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League Supports Portland Mountain Bikers

What do Portland and Boulder have in common? They are, of course, both considered among the most bike-friendly places in the United States — including by the League. They are two of just four Platinum level communities in our Bicycle Friendly Community program

And in recent years, both communities have dropped the ball when it comes to addressing the needs of, and providing opportunities for, mountain bikers. Boulder has opened the excellent Valmont Park facility recently, but in both cities, there are large swaths of prime mountain biking venues that are declared out of bounds, for no good reason. The local mountain bike community feels unfairly shut out, despite going to great lengths to go through the appropriate channels, follow the process, be part of planning meetings, hearings, studies etc.  

This came to serious head last week in Portland with the arbitrary denial of off-road bicycling access to the River View Natural Area — a decision which we have protested in coalition with our national partners at IMBA and PeopleforBikes with a joint letter to the Mayor. 

We’ve heard from a lot of mountain bikers in the area, and from all over the country, in fact, who want us to downgrade Portland’s platinum designation to gold (or even lower). We faced the same dilemma in Boulder, and chose to try and use our feedback and whatever influence we have to ask for commitments to better access and policies in the future. 

The capricious nature of the decision in Portland, on top of the council’s denial of funding for a long-term mountain bike plan and continued closure of gems like Forest Park to mountain biking, really calls into question any hope of the League’s constructive influence having any meaning or value. So that begs the question: Does a community that dramatically limits mountain biking and makes arbitrary decisions and ignores due process deserve the highest level of recognition as a Bicycle Friendly Community? 

Portland is still a leader in many respects — for on-road riding, transportation and general bike culture. No question. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Northwest Trails Alliance are exemplary advocacy groups; city staff have excellent technical skills and continue to pioneer new techniques, programs and infrastructure. There are great mountain biking opportunities nearby — just not in the city itself. The place is still a heck of lot more bike-friendly than my own community of Fairfax County, Va., let’s be clear.  

I have the utmost respect for the mountain bike community and IMBA for the extraordinary work they do with trail maintenance and development and land stewardship. In both Portland and Boulder it’s hard to imagine a group of people more committed to preserving critical open space and habitat for future generations — and yet they still get shut out. 

So, I think I know what mountain bikers think we should do. I’d be interested in hearing from League members and BFC program participants on this question: How do you think we can most effectively help turn around the city’s indefensible treatment of mountain biking?