Last Monday, 60 members of MTB Eugene returned to the Eugene City Council to continue lobbying for mountain bike access to the newly-built Ribbon Trail. This was MTB Eugene‘s second time testifying before city council. This time, they came armed with more reasons why there should be more mountain biking trails in Eugene–including specific rebuttals to Neil BjÃ¶rklund’s letter in which he listed his reasons for closing the trail.
Unfortunately, this particular city council meeting was sort of ridiculous. The public testimony portion of the meeting ran for over an hour and a half: 42 different people testified on diverse topics like the West 11th EMX route, downtown homelessness, the new “no loitering” paint by the downtown bus station, and the two chicken limit in Eugene. The testimonies included aggressive poetry, a few hard-to-follow rants, and a live chicken. I rather enjoyed the entire thing, being a fan of circuses in general, but it was hard for the eight people testifying for MTB Eugene to stand out amongst the craziness.
MTB Eugene’s testimony was well planned out and articulated, and included arguments for increased mountain bike trails in Eugene and specific rebuttal to Neil BjÃ¶rklund’s April letter outlining his reasons for closing the Ribbon Trail to cyclists. The decision, dissected by WBE here, boils down to only a few factors: The short section of the trail that is included in Hendricks Park, assumed mountain bike trail damage, and assumed hiker/biker conflict. The decision was influenced heavily by lobbing from The Obsidians and Friends of Hendricks Park to close the trail to cyclists. This has the potential to pit them against MTB Eugene and the Disciples of Dirt (DoD). This is unfortunate because no conflict needs to exist.
“I want to emphasize that I think this should not be an issue of pedestrian versus cyclists. The pedestrians have a right to feel secure and safe and not molested on hiking trails and in city parks.”
– Paul Nicholson, owner of Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life, in support of MTB access
All four organizations are environmental stewards and full of considerate, sharing people. Unfortunately, The Obsidians and Friends of Hendricks Park, both great organizations, are basing their decision to lobby against mountain bike trail access on the long-believed but erroneous assumptions that mountain bikes cause more trail damage than hikers and that there will be personal conflict between hikers and bikers if they are allowed on the same trail. Both of these beliefs have been proven to be false in many studies. (see previous WBE articles.)
Steve Mertz, founder of MTB Eugene and owner of local restaurant Laughing Planet, seemed to recognize that conflict was unnecessary. He threw out this olive branch out during this testimony:
“For too long our voice have been drowned out by more politically organized groups that would rather not share the trails with mountain bikers. … We are more than willing to discuss and cooperate with any group that may be opposed to our efforts and helping them understand why opening the Ribbon Trail is a good idea. In return, we’ll listen to their point of view.”
Matt Denberg continued this sentiment in his testimony, offering to have MTB Eugene and DoD do the trail work necessary to correct any Ribbon Trail safety issues, and pointing out that the other trails in Eugene which allow mountain bikes have had no hiker/biker conflicts or accidents.
“The Ribbon Trail is very similar to some of the other trails … that are open to bikes regarding the safety concerns that city staff pointed out, so I think they’ve proven [by not having any] problems that there really isn’t going to be a problem on the Ribbon Trail. […] There have been studies showing that trail impacts between hikers and bikers are very similar. […] Bikers are not going to create impacts that are not already seen.”
The other people who testified for MTB Eugene were Shane MacRhodes ( Greater Eugene Area Riders [GEARs] board member, Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee [BPAC] member, and Safe Routes to School coordinator), Paul Nicholson (owner and founder of Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life), Alan Bennett, John Herberg (lead organizer for Trips for Kids CAT), Paul Tim, and Paul Adkins (GEARs Board Member).
The testimony which wasn’t aimed at making peace with hikers focused on why we need more mountain biking trails in Eugene. Currently, there are only 3 1/2 miles of trails open for mountain bikes in the area, creating a ride that is barely 20 minutes long. Paul Adkins explained that as a car-free family, he would like to go mountain biking with his kids but cannot; the nearest decent trails are 30-40 miles away. John Hibbert, the lead organizer of a mountain bike group for youth called Trips for Kids CAT, further expanded on the issue of kids and mountain biking:
“If we limit the trail to hiking only, we are excluding a large amount of the population from enjoying that trail. … A lot of youth aren’t as interested in [hiking and backpacking], they’re just too slow of a pace, and that’s where mountain biking comes in. Mountain biking is a great combination of excitement and the outdoors, so it’s a good opportunity to get youth outdoors more; it’s something they like.”
Alan Bennett also expressed frustration at having to drive 40 miles just so he can go on a bike ride.
“I’d rather not have to spend the time and the gas where if there were enough trails locally I would drive less, save money, and not burn fossil fuels to have a real mountain bike experience. And of course the post ride money – many burritos and beers – I would be spending here and not in Oakridge. … Eugene has a great reputation as a cycling town, but for mountain biking it is sorely lacking.”
Many see this issue as an important precursor to a possible battle over bike access to the new Arlie Property Ridgeline Extension; a battle that hopefully won’t occur if the advocacy groups against mountain bike access to trails can be convinced that they are basing their decisions on unfounded assumptions.
This may be more difficult than it seems, however. The City Council gave little attention to the mountain bike issue on Monday. Only Councilor Chris Pryor responded to the mountain bikers: (quoted in full)
Mountain bikes, we hesitate to get involved in specific issues of operation, but there are policy issues that we might want to talk about with regard to runner/pedestrian/bicycle interface, and I think that would be a worthwhile conversation for the council to have around what is our (pause) what policy do we want to have around those interactions on paths.
While the City Council mostly ignored the issue, it was picked up by the media. KEZI aired a full spot on MTB Eugene on Wednesday’s 11pm news. Unfortunately, their coverage may have done more damage than good, as they perpetuated the “mountain bikes cause more damage” myth with this line: “But Eugene parks and open space planners say part of the reason why the trail is short for cyclists is the potential damage bikes can do to the terrain.”
The Register-Guard interviewed Steve Mertz on Thursday, and this post will be updated when that article is published.
Update: The Register-Guard article was published Wednesday and contains some additional valuable information. Give it a read!
Despite a long night and a long road ahead, MTB Eugene members remained optimistic and determined. I asked Matt Denberg after the meeting how he felt about the night and where MTB Eugene plans to go from here.
“[Monday’s] meeting was a success. We came out and showed the City council that mountain bikers are committed to working within the system to gain access to more trails. We got our message across, and will continue to work with Council and POS Planning staff to move the process forward. We will also be reaching out to other stakeholder groups with an interest in the Ridgeline trail system to build better relations and prove to them that cyclists deserve equal access to our local trails.”
Watch the video below to see all of MTB Eugene’s testimony, and hear Pryor’s response.