Park advocates set up last-minute road block against mountain bikers

Debs Park trail. Photo by Martha Benedict

Bike riders this week hailed the City Council’s approval of a bicycle master plan, which calls for the construction of about 1,700 miles of bikeways citywide. But the master plan was changed at the last minute to help keep a portion of the city bike-free: trails in city parks.  Mountain bike groups seeking to open up off-road trails in major city parks – such as Debs, Elysian, and Griffith –  had lobbied to include language in the master plan to encourage further study of more off-road biking in city parks. That language remained but park and equestrian advocates  managed to have the plan amended at the last minute to make sure any proposed new off-road trails are “thoroughly reviewed and analyzed” by the city’s Recreation and Parks Department.

Some mountain bike activists said that amendment, introduced by councilmen Tom Labonge and Ed Reyes, is no big deal. But park and equestrian groups – who say allowing bikes on off-road trails is dangerous – said the new language will keep the bikes at bay.

The last minute lobbying and amendment making is the most recent skirmish in a long-running battle between mountain bike riders,  who want to ride the trails of close-in urban parks, and many park users, hikers and equestrians.  In 2000, bike riders lost a bid to ride the trails of Elysian Park as part of a pilot project.

Christine Peters, a member of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park, spoke in favor of the bike plan amendment before the City Council on Tuesday. She and others opposed to off-road biking are counting on the Recreation and Parks Department to keep mountain bikers from gaining more access:

“This amendment essentially says, ‘no bikes on trails unless that trail was built specifically for mountain bikes.’  Currently only Mandeville Canyon Park is in that category.  Any new proposals or access would need to go through [Recreation and Parks] first, which has  expressed more than once that this issue has been adequately studied and found to not be feasible. Park trails are well used by multiple user groups and introducing an aggressive high impact sport to multi-use trails would drive out other users and degrade the limited trail systems.”

Martha Benedict*, chair of the Debs Park Advisory Board, said hiking, equestrian and park groups had waged a long and often contentious campaign over off-road trails mentioned in the bike master plan.  The groups were surprised when one of the last versions of the master plan included language off-trail biking, said Benedict, who wrote a letter on behalf of the amendment.

“They [mountain bikers] have facilities all over Southern California that are dedicated to their use,” Benedict said. “But they want more, not caring that they would displace the longtime City park users.”

* Martha Benedict is a frequent contributor of photos to The Eastsider


  1. Permitting mountain bikers (biking) access to our well-used hiking trails is like allowing downhill skiiers to speed through parkland on which children are building snowmen.
    Come on, people! Mountain bikers are reckless and having them on trails where families and individuals of all ages and response times walk is really dangerous.

  2. Mountain bikers (both on and off their bikes) are no more reckless or invasive than horses, joggers, or unleashed dogs on the trails.

    Sorry equestrian advocates, but you suck! Share the trails.

  3. More of the same old, “I won’t share with the other children. Let me gin up some safety excuse to make sure I maintain near exclusive possession of public space.”

  4. As one mountain bike enthusiast who is so very much NOT the reckless trail user that Barbara wants everyone to believe we all are, I’ve learned there’s no winning against nor reasoning with those who’ll so eagerly disparage me and remain so rigidly and righteously adamant against the activity.

    While their redundant fear tactics, lumpsum character assassinations, and politically supported entitlement have long lost me access to the trails of Griffith and Elysian parks that I loved biking on as a child, they’re the losers. So quick to deny one group access in strict favor of others, those without a hint of how wrong it is to so selfishly discriminate against me are no different than the ignorant motorists who try to bully me off the streets of my city insisting I have no right to ride there either.

    Imagine the uproar if I repeatedly called for trails to be closed specifically to foot traffic because of encounters I’ve had with the legion of less-than-exemplary hikers who litter, urinate, defecate, graffiti, allow their dogs to roam untethered and unpicked-up after, and destroy the flora and fauna in countless ways? I’d be vilified by all the double-standard bearers for so shamefully and disingenuously attempting to discriminate against one group for the benefit of another.

    I swear I think I would faint should I ever heard a hiker or equestrian or Sierra Club rep step forward and say let’s work together for an inclusionary solution, not the problem of exclusion. But to them the problem is the solution. And we all lose.

    So my main recourse is to go where Benedict wants me to and be damn happy they don’t fight to close those to. So I do go out there where the trails are shared and where the activities somehow manage to peacefully and cooperatively coexist and be an ambassador on a bike, setting an example of trail responsibility and consideration and cooperation that goes counter to the prevailing venom and vehement ignorance.

  5. Alexis Montague

    Wait, are these children building snowmen on downhill racing slopes? Or are these downhill skiers somehow speeding through peaceful, level parks? Do they have magic rocket skis? Are the children incredible hikers? What type of snowmen are they building? Are the snowmen blocking the path?

  6. “Sharing” should be symbiotic, or both parties have something to gain. In this case, walkers (who are presumably walking because they want to enjoy an hour or two out of their week in slow motion) have nothing to gain from sharing with mountain bikers. Mountain bikers, of course, have it all when they’re “sharing.” I learned that 15 years ago when I got sideswiped by one. There is no coexisting on the same trail. The two groups want different things.

  7. Through education, signage, and enforcement “multi use trails” are time tested and proven symbiotic systems. Symbiosis through exclusion Scott? That’s a dangerous argument to propose.

  8. It’s narrow fields of vision like Scott’s that especially dishearten me. An unfortunate encounter a decade and a half ago begrudgingly leaves him entirely confident in the belief that there’s absolutely “no coexisting on the same trail,” and entirely oblivious to proof of that coexistence occurring countless times on miles upon miles of bike-accessible trails in the mountains around greater Los Angeles.

    There’s far more cooperation and consideration out there among cyclists and hikers than sideswiping, but to admit or even simply consider that reality is unthinkable.

  9. Alexis Montague

    I think Scott’s a snowman.


    Mtn bikers are some of the best trail advocates around. How many hiking and horse back riding groups do you know maintain their own trail with no cost to the park system? IMBA is an amazing organization that helps build sustainable trail for ALL user groups to enjoy.

    It’s ironic that when mtn bikers build a trail, especially through IMBA, we allow ALL user groups to have access and join in. Yet when a hiking trail is asking to be dual use, the arms go up and everyone says no. We need more trails we can walk on.

  11. I hike quite a bit (three times a week) in the Verdugo Mountains, where mountain bikes are allowed, and most mountain-bikers I’ve encountered are responsible, but quite often they don’t give any warning that they’re coming up behind me, and I have to scramble to get out of the way.

    However, I think they have just as much of a right to be there as do I, but the city should probably post some rules for bikers and hikers to follow so that we can both enjoy the trails.

  12. Speeding Reckless Commenter

    Wow. This fracas on the part of the anti mountain bikers is unbelievable.
    Shutting out the cyclists is some kind of bizzare modern racism.
    You guys need a visit with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

    This past Saturday, I had to dismount my mountain bike on a narrow trail to allow two horses and riders to pass. We exchanged pleasantries and everyone went on their way.
    No harm. No foul.
    That’s how we do it here.
    I don’t mind that sometimes the horses rut up the trails. I don’t mind that sometimes the runners pass me on the uphills. We all work on trail maintenance.

  13. Recreational elements do not belong in a Transportation document. Accountability should never be confused in this manner. And use of trails in City parks belongs by their very core mission to the Dept of Recreation and Parks, and not the Dept of Transportation, period.

    I, a tax paying citizen of Los Angeles, am being persecuted by having my rights to fair, transparent, and efficient City government tromped all over by a special interest group on mountain bikes seeking to pervert proper governance for their special interest purpose.

    I, a person reliant on riding a bicycle on City streets to reach work and earn money, am being persecuted by having a special interest group on mountain bikes attempt to derail the Transportation plan for safe streets for bicycles for their Recreational purpose. You stood in the way of my safety through your selfish lobbying for years. YEARS.

    Where does this special interest group, crying persecution, get off thinking they have this right to do this?

  14. Mountain bikers are being treated the same way skateboarders have been treated for 46 years. They are being treated like second class citizens in the name of public safety.

  15. Sorry, but I have to agree with the “intolerant” ones: mountain bikes on park paths can be a real problem. Sometimes, up in the Angeles Forest, hikers and bikes mix and it’s fine; but there are plenty of times when bikes going fast downhill nearly hit people. No, all mountain bikers are not the same, but I agree that it is an “aggressive high impact sport” that tends to degrade trails and can endanger other users.

  16. Despite Lisa’s opening apology, I can’t help dismissing her unblinking pledge allegiance to prejudice because of vague and subjective references as to how and where cyclists and hikers “mix.”

    But at the risk of demonstrating an open mind and consideration of opposing viewpoints, I can understand and appreciate — and even to a point agree with — the demand “Citizen” makes that the issue of mountain bikes is a recreational issue more than a transportational one. But in laying full blame for the delays and potential derailment of the plan at the feet of mountain cyclists, “Citizen” entirely absolves those truly responsible: the opposing factions who sought to pervert governance by attempting to narrow the document down from a Bicycle Master Plan to a “Road Bicycle Master Plan” in selfish protection of their recreational interests.

    Despite all that tactical lobbying the City Council rejected the entitlement-fueled calls for exclusion (while redundantly reinforcing the Parks & Recreation Departments preexisting authority) and approved what it should have and what the mayor signed: an inclusive, city-wide, inter-departmental “Bicycle Master Plan.”

    It’s always sadly ironic when a professed bike commuter cries foul at fellow cyclists fighting to be included. “Citizen” sees mountain bike enthusiasts as nothing more than a “special interest group crying persecution,” and wonders where they “get off thinking they have a right to do this.” I see those against mountain biking the very same way and wonder the very same thing.

  17. How sad that is for the loudest mouth here to claim to speak for some self-imagined divine brotherhood of all bike riders. Speaking of sense of entitlement! Good lord – Campbell sounds so delusional it’s scary. like a cult leader or something. Frightening. Get a reality grip, man.

    The mouths here certainly don’t speak for me and all who ride. What nuts. Somehow the Bike Plan got passed in spite of the selfish selfish actions of these entitlement addicts. UGH

  18. I appreciate the insults and the attack, “Citizen.” It’s a familiar refrain whose offensiveness validates my position more than anything I can say in defense of it.

  19. IMBA and other organizations need to continue to work hard to help educate the non-cycling public about the true impact of mtn biking on trails. There are have numerous studies that have shown that overall, mtn biking has the LEAST environmental impact to the land than all the normal uses, ie hiking, running, horseback riding. Mtn bike trails tend to be narrower than hiking trails and we don’t “cut corners” as much as hikers to since we are generally out to ride a complete trail for recreation, fitness and stress relief, we are not looking for the quickest route from point A to point B.

    We work with groups like IMBA to educate our local riders and trail builders and help them build SUSTAINABLE trails for cycling and hiking. These are trails that are not build on fall line and will hold up to decade of use from many user groups and will require little maintenance. When maintenance is required, we schedule volunteer labor to do reroutes, or deberming.

    Unfortunately through the media and some bad apples, mtn bikers have a bad reputation for being “extreme, aggressive and irresponsible”. We need to continue to work on this.

    Other non-cyclists need to keep in mind that mtn biking is a broad term for a large sport that has many niche groups. There is the weekend warrior rider who goes out and rides a trail at a moderate pace, 10-20 mph, then there is the other extreme such as downhill mountain biking. Downhill enthusiasts are not the guys at your local city park, they will go to the ski resorts that open in the summer and other trails with steeper slopes. You cannot judge the entire sport by the Red Bull Challenge events you see on TV.

    Just like there are many types of horseback riding and not every rider competes in the jumping aspect, there are many types of mountain biking. Please try to educate yourself before blindly thinking the entire user group is bad.

  20. Will (me me me me me) Cambell I thought your weren’t going to rant on these local comment sections anymore? Well no surprise after reading your latest lunatic defense of your indefensible position that you have little self control which does not help your sides augment in the least. Bikes that can reach speeds of 40+mph on trails shared with equestrians and hikers and kids and dogs (leash ’em please!) is a dangerous and reckless public policy. Bikes can and will kill and or maim. Its just a matter of time. Of course thats just collateral damage. I’ve been hit by bikes I’ve known others including one pushing a stroller that were hit in Elysian Park. Its doesn’t matter if there are unsafe and safe riders b/c all it takes is that one nutcase to really hurt someone. Horses and people have been coexisting for millennia and have been coexisting in our parks since the fist parks were formed. We’ve been down this road before and the facts show that the commercial mountain bike lobby (its real and from Colorado) has been the primary force behind this issue rearing its ugly head every couple of years. This is not about wear and tear but about public safety in our parks. Oh and Will don’t forget to link to your video of you leisurely riding through the Verdugos to soft music its very convincing propaganda. Verdugo mountain await all the mountain bikers.

  21. I appreciate the insults and the attack, “Nigel.” It’s a familiar refrain whose offensiveness validates my position more than anything I can say in defense of it.

  22. who wants to ride these wide, turd filled, no-challenge, congested trails anyway? venture out to the real mtb trails.

  23. Why not have a section for the bikers to do whatever they want? Then the rest of the parks can be nice and peaceful. I don’t want to get buzzed by some understandably thrill seeking bike rider when i’m hiking (it’s silly to deny that that is what happens).

  24. I can totally concede to the fact that SOME trails are suitable or appropriate for hiking only; but this is opposition from equestrian lobbyists, not hikers. My point of contention is allowing horses on trails but not mountain bikes. This is some serious close minded, grand father clause legislation that is total crap. If you are going to play the safety card, lets rid Debs, Elysian, and Griffith parks of these beasts!

    For the record, there is great single track and fire roads for mountain biking in these parks. Parks that I don’t need to get into a car and burn gas to get to.

  25. Instead of concentrating on how victimized you are, try to cultivate some empathy, bike guys. With the ability to empathize you’ll see that, though hikers don’t bother you on your bike, you bother them. It’s not an equivalent situation. Hikers want to be away from moving mechanical devices on the trail. Hikers don’t mind plodding horses. They enjoy nature, not machines. Sharing trails with bikes means losing the pleasure of hiking. You live in a community where other people must be considered. Or you can move to Nevada, Idaho, Alaska or Arizona where you can be free free free to ignore other people’s needs in pursuit of your own. Incidentally, horses are not allowed in Debs Park, if that’s any consolation.

  26. I’m a hiker who’d feel safe encountering a horse on the trails, but not encountering a mountain bike. They have nearly knocked me down on several occasions; they speed by & don’t care.

  27. I’m sorry if Martha got the sense I as one of the “bike guys” felt victimized. That’s not what I meant to communicate at all. Instead, I am proud to be a representation of empathetic consideration and concern for my fellow trail users every moment I set treads to a trail — not in another state, but in the Angeles National Forest and the Santa Monicas and Verdugos where I’m thankfully able to enjoy nature via my “machine” and share with my fellow hikers and equestrian trails regulated by far more enlightened governing bodies who are not so quick or ready to exclude.

  28. Last word doesn’t “win”, Campbell. But hey – by all means keep trying to talk it to death. You’re good at that.

  29. I can readily see how my enthusiastic participation in this forum might be so shameful and mock-worthy to someone such as “Winning,” whose contributions to this discourse consist of insults.

  30. Aren’t there places, in the U.S., that have found a way to make this work?

    I own a bike shop next to Debs and Elysian Park, and plenty of dads take their kids on the trails as it is now. I know because in the summer they come to me with flat tires and tales of fun riding the dirt trails with each other.

    So, anti-MTB crowd, what has worked elsewhere? Because the ban in place now clearly does not keep the trails clear of mountain bikers, since enforcement is so lax.

  31. Josef makes a great point about mountain bikers who poach the trails of Griffith, Elysian and Debs parks. With an infuriating disregard and disrespect for the law, they exploit the limited enforcement resources for their own selfish benefit. I’ve little doubt many of them ride with the same lack of consideration for the trails and trail users that they demonstrate for the laws prohibiting them from being there. Thus they do double negative duty in reinforcing to hikers and equestrians all that is bad about the activity.

    The short-term fun they have at everyone’s expense is long-term shameful.

  32. Love reading the comments, suggestions and attacks. Where is Rodney King when you need him? BTW, Campbell, you’re trying too hard to sound erudite; think occam’s razor.

  33. Mtn. bikers steadfastly refuse to ever acknowledge they pose a risk to any other user group despite hard facts to the contrary. . Over 20 years of education from IMBA has not made one bit of difference; in the actual injuries and problems. Because mountain bikes are VEHICLES, and subject to vehicle code laws, they are not allowed on city sidewalks with pedestrians…why then should they be allowed on narrower trails with less visibility? People and horses have been hit and killed by montain bikers, and the unbiased studies show mountain bikers do much more illegal trail building, jumps, habitat destruction and incurr thousand of $ to mitigate the damage, than any other trail user group. Not all public lands are suitable for all user groups. This is an INCOMPATABLE USE!! The 2006 L.A . bike plan clearly showed that the reports coming from the bike groups were biased..and that actual (not perceptive) accounts of injuries and problens existed. This is not an issue of the hikers and horseback riders being selfish or excusive, it is a SAFETY ISSUE!

    Mountain bikers are the smallest user group, but most aggressive in trail and habitat use and demands. Please go play in the Off Road vehicle areas, where you can go as fast as you want, scream downhill and destroy roads and trails and it is all allowed.

    Please leave the singletrack to the hikers and horseback riders who want some quiet to relax and observe nature.

  34. Greg L.
    please give a link to ONE unbiased study in this county that shows mountain biking has less impact than other users….(please, not a study funded by IMBA)
    The so called education you yap about is not needed for the OTHER users groups, it’s needed for the Mountain bikers, who have some unwritten code to NEVER admit their user group has hurt or killed anyone…. Sorry, this is the one user group that has caused the most damage to the environment, user conflicts and injuries out of any…and a user group only about 20 years old. Education has done nothing to slow down the mountain bikers or give them any empathy for other legit. trail users.

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