October 17, 2000
Board of Directors
East Bay Regional Park District
2950 Peralta Oaks Court
P.O. Box 5381
Oakland, California 94605-0381
Re: Your Biased "Bike Issues Committee"
I just received a draft report called "Bike Issues Committee Report on Education and Compliance Issues". This report is not worth the paper it's written on! It is a transparent attempt by a number of mountain bikers to increase bike access to the East Bay Regional Park District's parks.
Yosemite National Park allows bicycles only on paved roads and paved trails. I think that that is an exactly the policy that EBRPD should follow. Mountain bikes, with their knobby tires and high speeds are ideally designed for creating and accelerating erosion, on any unpaved surface. I have send you many letters documenting the damage that mountain bikes do to wildlife, people, and the environment. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why you should consider increasing access for vehicles to our parks!
The report recommends allowing the public to help with trail maintenance. This is ill advised. It is engaged in mostly by mountain bikers, who use it as a not-too-subtle way of creating an "entitlement" to gain more access to the parks.
It recommends expanding the bike patrol and allowing it on trails closed to bikes! The presence of bikes (and bike tracks) on those trails gives people the impression that bikes are allowed there, increasing "poaching" (illegal riding).
It recommends allowing bikes on narrow hiking trails. Minimal impact recreation requires that these trails remain narrow -- too narrow for the safe coexistence of bikes and hikers. Look, for example, at the Bear Valley Trail in Briones Regional Park. It is too narrow for bikers to pass hikers or each other, without continually riding off the trail, widening and eroding it, and greatly increasing its maintenance costs, which are at present almost nonexistent. This is true for all hiking trails. Even roads, when not paved, sustain an enormous amount of damage from fast-moving bikes. Even those who favor mountain biking have admitted that mountain bikes greatly increase maintenance requirements and costs.
The report talks about "circulation" and "congestion", which are more appropriate for traffic engineering, than they are for recreation. The purpose of the trails is not transportation (getting from point A to point B in the most efficient manner), but recreation (enjoyment). Increasing sight distances and the like is irrelevant and actually harmful for recreational trails.
The presence of mountain bikes on trails requires enforcement officers to also use vehicles on trails, further damaging them and destroying the experience of nature that most of us go to the parks to get! If I wanted to see people riding around on vehicles, I would stay in the city! The Park District is already experiencing financial problems; why increase the need for money in the management of the parks?
Creating access for bikes on a trail-by-trail or day-by-day basis makes enforcement and management very difficult. Other park users will never know for sure when a biker is obeying the law or not, and thus would be able to help keep them within the law. The simpler the rule, the better, and "bikes only on pavement" makes the most sense, from all perspectives. The parks do not exist for maintaining the sport of mountain biking. They exist to give wildlife a place to live, and people a place to experience those wildlife (animals and plants) and their habitats in a natural condition.
The report recommends that the Park District get involved in educating bikers! This is nonsense! It is the bikers' responsibility to know the rules and obey them, just like the rest of us. I want my taxes to be spent on protecting the "resources" (i.e., wildlife), not on providing special amenities for hyper-aggressive special interest groups like the mountain bikers. Likewise, it is silly for the park to spend its resources "advertising" biking opportunities. Our scanty remaining wildlife are stressed enough as it is, without trying to increase the impacts of humans on their habitats. For example, don't forget that most of the parks provide Critical Habitat for the Alameda whipsnake, a federally Threatened species.
And don't forget that mountain bikers already have access to every square inch of our parks -- just like everyone else! They are no different from anyone else (e.g., they are not disabled!), and I see no reason to give them special privileges that the rest of us have managed to live without for thousands of years, with no ill effects … !
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
Foreman, Dave Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, New York: Harmony Books, c. 1991
Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, c.1995.
Liddle, Michael, Recreation Ecology. London: Chapman & Hall, c.1997.
Vandeman, Michael J., http://mjvande.nfshost.com, especially " The Effects of Mountain Biking on Wildlife and People -- Why Off-Road Bicycling Should be Prohibited " and "Rethinking the Impacts of Recreation".