Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Four trails...

Recently, there has been talk about opening four single-track trails to bikes in Marin County. Yes, that's four as in 4 trails out of the hundreds in the county. You'd think that opening 4 trails would be fairly benign, but nope, it's got anti-bike folks all up in arms. I started writing the following several months ago and didn't follow up to finish it until just yesterday. I'm not an activist by any stretch of the imagination. This is probably because I'm not at any end of any spectrum. I feel that I am middle-of-the-road with regards to just about anything I do. So, without further adieu...

The conflict between bicyclists and equestrians and bicyclists and pedestrians is an odd one. All three groups enjoy being outside. All three are passionate about their activity of choice. All three spend considerable sums of money on their mode of locomotion and the bits and baubles that go along with each activity. And all three are members of the same community.

My choice of activity is a bicycle. I don’t like the term “mountain biker” or even “biker.” I am a bicyclist. Sometimes I do ride a mountain bike in the dirt. Sometimes I ride my road bike in the dirt. It’s an odd juxtaposition in that the mountain bike was arguably created on the flanks of Mount Tamalpais and yet it is outlawed on its trails.

I’ve read arguments about keeping bikes off single-track trails. They usually always point to potential conflict and potential damage to the trail. However, my personal experience is that I’ve never had a conflict with an equestrian or hiker and I’ve never pummeled a trail into fine dust or grooved one down so that it is a ten inch trough. What the studies do fail to mention, is that the other groups simply don’t want bicycles on the trails. They were there first and they want the trails to themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’d love to have something like a beautiful trail all to myself. I’d love to have the freeway all to myself when I drive into the city. I’d love to have a row of seats on a crowded airplane to myself when I fly. But those things just aren’t going to happen and I really don’t mind sharing the freeway when it becomes a parking lot or a row of seats with people on either side of me on a 14 hour flight (and I’ve taken over 70 crowded 14 hour flights). And I don’t mind sharing a trail with equestrians or hikers.

The types of conflict that may be experienced are largely self-created. Either the person not on the bike just dislikes bikes and the situation becomes confrontational when faced with a bike or the person on the bike wonders aloud why the person can’t see that they are coming and just get out of the way. In either case, education and respect is a great tool to eliminate conflicts. After all, we educate out children to be tolerant of people who are different than themselves. Why did the kids who learned tolerance forget those lessons and grow up to be intolerant of bikes?

Any time there are two sides, there will be conflict. Conflict is stressful. Why do folks create and stoke conflict in their lives. The bicycle vs. equestrian/hiker conflict is akin to the Proposition 8 yes/no conflict. One side simply doesn’t want to share what they are legally able to do with the other. That comparison is a stretch, but there are similarities. I don’t know what it is about folks that make them wake up every morning and hate something so passionately that they want to make it illegal.

Initially, almost a quarter century ago, bikes were banned from trails because of perceived environmental issues to the trail as a direct result of tires making contact with the trail. When that argument was shown the door, the next tool the anti-bike advocates use is safety, a very emotional tool. No one wants to be in an un-safe situation. Bicyclists threaten the safety of equestrians and hikers. That is a very loaded statement and one that the anti-bike folks use judiciously.

Playing to emotions is a powerful tool. A bicyclist riding and passing a hiker at reasonable speed can be an incredibly safe experience much like the fact that cars traveling in the opposite direction pass each other at combined speeds approaching 120 mph. Yet, we feel perfectly comfortable with a car hurtling toward us at a speed that would reduce both cars to rubble only to pass by less than a body length. That feeling of safety can happen on the trail with all users – folks on bicycles, folks on foot, and folks on horseback. How that happens is through education and mutual respect. I don’t have the answers as to how that education takes place or how it would be enforced (self-enforcement by user groups has been effective in some situations), but that’s how it happens – education and mutual respect.

(What's playing: John Doe Twin Brother)


Jim G said...

I always try to follow IMBA rules: bikes yield to horses and hikers, the descending bike yields to the climbing bike, pack out your trash, etc.

I once read that horses generally don't like the sound of a bike's freewheel (they think it's a rattlesnake), so whenever I meet up with a horse on the trail, I generally just pull over to the side and let 'em pass by. I try to say hello then too. Some horsey people won't even make eye contact -- which always seems weird to me. Others are friendly and appreciate the fact that I've moved off the trail. You find all types, just like in cycling, or any other activity.

Now if we could just get them to clean up after their pets...!

Oli Brooke-White said...

Well said...