By Don MacGillivray

For years off road cycling has been tossed around like a political football with major advocates and critics who argue about any significant cycling changes to Portland’s parks.

Some fear off-road cycling will destroy our parks in both urban and rural locations. All the positions on the issue have good points, but none have the whole story.

With the need for alternative transportation, biking will increase. Bikers generally want to find ways to travel without using city streets due to the conflicts with auto traffic.

It is often said the various forms of transportation work best when their routes are separated, but this is difficult in most circumstances.

Biking has health benefits that should be considered a plus and is a low cost form of transportation with acceptance by the general public.

The economic growth of cycling is a plus for Portland and should be encouraged. Nationally, Portland is well-known for promoting bicycling.

People might engage in off-road cycling for many reasons such as to: experience nature; have fun; spend time with friends and family; get exercise; or to experience riding a bicycle free from auto traffic.

After years of back and forth argument, the Bureau of Parks and Recreation has taken two years to develop a 125 page Off-Road Cycling Master Plan (ORCMP). It gives everyone the opportunity to see the bigger picture and advocate for or against the issues with intelligence and understanding.

For those who cannot imagine what off road cycling might be like, the plan describes it. Off-road cycling can include: 1) a leisurely bicycle ride along a smooth natural surface trail; 2) a more technical and challenging ride with obstacles, hills to climb, or long distances to ride; 3) a session at a pump track or skill park; or 4) participation in mountain biking or in cycle-cross racing.

The Plan was released in October and describes the uses under consideration and various characteristics of users and their activities.

The desire is to make off road cycling available to as many people as might wish to participate by increasing its activity and the venues.

Clearly locations, funding, and construction must be worked out, but stakeholders and users will be involved in the design and planning of each project.

As such, off-road cycling or mountain biking has different forms. Each situation must be evaluated so that the public is comfortable with the change to a familiar park.

April 3, the Portland Parks Board met to listen to input and consider the draft of the Off-Road Cycling Master Plan.

There are many advocates for the plan’s suggested growth of off road cycling. The biking community is well-organized and vociferous in their advocacy for what they want and don’t want.

They find most of what is in the plan attractive. Their major concern is over the critics of off road biking. In most cases this is the “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) syndrome that is often the situation for those that live near a project site and in the surrounding neighborhood.

In the rural and natural areas there are environment interests that can often be critical of the potential destruction of natural habitats and a lack of respect from the users toward other people in the area.

The NW Trail Alliance has been following the formulation of the plan over the entire two year process and they’ve provided suggestions and input in hopes of realizing their dreams.

They desire off road trails and roads in Forest Park that will be usable by vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians simultaneously and in harmony with each other.

Critics decry the actual and potential destruction of nature through both construction and its use. The trade offs are not clear but it is hoped the plan will improve the situation and help people agree on realistic steps toward implementation.

A few of the bikers’ desires included in the plan are:

• One million dollars to build 35 miles of new cycling trails that would include Forest Park, the River View Natural Area, the “Dog Bowl” on North Willamette Boulevard, and roads in three other locations,

• Utilizing most of the existing 32 miles of trails in Forest Park currently off limits to bikers and others.

• Including one or two acre bike parks in each of Col. Summers Park, Brentwood Park, and Creston Park.

On April 11, the Park Board expressed strong support for the plan in a letter to the off road cycling plan manager, Tom Armstrong.

This gives the City Council the confidence needed to support the plan and begin the process of funding and implementing its goals. The board lauded the plan as a good conceptual road map for a city wide system of off-road cycling.

The letter says a variety of partnership programs are critical to the plans success and it criticizes the assumption that off-road biking would compromise established environmental goals.

The plan’s community involvement process would substantially include outreach to Portland’s under-served communities.

The board’s significant criticism of the plan is that it does not identify funding sources necessary to implement its goals and that it needs to prioritize the various projects as well as to find the funding needed to maintain the trails after they are constructed.

The process before, during, and after the Park Board meeting is a classic example of good public process. The advocates for the plan participated in its development throughout its two year planning process.

They created a specific organization or committee to express their consensus views as a group. The opposition did the same, but probably did not have the enthusiasm for their views and thought that established policy would support them.

Over 500 official comments were made to the staff regarding the plan and over 185 pages of testimony were received by the Park board.

Both sides were active at the meeting with well thought- out remarks. The board had representatives from both interest groups as well as others with a variety of experience and perspectives about the parks in Portland.

The future of this issue will be of great interest to many here.