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