Portland’s Off-road Cycling Master Plan got a shot in the arm today from an influential city advisory committee.
The Portland Parks Board expressed strong support for the plan in a letter to Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Project Manager Tom Armstrong. The letter clears the way for Portland City Council to approve the plan — and to push back against those who are using false narratives to oppose it. The Parks Board has dismissed two of the main talking points of people trying to stop the plan: That that off-road cycling is incompatible with nature and that it can’t be done safely in an urban environment.
The letter (PDF), dated April 11th, comes after the Board received hundreds of public comments and hosted a special meeting on the plan earlier this month.
Signed by Parks Board Chair Patricia Frobes, the letter outlined a few relatively minor concerns and said the Board is “generally supportive” of the plan because it is, “a good conceptual road map for a city-wide system of off-road cycling.” And that system, Frobes wrote, should include even more places to ride. “Although the ORCMP proposes a good locational mix of bicycle parks,” she wrote, “it proposes no new urban off-road cycling trails on the west side. Further, the ORCMP does not adequately identify opportunities to connect parks to parks, parks to schools and parks to trails.”
The letter expresses concerns that because the plan limits its scope to city-owned properties it, “risks creating isolated, unconnected cycling facilities.”
More good news for bike advocates is that the Parks Board clearly states that the Off-road Plan is consistent with 2020 Vision for Portland Parks, Portland Parks & Recreation’s Strategic Plan, 5-Year Equity Plan, the Renew Forest Park Initiative — and most importantly — the Forest Park Natural Resources Management Plan (FPNRMP). This is key because it will give Mayor Ted Wheeler and his colleagues on city council confidence to support the plan when it comes to City Hall for adoption.
People who oppose off-road cycling have held up the FPNRMP as a bulwark against bikes. “That document,” wrote Forest Park advocate Marcy Houle in an op-ed against the plan published by the Portland Tribune this week, “is the only thing protecting the wildlife of Forest Park.”
And in another nod to concerns about the safety of cycling on trails that are likely to come up at city council, the Parks Board says they are, “particularly supportive of the fact that the Plan relies on best management practices and state of the art national standards for trail design and natural resource protection. The best management practices proposed in the ORCMP should be immediately adopted to minimize impacts and optimize safety.”
To accomplish all this, the letter says “a variety of partnership programs” will be critical to success of the plan. This will be music to the ears of advocates at NW Trail Alliance who have all but begged Portland Parks to work with them. At the Parks Board meeting they held signs that read: “Let NWTA Help”.
What did the Parks Board have to say about the old canard that bikes on trails are bad the environment? The letter says the Board has concerns that, “Some potential sites were eliminated… based on an untested assumption that trails would compromise environmental goals.”
The letter also addressed concerns about equity that were brought up at the April 3rd meeting: “The Plan is the product of a technically well-supported planning process with substantial community involvement and outreach to underserved communities.” (Parks Director Mike Abbaté followed-up with the Board after the meeting to explain the focus on equity during the extensive public outreach process.)
One of their main concerns is in some ways a positive one for off-road cycling advocates: The Board worries that the plan lacks a clear funding and implementation plan. Even though the Board itself says building off-road bike trails isn’t a high priority of theirs “given current budget constraints and competing priorities,” the letter states:
“The Plan does not adequately identify implementation funding sources or priorities or specific outcomes against which progress can be measured. The Board respectfully recommends that the ORCMP Advisory Committee be enlisted to develop implementation priorities and measurable outcomes.. the Plan should require the identification of a reliable funding source for trail maintenance before new trails are constructed.”
Forest Park and River View
These are the two elephants in the room of off-road cycling in Portland. The Parks Board addressed both in their letter.
Frobes wrote that the Board believes the plan, “appropriately balances policy direction for cycling trails in Forest Park with the goals of resource protection and conservation.”
As for what to build in Forest Park, the Board supports both of the plan’s “high priority” concepts: improve Firelane 4 and open it up to cycling, and improve Firelane 1 and build a new bike trail parallel to Highway 30.
Specifically, Concept C would rebuild Firelane 4 (which is really more of an overgrown trail now) and make it a “contouring trail that follows modern trail building best practices.” The plan says the new trail, “could be designed as a purpose-built off-road cycling trail or as a shared-use trail.” When completed, this new trail would create a three-mile loop with NW Saltzman Road and Leif Erikson Drive. Concept D would make the 2.5 mile Firelane 1 more ridable and build a new trail to connect it to the new Nature Center being built on Highway 30.
With River View Natural Area (RVNA), the Board was finally able to flex their muscles. Back in 2015 the Board demanded answers from Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz after the two abruptly ended a public process and unilaterally decided to prohibit cycling in the park.
In their letter, the Board offers support for a shared-use perimeter trail at River View, “as a reasoned and incremental approach to off-road cycling in RVNA.” Going further on an issue that has sparked major controversy due to the unsubstantiated allegation that cycling will have a negative impact on RVNA, the letter states, “The Board believes the recommendation is based on best practices for trail design and management to avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse environmental impacts and restore the ecological health of the site.”
CORRECTION, 4/14: This post originally identified Tom Armstrong as the director of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. That was wrong. He’s a project manager. Susan Anderson is BPS director. We regret the error.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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Holy @#$%. This is a big deal, and a big step forward. This is some real progressive leadership, right here!
I just sent the parks board an email:
Dear Parks Board,
I’m writing today to express my gratitude for your support of inclusion and diversity in our parks, and specifically, your support for mountain bike access to the City’s wild areas.
I believe that the more opportunities we create for young people to recreate sustainably in natural areas, the healthier and stronger our community will be, and mountain biking is an affordable sport that many youth enjoy. On top of those benefits, when children are raised in an environment where they can play outside in wild areas, they often grow up to be conservation voters.
Thanks to your vote of confidence, I am looking forward to progress on what has been a thorny issue, locally.
Member of Mazamas, BARK, Northwest Trail Alliance
I just checked to make sure it wasn’t April Fools day. Finally some good news. Thanks to the whole community who submitted comments, participated in online and in person open houses, showed up to meetings and so on. Someday we’re gonna have some trails to ride.
This is great news. Now we need to get funding and increase the scope to not just city owned land so we can make more connectors to everything. The only thing I am curious about
I will definitely be writing a letter and thanking them. Let’s spread the goodwill! There is so much low hanging fruit to get for mountain biking that wouldn’t interfere with anyone, it has been insane to watch the fight happen the past 15 years and to finally see something get a positive response from the city. I wonder what City Club will say.
No way… Pinch me.
This is good news, and a badly needed repudiation of much of the rhetoric and misinformation we’ve all been subjected to by bicycle opponents over the past 30+ years. However, I’m disappointed that the Parks Board has said nothing about the highly irregular exclusion of trails from future consideration in Forest Park. The ORCMP draft takes 81% of Forest Park’s singletrack trails permanently off the table based on no science or analysis (page 67-68 of the plan). Coupled with the extreme difficulty/unlikelihood of ever building significant new singletrack trail anywhere in the park outside of the most constrained, degraded, and dead-end locations, my hopes remain low for Forest Park ever achieving what it can and should in terms of modern recreation and conservation planning. At this point, only BPS and/or City Council can lift the the peremptory trail exclusions that have no place in a master plan such as this.
This is a great first step and I very much appreciate the Board giving pause to the anti-mtb rhetoric that seems to have dominated this conversation for so long. Thank you to the Board and all who have given up personal time in their lives over the years. As Daniel alluded to, there is still much to be skeptical about and many steps in this journey that are still to come.
When is the next protest ride through Forest Park? Shouldn’t these be monthly? Count me in.
Tomorrow. 6am. Wear your see-through rain cape.
This is great news! I’m curious to how the perimeter trail in RVNA would be configured. It would be great to have something that could serve as a safe alternative to River View Cemetery. I love riding that route – it’s also a necessary link in my work commute, and I’m in constant dread that some entitled ahole on wheels is going to get us all banned – our that our numbers will eventually just become too overwhelming, and THAT will get us banned. I am daily grateful to the River View folks for being such generous hosts to Portland’s biking community, but it makes me very uneasy that the only safe route from home to work for me is on private property and could be taken away at any time.
Wow! Pardon the major typos. Must be bed time.
There is a trail plan in the RVNA management plan. Its a loop trail with no connections outside of RVNA.
I found the management plan and took a look. It looks like there’s access to RVNA from Palatine Hill Road and from the Cemetery. It would just be weird if no one had considered finding some way to allow access to a perimeter bike trail from 43 – especially because an access from the Cemetery would drive even more traffic through their property.
Not sure what map you are looking. The official proposed conditions trail map only shows connections to the Williamete Greenway (east; labeled as pedestrian), future access from L & C Collage (south), the Palatine Road connections (west). There are no connections to the north (cemetery). That is Figure 4, page 43 of the plan.
I was imprecise in previous description, what I should have said is that its a loop trail with no connections outside RVNA that could be used as you suggest.
Based on that description (and looking at the figure), it looks like you could enter from 43 south of Powers Marine Park and exit at Lewis and Clark (Palatine Hill Road area), which would make it a connection comparable with the cemetery. Am I missing something? My mistake about the access from the cemetery.