Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club works to keep mountain bikes off trails in Los Angeles

Chapter activists working to keep city parks hiker-friendly and mountain-bike free

By Carol Henning, Co-Chair, Southern Sierran Editorial Board. The following article appears in the June 2009 edition of the Southern Sierran, Vol 65 No6.

You’re hiking down a steep trail, enjoying the view, trying to remember the name of a trailside wildflower when, whoosh! Inches from your left arm a mountain bike comes careening down the trail. Most close encounters with mountain bikes leave all parties unharmed – most, but not all.

“We have seen conflicts,” reports Kevin Regan of the Department of Recreation and Parks. There have been “close calls and accidents.” A Los Angeles City Ordinance prohibits bicycles on unpaved trails in all City parks. This ordinance was reaffirmed unanimously by the City Council in 2000. Moreover, this April, the Angeles Chapter passed a resolution supporting efforts to uphold the existing ordinance.

The backstory has been documented by Sierra Club hike leader, AI Moggia. 1995 saw the Concerned Off Road Bicycle Association (CORBA) requesting access to dirt trails in city parks from the Department of Recreation and Parks (DRAP), whereupon a Mountain Bike Task Force was formed including CORBA, DRAP, the L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT and the L.A. Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC). The L.A. City Planning Department spooned up this alphabet soup and other entities to formulate a Bicycle Plan Element. In 1996, the DRAP Commission denied requests for a mountain bike event in Griffith Park, citing the municipal ordinance and an opinion by the City Attorney. Also in 1996, the City Council adopted the Bicycle Master Plan as part of the Transportation Plan Element of the General Plan of L.A. City.

DRAP, CORBA, DOT and BAC studied the feasibility of opening City parks to mountain biking.

In 1998, LADOT City Bicycle Coordinator Michelle Mowery and BAC member Alex Baum made a special presentation to DRAP. There was minimal public notice of three community meetings in 1999, but over 400 residents attended. 95 percent of the attendees expressed their opposition to biking on city parks’ dirt trails. Despite the apparent dearth of public support, Elysian Park was selected in January 2000 for a mountain bike pilot program. Word of mouth and work by the Citizens’ Committee to Save Elysian Park brought out more members of the public to a meeting at Grace Simons Lodge, where they opposed the mountain bike pilot program. A subsequent meeting brought out more community members, a vast majority of whom opposed the program. Elysian Park was spared, and the City Council passed the motion rejecting changes to the ordinance prohibiting mechanized use of City park trails.

Mountain bike advocates tightened the straps on their helmets and soldiered on. Perhaps feeling jilted by Recreation and Parks, they decided to hop onto the handlebars of the Department of Transportation. But is this not an issue of recreation rather than transportation? The DOT’s Bicycle Master Plan is about cycling in the City. The focus is presumably on the transportation aspects of the bicycle plan, not on the thrills of jouncing down a narrow dirt trail, dodging (one hopes) hikers, runners and equestrians.

A September, 2008, memo by Jordann Turner, Bike Plan Project Manager, wondered “why and how the meetings in the past between cyclists/equestrians/etc. have been contentious.” Might it have been those accounts of clobbered hikers, frightened horses and thrown riders? To avoid this sort of testimony, DOT decided to use a consultant who has experience with this subject matter to conduct small mediated working-group meetings. Attendance at these meetings was by invitation only, with no notice to the public. The Los Angeles Bike Plan Stakeholder Advisory Group consists of nine invited participants – three hikers, three mountain bikers and three equestrians. Where are the runners? Where are the dog-walkers? Where are the homeowners associations’ representatives? They were not invited to the table.

It seems clear that the question is not whether mountain bikes should be permitted in City parks but which parks should allow them and how should access be designed. Two Sierra Club members represented hikers’ interests at the first meeting. Neither was an official representative of the Angeles Chapter. After the show, the distinction between being a Sierra Club member and a designated Sierra Club spokesperson was explained to the facilitators. supposedly neutral consultants with ties to to the Osprey Group of Boulder, Colorado, whose website documents its experience securing trail access for mountain biking.)

Webmaster’s note: Michelle Mowery, Bicycle Coordinator for the LA City Dept of Transportation (LADOT) testified recently that “The Needs Assessment … identified bicycling and walking trails as the number one need. … It identifies equestrian use as last on that list. So it’s clear that there is a need and a desire for bicycle facilities within the parks.”

For more on this issue, including video clips of outrageous claims during testimony, visit our LA City Parks web page.

Club policy on mountain bikes opposes their use in officially designated wilderness areas unless determined to be appropriate by analysis, review and implementation. The Park City Agreement (1994) between the Sierra Club and the International Mountain Bicycling Association called for site-specific analyses and stated that not all non-wilderness trails should be opened to bicycle use. Of concern are the effects of off-road biking on soil erosion, the impacts on plants and animals, and the displacement of other trail users. When considering the introduction of off-pavement bikes to a park, Sierra Club guidelines mandate consideration of these issues: whether the safety and enjoyment of all users can be protected, and whether there has been a public review and comment procedure for all interested parties. In this case, the response is no.

A late 2008 DRAP Citywide Parks Needs Assessment demonstrated virtually no demand for mountain biking [Webmaster’s note: See the inset at right to evaluate the accuracy of this claim]; yet, a small advocacy group seems to be trying to sneak its agenda past an unsuspecting public. Most of us have not been invited to join the discussion, but we can make our voices heard. Send letters and e-mails to LADOT, to DRAP and to your city councilmember.

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