In Forest Park, biking and hiking don't belong together
By the board of directors of the Medical Society of Metropolitan Portland
We would like to address the issue of single-track mountain biking on the hiking trails in Forest Park. Many legitimate concerns are raised by allowing bikes on trails designed for, and until now restricted to, hiking. Some of these issues include damage to trails, destruction of sensitive plants and their habitat, disturbing wildlife and changing the current wilderness atmosphere. Although the aforementioned issues may be deemed important, as a medical society we are most concerned with the health and safety issues.
Single-track mountain biking is often done on trails 3 to 4 feet wide. The current city ordinance pertaining to Forest Park allows cyclists to share a trail with hikers only if it is at least 8 feet wide. Due to the twisting trails and uneven terrain in the park, the sight lines are often short. It seems unreasonable to expect vigorous, exuberant riders to cautiously approach every blind corner or bump. What kind of fun would that be? Because bicycles and hikers are relatively quiet, one can envision many sudden, unexpected encounters, which would be particularly hazardous for young children and the elderly. A stark demonstration of this was the death of a woman hiker during the month of April in Renton, Wash., when she collided with a cyclist on a shared trail.
Collisions and major trauma are much more dramatic than healthy lifestyles and exercise. However, one of the routine activities we perform as a profession is to advocate for regular exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. A large number of people use the park for walking and jogging on the trails. Presently about 30 miles of trails are suitable for the combined use of cyclists and pedestrians. Part of the proposal now under consideration is to turn some of the most popular trails into shared use for single-track mountain biking. The international experience with "multi-use trails" to be shared by pedestrians, equestrians and cyclists has been that the horseback riders and hikers avoid the trails used by the bicycle riders. It's easy to imagine why. Even for the most nimble, it would hardly be relaxing to remain vigilant about what may be coming around the next bend. For the elderly or families with young children it would be especially dangerous. Allowing bicycles on the narrow hiking trails of Forest Park would discourage pedestrian use of these trails and would be counter to our efforts to encourage exercise.
There are not controlled studies or widespread case reports in the medical literature about accidents between cyclists and pedestrians. However, we should not assume the lack of studies implies safety, nor should we allow the absence of scientific certainty to stand in the way of exercising our common sense. We as physicians see the shared use of these narrow trails as hazardous to both pedestrians and cyclists. Because these dangers are inherently obvious, as has happened elsewhere, pedestrians would begin to avoid these shared trails, reducing their options for recreation and exercise. We ask that the current restrictions regarding cycling on the narrow trails in Forest Park remain as they were wisely written.
Society of Metropolitan Portland Board of Trustees
Glenn Rodriguez, MD, president
John Evans, MD
Marianne Parshley, MD
Robert Hayes, MD
Michael Dorsen, MD
Bradley Bryan, MD
R. Bryan Bell, MD
Sharon Meieran, MD
Brenda Kehoe, MD
A.G. Lindstrand, public member
Cody Evans, MD, resident trustee
Evan Los, medical student