Excluded Bike Riders Volunteered Thousands of Hours

mclaren park sign 2015Tom Borden, a bike rider who has been active with various recreational bicycle organizations in San Francisco contacted us some weeks ago. A rash of new restrictive signage has gone up all over the parks of San Francisco, particularly Natural Areas – and they all say, among a host of other restrictions, No Bicycles. (We wrote about those restrictions here: Restricting Access to San Francisco’s Parks.)

The bike riders feel particularly betrayed as they have provided a great deal of volunteer labor in building and maintaining trails. They were also encouraged to shift usage from Golden Gate Park to McLaren Park – which also now has the same signs and prohibitions.

Speaking before the SF Recreation & Parks Commission, Borden asked for the issue to be resolved in a transparent public process. Here is his speech and his letter. (We have made minor style edits and added emphasis.)

BICYCLE RIDER’S SPEECH AND LETTER

I would like to speak in the context of my favorite park, JohnMcLaren. The same issues concern other people and other parks city wide. The Natural Areas Program has posted signs prohibiting people from bringing bicycles into half of McLaren Park.

  • They did this with no public input, no public discussion, no warning.
  • They did this after inviting cyclists to volunteer thousands of hours to help them build multiuse trails on the lands they are now closing to those same volunteers.
  • They did this in spite of the fact the surrounding communities have the highest concentration of children in the City who need expanded recreational opportunities, not less usable parkland.
  • They did this without approval of the Environmental Impact Report for their management plan. The most recent draft of the EIR states the best thing for the environment would be a scaled back NAP under which recreational use of park land would be maintained or expanded.
  • In support of the new NAP restriction, RPD has issued a statement there are “long standing regulations” that “bikes are not allowed on earthen trails” in our parks. This is a false claim.”

[Here is the information from Tom Borden’s letter to the Commission. You can see the whole letter here as a PDF: Bicycle Riders Letter to SF Parks and Recreation Commission ]

THE SITUATION

mclaren park 2 sign 2015In February 2015 RPD began installing new signs in our parks. There are two types, one for regular park areas and one for areas managed by the Natural Areas Program (NAP). The NAP signs flatly state, “No Bicycles.” The NAP signs appear on both paved and earthen trails. The signs for regular park areas make no mention of bicycles. Needless to say, San Franciscans who cycle are extremely unhappy about the signs that now prohibit bike riding on large portions of Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson and McLaren Park.

Letters were sent to RPD and to the Recreation and Park Commission noting cyclists objections and asking for an explanation. A formal response was returned by Phil Ginsberg on March 3. See [below]  for the full email exchange. To paraphrase the RPD email:

  • mclaren park sign 3a 2015The signs on the Interior Greenbelt were installed by accident. Cycling is still allowed there.
  • Cycling is still allowed on the designated portion of the GGP Oak Woodlands trail.
  • In all other parklands, bikes are not allowed on earthen trails.
  • Cycling is not allowed on certain NAP controlled lands.“The signs posted in McLaren Park are correct and are consistent with long-standing regulations. Many of the trails in McLaren are too narrow, run through sensitive natural habitat and are not constructed to support mountain biking.”
  • RPD will continue to partner with cyclists on the McLaren Bike Park project and invites cyclists to work with RPD to explore the possibility of implementing mountain bike trails in some parks.

I would like to address these statements.

Oak Woodlands trail

Many cyclists worked with the NAP on the project to restore the trail. Much of the multi-use portion is composed of very loose sand. We were told by NAP that they were going to add a compound to the sand to consolidate it into firm surface. However, they have declined to follow through on this. The trail is difficult to walk on and almost impossible to ride on. For all practical purposes, it is closed to cycling.

In all other parklands, bikes are not allowed on earthen trails.

What!!! This is a dramatic change in policy. I’ve been riding on dirt trails in the parks since 1976. My three children learned to ride their bikes on trails in Golden Gate Park. I’ve spent countless hours with family and friends riding around town and through one park or another. Now, just like that, it’s over?

What about the ongoing RPD children’s mountain biking program? (It always makes me smile when I meet a group of kids with their instructors on the trails in McLaren.) Why would you buy bikes and hire instructors to take kids on dirt trails if it is against your own regulations?

Multiple people have searched the SF Park Code. There are no rules forbidding cyclists from riding on dirt trails in any of our parks. I would challenge SFRPD to produce these ”long-standing regulations” nobody can find. See Appendix B for a list of all bicycle regulations that do appear in the Park Code. Bicycles are only prohibited from park areas if signs are posted to that effect. Legally, cyclists should obey those signs based on Park Code Section 3.02. See Appendix C for a list of the codes cited in the “fine print” at the bottom of the signs.

[Appendices can be found here as a PDF: appendices – Borden letter to Parks Commission ]

Cycling is not allowed on certain NAP controlled lands.

Putting aside the issue of dirt trails for a moment, why is cycling on asphalt paths forbidden on NAP lands?

Many of the trails in McLaren are too narrow

I ride all of the tails in the park (excluding the motorcycle hill climbs) and none of them are too narrow. In fact, most riders find narrow trails to be more fun and challenging. On narrow trails cycling speeds are lower, making it easier for cyclists and other trail users to avoid conflict. When we encounter other users, we just pull off to the side and let them pass.

Many of the trails in McLaren are not constructed to support mountain biking.

I have been riding in the park since the early 1980’s. Many of the same trails are still in place and look about the same now as they did then. The narrow social trails, some of which have been annexed into the official trail system, have been handling bike traffic for decades without problems. Some of the newer trails built under the Urban Trails program have problem areas, but not exclusively due to bicycle traffic. In any case, trail wear issues could be easily be addressed by allowing cyclists to play a stewardship role in the park.

Many of the trails in McLaren run through sensitive natural habitat

I would not argue that some trails run through sensitive natural habitat. Why is it ok to walk on those trails, but not to ride a bike?

Summary of Current Regulations

Based on the RPD signage and the Park Code, but ignoring unfounded assertions, cycling is permitted on paved and earthen trails in all of our parks unless signs are posted prohibiting it. Due to the NAP signage, bicycles may not be ridden on earthen or paved trails in signed NAP lands, and in fact, not even carried into these areas.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH NAP’S DECISION

There are a lot of things wrong with NAP’s decision to post these new signs to prevent people from riding bicycles in large portions of our parks. These are enumerated below.

  • Lack of Advance Notice and Community Input. This cycling ban was implemented with no public notice, no outreach by RPD, no public discussion. The signs were just suddenly there. How can a decision that affects so many park users be made behind closed doors?
  • RPD Commitments and Representations. Over the past 5 years, NAP invited cyclists to volunteer thousands of hours to build trails in Golden Gate Park Oak Woodlands, Interior Greenbelt and McLaren Park. All of this was with the understanding the trails being built were multi-use. Now it’s clear the Natural Areas Program used cyclists to get its trail work done and is now prohibiting those same people from using the trails. There are a lot of colorful adjectives to describe this. Let’s just say it’s wrong.
  • Drastic Unexpected Policy Change. On September 25, 2012 SF Urban Riders met with Phil Ginsberg, Denny Kern, Eric Anderson, Jim Wheeler, Dana Ketcham and Alex Randolph to discuss off-road cycling in the parks. We were asked to help steer cyclists away from Golden Gate Park and toward McLaren Park where trail conditions are sustainable and bicycles would be welcome. How does the policy change so drastically with no public process?
  • The will of the people. In 2004 RPD surveyed the public and compiled the 2004 Recreation Assessment Report. The greatest need identified by the public was for increased “walking and biking trails”. The surveyors did not ask about walking and biking separately so we cannot tell what percentage specifically wanted bike trails.

What San Francisco Wants in Its Parks

  • In 2010 SFRPD ran a needs assessment for McLaren Park. This involved a series of three meetings and two online surveys. The bike park and bicycle trails were the two most desired improvements to the park. Below is the raw statistical data presented as a pie chart. Why is SFPRD doing exactly the opposite of what people asked for?

Mclaren Needs Assessment

Cycling as Transportation

The impact of this NAP bicycle ban goes beyond preventing kids from biking in our parks. It also prevents people from cycling to our parks. What are you supposed to do with your bike after you ride to the perimeter of the park? Even if there were bike racks, you would lose your bike, or major portions of it, after leaving it on the edge of the park a few times. Before the ban, you would’ve just ridden in, found a nice spot and had your picnic with your bike nearby.

The ban also represents a denial of transportation cycling routes. Trails through NAP land are also practical bicycle transportation routes. For example, there is a fire road that runs above the golf course fence in McLaren Park. It goes all the way across the park east/west from Persia to Visitacion Avenue at Visitacion Valley Middle School. This is the nicest and safest bicycle route between the Excelsior and Visitacion Valley. The “No Bicycles” signs welcome you at either end.

This measure deals a significant blow to our city’s Transit First policies like Green Connections and runs counter to the philosophies put forth in the ROSE.

SNRAMP EIR

The entire plan [Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan – SNRAMP] for the NAP is currently under environmental review. Normally, projects do not proceed until the [Environmental Impact Report] or EIR is finalized and impacts are satisfactorily addressed. The NAP has been given leeway to operate in a maintenance mode pending completion of the EIR process. This action to bar cyclists from areas controlled by NAP goes far beyond maintenance. It is a new aggressive step to restrict public access to our parks. How can this be allowed?

Further, the intent of NAP to prevent people from riding bicycles on trails in natural areas was never discussed in the SNRAMP. See Appendix D for a review of all mentions of bicycles in the SNRAMP. This policy clearly reduces neighborhood connectivity, reduces access to recreation that promotes public health and discourages the use of bicycles for transportation. These impacts are just the sort the EIR process should be weighing.

If NAP intended this policy, it should have been explicitly stated in the SNRAMP and it should have been evaluated in the EIR process. The EIR needs to be redrafted to include this.

Why? RPD has not articulated why bicycles need to be excluded from NAP lands. How is the impact of a cyclist passing by on a trail any different from that of a pedestrian? If both stay on the trail, how is the adjacent natural area affected? The idea that bikes are inherently destructive is decades old dogma put forward by one entrenched user group that does not want to share our natural areas.

Just like pedestrians, irresponsible and uninformed cyclists can damage trails and the surrounding terrain by short cutting corners and switchbacks, using trails that are unsustainable, or bushwhacking across terrain with no trails. The best way to deal with these people is to bring them into the fold, not to create unreasonable rules that fuel an outlaw culture.

CONCLUSION

The NAP signage is ill conceived, unwarranted and oversteps the EIR process. The “No Bicycles” text should be removed from the signs. The statement that bikes are not allowed on earthen trails should be retracted. It is not backed up by regulations.

Trail cycling is a growing form of healthy recreation, enjoyed by people from all walks of life. As suggested by Phil Ginsberg, cyclists should work together with RPD to ensure the trail systems in our parks are sustainable and welcoming to all user groups. This might lead to a mix of multiuse, pedestrian and bike specific trails. Cyclists have already demonstrated they are a responsible user group, eager to steward the resources of our parks. I hope you will allow them to continue this.

If SFRPD still wishes to carry on with these new anti-cycling policies, it should be done through a transparent public process that insures the policies align with what San Franciscans actually want.

Respectfully,

Tom Borden

CORRESPONDENCE WITH GINSBURG

Tom’s letter to San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s General Manager Phil Ginsburg is reproduced here, with permission, as is Mr Ginsburg’s response (which is public information). Tom also made a presentation to the Parks and Recreation Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC), which is linked here: Bike ban

TOM BORDEN’S LETTER, 3/3/15

(Email from Tom Borden to Phil Ginsburg)

SFRPD has recently installed signs banning bicycles from areas of our parks managed by the Natural Areas Program. I take issue with this and would like to second the recent email from Dan Schneider of SF Urban Riders requesting that a discussion of this be added to the agenda for the next Recreation and Park Commission meeting. Please see the attached document that lays out the issues surrounding the ban. To get the ball rolling, concerned cyclists will be attending the Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee meeting tonight. Thank you, Tom Borden

GINSBURG’S REPLY, 3/3/2015

(Email from Phil Ginsburg to Tom Borden)

Dear Tom,

I spoke with Dan Schneider earlier today, but am also reaching out to you and others copied on your email. We recognize your concerns and take all public input about our parks quite seriously. The Recreation and Park Department manages over 4,000 acres of land and over 30 miles of urban trails. Our goal is to provide opportunities for safe, fun spaces that welcome all types of uses including mountain biking. Currently mountain biking is allowed on earthen trails in the Interior Greenbelt and in portions of the Oak Woodlands in Golden Gate Park. In all other parklands, bikes are not allowed on earthen trails.

Recently, newly designed parks signs went up in a variety of park locations and admittedly have created some confusion. Incorrect signs were posted in the Interior Greenbelt; mountain biking is permitted on the Interior Greenbelt trails. We are in the process of fixing those and expect to have that work completed in the next two weeks.

The signs posted in McLaren Park are correct and are consistent with long-standing regulations. Many of the trails in McLaren are too narrow, run through sensitive natural habitat and are not constructed to support mountain biking. However, as we have discussed, the department is working to expand opportunities for mountain biking in McLaren. First, as you know, we are partnering with the San Francisco Urban Riders to build a bike park in McLaren. Second, the Department would like to work with SFUR and other interested mountain bikers by engaging in a park-wide circulation study that will help us identify opportunities and constraints for expanding mountain biking trails in McLaren and, perhaps, elsewhere. We recognize that mountain biking is a healthy recreational opportunity and pledge to continue to work with SFUR to expand opportunities for mountain biking throughout the city.

Best,

Philip A. Ginsburg

General Manager, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

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3 Responses to Excluded Bike Riders Volunteered Thousands of Hours

  1. milliontrees says:

    San Francisco’s Rec & Park Dept brings new meaning to the phrase, “arbitrary and capricious” to describe actions taken by government that earn it universal condemnation and mistrust.

    In November 2013, the Rec & Park Commission passed the “Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights.” (Available here: http://sfrecpark.org/wp-content/uploads/Item-7-San-Francisco-Children-and-Nature-Forums-San-Francisco-Childrens-Outdoor-Bill-of-Rights-Resolution-112113.pdf ) In that resolution the Commission made a commitment to: “…every child has the right to: Harvest and eat a fruit or vegetable; Play in the sand & mud; Sleep under the stars; Climb a tree; and Ride a bike.”

    Now signs are posted in all the major parks that prohibit these and other activities, including walking off the trail. What are urban parks for if not for children to play in? If the parks are useless to San Francisco families, why would families live in San Francisco? Why would San Franciscans vote for another bond measure to waste money in parks they cannot use?

    Thank you for bringing this latest outrage to the public’s attention.

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