And here’s a cluster graphic showing how BPS envisions Portland as a central hub in relation to other riding areas around the region:

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).

BPS labels this map: “Multi-hub concept with potential mountain bike trail.”

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.

Here’s the main project page with links to download the draft plan.

Stay tuned for more analysis and opportunities to get involved as this plan continues to evolve and firm up.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • JBone November 2, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Awesome! BTW, the Dog Bowl is heavily used by dogs in winter because Arbor Lodge dog park turns into a mud pit and Dog Bowl drains really well. However, dogs rarely go there in late-Spring and Summer because Dog Bowl has a spear-grass that can burrow into dog ears and there are alot of ticks. So, I would suggest this be a seasonal trail as I can’t imagine bikes rolling around while dogs are all over the place in winter.

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    • Robert Alan Ping November 2, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      I would think that there is room for a fenced dog play area there, in addition to a short trail loop and natural space. Dog bowl also connects right into to the bluff itself – extra room there!

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      • maxD November 2, 2017 at 2:56 pm

        I think dogs and bikes can co-exist with fences just fine. Corvallis had offleash trails shared with joggers and cyclists and I never had a single problem as a dog walker or a cyclist. People who can’t control their dogs will keep them on a leash or not come because it is an uncomfortable situation. It would be great to be able to ride with a dog, too!

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        • Dan A November 3, 2017 at 8:44 am

          In Corvallis they even share trails with cougars!

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          • Chris I November 3, 2017 at 9:58 am

            Especially during Mom’s weekend at OSU.

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            • Huey Lewis November 3, 2017 at 10:47 am

              I’m the only person to like this comment in nearly an hour? COME ON!

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        • Bjorn November 3, 2017 at 9:17 am

          If you are thinking about the paths near bald hill as an example of a shared use trail that allowed off leash dogs you are incorrect. There are tons of off leash dogs on those trails, and my friend was injured by one which is part of why they are supposed to be on leash outside of a small area near the barn. There are trails/logging roads outside the city limits on OSU property that are off leash, but all the MUP’s and off road trails in Corvallis that I can think of are on leash.

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          • Dan A November 3, 2017 at 5:25 pm

            That’s good to know. There’s a ton of poison oak in that area, and I worry about dogs running through it and then rubbing it off on me.

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        • JBone November 3, 2017 at 11:27 am

          Max do you mean “with fences” or “without fences”?

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          • maxD November 3, 2017 at 12:38 pm

            without, sorry.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 2, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      I’d like to think that the space could be shared by dogs and people – whether on bikes or on foot. I’d rather not see something as extreme as a seasonal trail closure unless we were sure that mixing bikes and dogs at this location will be problematic. And if/when that ever became the case, we should talk about other options before we talk about prohibiting one specific use.

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      • JBone November 3, 2017 at 11:19 am

        As someone who rides the Bowl in the drier months and takes my dog there in the winter, I can assure you there would be mayhem if cyclists were riding around while dogs were off leash. Many of the dogs enjoy plowing through the fallen wild fennel stalks and chasing each other all over the place. I wouldn’t take my dog there nor would I want to ride there if it was a trail location in the winter. The only feasible way I see to make this happen is my seasonal suggestion or Robert’s fence idea.

        That being said, I don’t believe the Bowl is an officially designated off-leash area, but naturally functions as one and is tolerated by city enforcement, just like the Riverview trails used to for cyclist.

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  • Alex November 2, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Great to see forward momentum on this. Looking forward to reading through it and giving feedback on it.

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  • Middle of the Road Guy November 2, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    That might be a fun little after dinner ride on the gravel bike.

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    • Alex November 2, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      I hope there is at least a few jumps in there. Leif Erickson isn’t that far away 😉

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  • christopher November 2, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Stoked on all of the hard work but bummed on the reality of off-road cycling in Portland. Give us Riverview and let’s put Portland on the map!

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  • Travis November 2, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    STJ Bridge access could/should be high priority. If the grade could somehow be improved, Springville would allow straight access off the bridge to Forest Park. And maybe some better bike parking options at the Ridge trailhead.

    Or just protected lanes down 30 to Saltzman.

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    • I wear many hats November 3, 2017 at 7:51 am

      The ridge trail is great access to the bridge. This plan omits it as an option.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 3, 2017 at 8:32 am

        Are you sure? I think they are recommending, on page 71, that the current Ridge Trail gets updated for hiking and that a “a new shared-use trail that is contoured across the slope for greater usability and sustainability.” That sounds like a new trail will eventually be built.

        That being said, it’s absurd that they don’t just allow uphill bicycle riding on Ridge. It’s a crucial link from St. Johns Bridge to Leif and there’s is ZERO harm in letting people bike uphill on it.

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        • I wear many hats November 3, 2017 at 11:36 am

          Sorry for the hyperbole. I envision the plan will become so mired in lawsuits and NIMBY activism that only the FL 1 option will ever see the light of day in my lifetime. Every facet of the Forest Park trails will be fought tooth and nail along the way. The Ridge trail option sounds like a pipe dream. I would love for the ORCMP and Parks department to prove me wrong.

          This trail frequently (FREQUENTLY) gets up and down hill use currently. It would work fine as is for shared use as its already shared by many who hike and ride. The current grades aren’t nearly as steep as the surrounding fire lanes.

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  • pdx2wheeler November 2, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    Wouldn’t get too excited about riding around that dog bowl. It’s a pretty short loop and very steep in a couple sections. Dogs are already required to be on a leash, but that never happens so fencing would be key. I can attest to the issues with spear grass in Spring and Summer. My dog got a piece in his nose while we were there and it cost $800 to get it surgically removed! Anyway, some trail is better than nothing I guess, and could provide a linkage to other areas. Good luck!

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  • I wear many hats November 2, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    This is a long time coming. Be very aware that the bike haters will be out in force to squash this plan. Please comment frequently and often. The plan still OMITS many in town riding opportunities because the political will to “share” existing trails is low. We can do better. If Portland can have a hiking trail go from OHSU to Germantown road, it also can have a biking trail. Or egad, a shared trail :). Be polite out there if you find yourself sharing the trails out there ;).

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  • Roland Klasen November 2, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    As a daily dog bowl user for almost 20 years and counting, I don’t see a need for fencing or any other changes. It’s mostly empty with a few dogs here and there and I hardly ever see bike riders. And as previously mentioned, it’s only ~1/4 mile loop.

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    • Dan A November 2, 2017 at 8:47 pm

      I used to have fun riding a 1/4 mile loop with my kids at Pioneer Park in Beaverton, but then the parks department decided to pave it 🙁

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    • JBone November 3, 2017 at 11:23 am

      I have had a different experience as there are usually 3-20 dogs there if it is not raining in the winter. And yeah, the photo at top of article is a pretty weak use of this site; so much more potential, but you’d really want to use the whole Bowl, that’s my on knock on the fence idea. Seasonal seems like a win/win.

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  • GlowBoy November 2, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    This is fantastic, and IWMH is right that it will face VERY powerful opposition.

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  • Fred Ihle November 2, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    I’ve got to be honest, isn’t the the FP recommendation the ‘low hanging fruit’ that Nick fish suggested some 7-8 years ago? What I wouldn’t give for one contour-line trail in FP and re-legalized access to RVNA, without getting turned into a perimeter trail that is 90% wormy-shaped switchbacks designed to keep you riding 3mph. I don’t mean to poo-poo this, but it just seems that a real contour line trail in FP will ever happen. I plan to voice my thoughts in detail.

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    • Cyclekrieg November 3, 2017 at 9:15 am

      I think the “concept plans” included in the ORCMP are a bust. In the text, pages 19-22 there are lots of good words and mention of other cities’ systems (though, strangely, avoiding some of the largest systems in country) and accepted standard guidelines. Yet, when you look at the concept plans, they don’t follow any of those methods and guidelines. The concept trails in Forest Park would be be great if was 1989. But its 2017 and these concepts come without any of the proven ways to make those trails fun or to prevent mountain bikes from going where they shouldn’t. The Riverview trail alignment is just the worst, whoever designed that should be fired. The ORCMP could have stepped in fix it that alignment and created fun and safe shared trail experience with a trail alignment that wasn’t going to breed conflict, but failed to. The solution here is simple: just chuck all the design concept plans and cross the bridge on designs when you begin the process of green lighting trails in properties.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu November 2, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    The big fight will be over Forest Park. Show that bike trails can work and co-exist with nature and other users there, and there will be less opposition elsewhere.

    Thanks for posting. I’m going to read this report carefully.

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    • Eric November 3, 2017 at 9:02 am

      All you have to do to see that shared use trails can work is look at Bend and Sisters: miles of shared use trails that co-exist with nature.

      The NIMBY’ers just choose not to look past their own back yards.

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  • mark smith November 2, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    The fact that forest park is devoid of any real trails shows how far Portland has to go.

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  • wsbob November 3, 2017 at 1:37 am

    Residents of Portland have spent years, decades, assembling the city’s inventory of natural land parks for quiet refuge from the chaotic activity of the urban, residential and industrial activity of the city. If they’re prepared to accept the compromise that allowing off-road, mountain biking into these areas, represents, the plan may proceed as off-road biking enthusiasts hope it will.

    I don’t think referring antagonistically to people that aren’t delighted with the prospect of off-road biking in the city’s nature parks is going to help the effort. Already I see two or three comments posted to this story that would give people having reservations about the use of the city’s natural land parks for off-road biking, strong reasons to dig their heels in and work to not give hopeful off-road biking enthusiasts so much as an inch of new trail in the parks.

    Off-road bike enthusiasts need allies in big numbers, not enemies, if they’re going to have much hope of using the city’s natural land parks for off-road biking, let alone single track.

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    • Cyclekrieg November 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

      You are absolutely correct. Lets not do any name calling or cast aspersions on motivations, thoughts or usage. But that sword cuts both ways.

      By the way, a great video showing exactly what urban mountain biking really means, both on a personal level and for a location:

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      • Dan A November 8, 2017 at 7:11 am

        12 miles of trail in 680 acres. I wonder how much FP will end up with in 5000 acres.

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        • Brian November 8, 2017 at 7:57 am

          I would guess 1.5 miles.

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          • Zimmerman November 8, 2017 at 8:53 am

            I bet we’ll end up losing the .75 we already have.

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  • I wear many hats November 3, 2017 at 7:54 am

    It is imperative that every commenter in BP that supports mountain biking sits down with the plan comment forms and voices specific opinions regarding trail alignments and suggestions. NIMBYism runs Portland, and its kept bikes out of Forest Park for 30 years.

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  • Bjorn November 3, 2017 at 9:10 am

    I am glad to see the draft plan is out for comment but I was really disappointed in one aspect of the process. I applied to be on the committee and before I did I gave careful consideration to how I would be able to make sure that I could go to all of the committee meetings. Reading the minutes from the committee meetings it was quite apparent that several of the people who were named to the committee did not do the same. Attendance was abysmal by some of the people on the committee and in the future I would like to see the city of portland set a stronger expectation with people that committee members will attend the committee meetings, and possibly set up a system under which people who don’t show up are replaced by alternates.

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  • JR'eh November 3, 2017 at 10:45 am

    This comes from the Powell Butte recommendations:
    “Signage to direct users to the nearby Gates Park, if it is developed with off-road cycling features”.
    This seems to suggest a tradeoff of 625 acres of shared use park with singletrack for a 1/2 mile flat trail on 1-3 acres. Does anyone else interpret this language as a huge step backward or am I just overly sensitive?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 3, 2017 at 10:53 am

      either way.. .Please share your concern via a comment.

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      • JR'eh November 3, 2017 at 11:03 am

        Will do. Just thought I should point it out to anyone who might share my opinion that Powell Butte is the best thing nearby and we shouldn’t squeeze out bike access.

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  • Fred November 3, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Does the plan say anything about creating *dedicated* cycling trails? – that is, trails just for bikes and not walkers, dogs, horses, etc? I know that when I’m out hiking on shared trails, I don’t enjoy having to step aside every few minutes to make way for bikes. But if bikes had their own trails, that would be great for them too. Thanks.

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    • I wear many hats November 3, 2017 at 11:39 am

      The plan does not call for bike only trails in the park. I agree that building new infrastructure should keep some trails single use. It creates a less volatile environment for those who can’t share amicably.

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  • JJ November 4, 2017 at 4:44 am

    There are tons of trails in FP….just ride them…who’s going to stop you? Smile and don’t be a d1c$ to runners and hikers. #freeforestpark

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