One year into Portland’s 2030 Bicycle Plan

Mountain biking deemed important, but access remains limited

On Thursday, February 11, 2010, Portland's City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030. In urban areas bikes are doing very well in Portland, but mountain bike access, especially close to the city, remains limited.

The city’s bike plan handles urban cycling objectives well and recognizes that bicycling can create safer streets, reduce the causes of global climate change, and that it promotes a healthy environment, while limiting health care costs related to inactivity.  But one year into the plan, their isn’t the same support for mountain biking.

“The 2030 Plan has a section for mountain biking,” said Jonathan Maus, editor and publisher of BikePortland.com. “It recognizes the importance of it and even mentions singletrack.” Maus noted, however, that mountain biking is far down the list in terms of the thrust and priorities laid out in the plan, which is mostly centered on bicycling for transportation.

Those with Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance agree that off-road riding has a place in Portland. “The BTA sees mountain biking as an important part of a complete bicycling landscape,” said Margaux Mennesson, communication director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, “Mountain biking can transform communities.”

Mennesson noted how the nearby timber community of Oakridge had been struggling daily with decreased economic activity due to the diminishing timber industry in the area. “A group of volunteers saw the area as an opportunity to grow a new industry that could revitalize the town through mountain biking,” she said. “Now Oakridge is the self-proclaimed ‘Center of Oregon Recreation’ as well as ‘the Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest.’"

These regional winter sports havens that have long relied on seasonal recreation to fuel winter economies are working to create summer trail systems that keep them coming all year long, and this includes opening the trails to riders. However, this isn’t always easy going as simply going from ski resort to bike resort. “There are occasional tensions between mountain bikers and our environmental partners who worry about soil erosion and disturbing endangered species,” said Mennesson. 

This is just part of the concern that locals know can create battle lines over the use of trails, especially those that are close to Portland. “There are definitely fears that trails in the urban core are overused,” said Maus, who noted that the trails in proximity to the city are limited, but hopes that more trails could solve some of the problems. “Unfortunately only a few total miles of them are legally open for mountain bike use. I’d say open up more trails in Forest Park and we'd be a mountain bike Mecca overnight.”

Opening more trails in Portland won’t happen overnight, just as the city has set predetermined limits on how much urban sprawl there can, as planners are considering how trails should be used, and as of now access for mountain bikes remains sparse.

“Mountain biking, when done right with a solid corps of trail stewards, not only can resolve these conflicts, but add amazing value to these natural resources, restoring ecosystems and keeping invasive species at bay,” said Mennesson.

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