Guest opinion: It’s time to manage bicycle use in Forest Park

“If safety and conflict concerns can be managed and mitigated among pedestrian visitors, why can’t they be managed and mitigated among all visitors?”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

By Daniel Greenstadt, who previously wrote an article for us about the Off-road Cycling Master Plan.

In early August, the Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau decided to implement several one-way travel plans for a number of trails within Forest Park. Pointing to concerns about Covid-era trail users coming into close and frequent contact with each other on popular singletrack trails, the city released a set of recommendations for one-way loops. These restrictions applied only to pedestrians of course, because cyclists are already excluded from the park’s singletrack trails.

Nevertheless, the experiment – still ongoing – begs some questions and implies some answers about how trail users, including cyclists, can best be managed in the park.

For decades, the city of Portland hasn’t managed bicycles in Forest Park at all. Instead, it has simply banned them. While hikers, runners and dog-walkers have been the object of various management efforts initiatives, and capital investments including trail construction; various trail improvements; bridge construction; informative (but not great) signage; and interpretive programs, neither the city nor its main partners – the private Forest Park Conservancy and the Portland Parks Foundation – have worked on projects that specifically benefit cyclists.

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Because virtually all cyclists are also pedestrians, hiker-centric projects are generally well-received by all, even if those projects have been at the expense of any improvements to cycling opportunities in the park.

The important observation about these one-way loop initiatives, however, is that the city seems to believe the active management of trail users actually works and it’s their responsibility to make it happen.

If safety and conflict concerns can be managed and mitigated among pedestrian visitors, why can’t they be managed and mitigated among all visitors?

Cities around the country and the world employ a wide range of tools and techniques to successfully manage pedestrian, bicycle, and even equestrian users on trail systems just like the one in Forest Park. Trail construction, trail improvements, trail retirement, trail segregation, one-way travel, day-on/day-off restrictions, good signage, public education, and so on, are just some of the common techniques.

But for some reason, none have ever been meaningfully applied to the off-road cycling problem in Forest Park.

Perhaps the COVID-inspired management measures taken by the city on behalf of pedestrian visitors can inform and encourage the city to begin directing management attention to bicycling as well. The Covid issue will, hopefully, disappear over the coming year or so. The bicycle access issue has been festering for 25 years. Portland should do better, even in difficult times.

— Daniel Greenstadt is Portland resident and long-time environmental and outdoor recreation advocate.
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Matt
Matt
2 years ago

Forest Park has the terrain to be a world-class mountain biking destination. It’s a goddamn travesty that we don’t even have a single trail dedicated to that purpose.

Cyclekrieg
Cyclekrieg
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt

Just remember, people have build a world-class trail system is precisely the kind of conditions Forest Park represents. See: https://www.trailforks.com/region/duluth/

Noel Bergren-Dizon
Noel Bergren-Dizon
2 years ago

I agree completely with the points of this article. I have to drive 45-60 minutes out of town to enjoy singletrack trails. It’s really sad the parks department has bowed to the hiker and NW homeowners interests over all others over the decades(!) I would really like to take my kids mountain biking locally! I’m starting to feel like I have to be a single issue voter because of this. Until I see meaningful trail access given to cyclists in Forest Park, I can’t see voting for any extra funds for the parks department!

Suburban
Suburban
2 years ago

People who choose to live in Oakridge Oregon get to take their kids mountain biking right out the front door. People who choose to live in the largest city in the state get to go hiking in a lovely park relatively free of mountain bikes. Nobody is bowing, it’s just that kind of park.

Dis Gruntled
Dis Gruntled
2 years ago
Reply to  Suburban

“…it’s just that kind of park.” It’s just that kind of park because a bunch of wealthy, well-connected, dishonest, anti-science, Forest Park neighbors have decided for the rest of us what kind of park suits them best. And they don’t like the looks of them kids.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  Dis Gruntled

I hope you see the hypocrisy of your classism there. “the rest of us” might not include mountain bikes or people who want them there.

Dis Gruntled
Dis Gruntled
2 years ago

No, actually, I don’t see the hypocrisy. We all know that “the rest of us” includes some people who want to ride mountain bikes in Forest Park (If you don’t believe that, please do a bit of googling, including the results of the city’s own user survey.). And those mountain bikers have access to 0% of Forest Park’s trails. Pedestrian users have access to 100% of Forest Park’s trails, and there’s a subset of those pedestrians who want cyclists to continue to have zero access. The cyclists, on the other hand, are not asking for exclusive trails but, instead, seem willing to maintain many trails for the exclusive use of pedestrians while sharing other trails and maybe building some new ones. So tell us again which group is demonstrating “classism.”

Alex
Alex
2 years ago

I don’t think you understand what classism is.

Alex
Alex
2 years ago
Reply to  Suburban

I am sorry, but that’s ridiculous. You can have it both ways in Forest Park, it’s large enough to share. Mountain biking doesn’t have to interrupt hiking – or at least have very minimal impact.

X
X
2 years ago

I recently took a walk on the one way loop linking parts of the Wildwood Trail and (Upper?) Macleay trail. Half the people I saw walking there were going the wrong way. Should we say pedestrians just can’t be regulated?

cmh89
cmh89
2 years ago

The one-way loops don’t work though…

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago
Reply to  cmh89

As in, people ignore them?

cmh89
cmh89
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris I

Yeah, at least from my experience. IMO I think mountain bikers would adhere to one ways far better than runners and walkers because of the much higher risk of a wrong way collision. I’m just saying that the one-way paths in FP have no been effective.

Cyclekrieg
Cyclekrieg
2 years ago
Reply to  cmh89

That is news to me. Or the over 400 miles of urban trails in Minnesota that are one way. They work fine if properly signed.

Mark Linehan
Mark Linehan
2 years ago
Reply to  cmh89

My family and I hiked a one-way trail a few weeks ago. Lots of people ignored the signs and walked the wrong way.

Daniel Greenstadt
Daniel Greenstadt
2 years ago

The Parks Bureau has been tweaking and revising their messaging and signage, much of it apparently yet to roll out on the trail. It will be interesting to observe and learn how it goes. But the fact that they’re actually doing something is testament to the fact that they believe it is possible – over the course of just a few weeks – to experiment, learn, revise, improve, and move forward…just not when it comes to bicycles.

EP
EP
2 years ago

Ugh…now there are already too many users and conflicts, so they’ll just say bikes will make everything worse. Especially with the looming MTB ebike apocalypse. If only bikes had gotten in the door sometime this millennium. It’s only been 20 years…

Gateway Green will show what a demand there is for mountain biking, and forest park would be a great place to expand that experience towards singletrack trails in the woods. Maybe someday this city will get it.

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago

We don’t need to do anything to the existing trails, we just need to allow the construction of new ones that are bike-only. The parks department doesn’t have to spend a cent. Just let NWTA develop a plan and construct it.

Brian
Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris I

Or, in addition, something as simple as: Maple Trail and Ridge Trail are bicycle only trails on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.

X
X
2 years ago
Reply to  Brian

Er. The people who can’t, or won’t, deal with the one-way trails will be dumfounded by this.

Brian
Brian
2 years ago
Reply to  X

At least they won’t be able to wag the no-no finger.

Mark Colenz
Mark Colenz
2 years ago

I’d like to see a Venn diagram of people who think Forest Park is a pristine, untouched haven that bikes would ruin…. yet also oppose evicting the squatters “camping” in the park, ignoring every law they please and causing real, demonstrable ecological damage.

I’m sure the squatters will totally respect the one-way thing too….

X
X
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Colenz

Pristine untouched invasive plant preserve!

Eric H
Eric H
2 years ago

I’m surprised that we’ve made it almost 24 hours without Mike V chiming in with his usual anti-mountain biking screed.

Alain L.
Alain L.
2 years ago

Small anecdote to share. I lived for a spell on Burnaby Mt in British Columbia. All the trails were bike AND hike, and many/most were bi-directional. Amazingly, since I’ve not had much experience with a trail system like this, it all worked just fine. A combination of signage and learned trail etiquette made for a pleasant experience for most/all users. I ran, hiked and biked these trails, and rarely encountered conflicts because hikers knew to look for bikers (thanks to signage, and prior experience), and bikers were good about communicating their path and progress – “behind you” or some other equivalent, and “more riders behind” or “2 behind me” etc. It is possible for the two to co-exist. And when trails became overly eroded, they were shutdown for restoration. And most riders avoided the park in the winter, during the muddiest season, to prevent the trails from being prematurely eroded. And there is obviously the option of “bike only” trails, if shared hike/bike use seems too radical.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  Alain L.

Yeah, but we’re Americans. We’re not that polite.

Cyclekrieg
Cyclekrieg
2 years ago

Or maybe you aren’t.

Shared trails work fine where I live, even in a downtown location. I’ve been to other cities with similar trails. They worked find there. So, that leaves two possibilities. One, those other places (and there hundreds of them) have something they have figured out that Portland hasn’t. Some set of methods or concepts or knowledge that Portlanders need to learn. Or two, those places contain better and smarter people than Portland does. People who see a mountain bike on a trail with them and not melt down. I think tend to think its number one, but I’m not sure you do.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  Cyclekrieg

could be both!

SERider
SERider
2 years ago

And yet, hikers and bikers and dog walkers and trail runners and any other type of user you can think of do co-exist on trails all over the US. This isn’t rocket science. Portland doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel.

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
2 years ago
Reply to  SERider

But, that is Portland’s thing: reinventing wheels. If someone at Portland Parks sees this as an opportunity to schedule several European vacat…err..fact finding trips to see how MTB and shared trails work, then expect a first draft Forest Park MTB plan in 2025 or so.

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago
Reply to  Alain L.

The trail around Waldo Lake is open to all users and it works just fine in my experience. I’ve biked, hiked, picked berries, and done trail running on it without issues.

Trails for Everyone
Trails for Everyone
2 years ago

Ride the trails less traveled. Be polite. Look out for others. Be kind. Pick up trash. Portland will never allow bikes on trails in Forest Park. But as more and more people ride bikes off-road Portland will learn to turn a blind eye.

Brian
Brian
2 years ago

This. And maybe all trails except that one “crown jewel?”

John Schmidt
John Schmidt
2 years ago

I am amazed at how Mountain Bikes and the trails have changed for the better (WAY WAY better) (even in the past 5 years). I started with mtb’s when I was 14 and now near 50. Back then if you were a MTBer, you’d train on the road bike, since MTB was pretty rough. As I’ve got back into it, its more fun than ever, as the bikes have caught up to the terrain and are so easy to use and maintain (well and trail building probably deserves a lot if not most of the credit). It’s like a roller coaster and also a fun workout when there is a hill to go up.
[easy shift 1x systems, disc brakes, big tubeless tires(just amazing), dropper seatpost (who’d have thought they would make such a difference, yeah we did have hite-rite), rear suspension that also makes climbing easier (incredible). And for older or disabled people, e-mtbs are an awesome way to still get out there (don’t knock them, you’ll be 85 too some day) ] .

I guess what am I trying to say is: If the FPNA would just let their kids or grand-kids out on some mtbs, they’d have so much fun that there would be no more screen time issues. Kids would be begging to go, or would just free-range over there with friends. (vs “lets go for hike”, sure “OK”, but nothing like kids on bikes having a blast)

I’ve seen one-ways do CW on M-W-F-Sun and CCW on T-T-Sat, etc.. MTBs always obey because its way more fun not to have to worry about blind corners, etc..

Alex
Alex
2 years ago

I am almost at the point of just making new trail in Forest Park. I am sick of waiting, there are basically no rangers, and I have yet to see any scientific evidence I would be doing any damage.

Maybe MiddleOfTheRoadGuy is right, I am just done being polite with people who aren’t polite to me.

X
X
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex

Two possibilities:
*Do a samizdat one way trail map of Forest Park. Vandalism or rebellion, depending on who you ask.
*Cut a new trail through the blackberries above the railroad tracks on the North side of I 84.

EP
EP
2 years ago
Reply to  X

Ooh a Sullivan’s Gulch MTB trail could be fun. Now the reality of riding that with all the campers and garbage and such would be different. Still, an off-road trail from Gateway Green to the river would be a great goal.