After a summer out of view, Portland’s Off-Road Cycling Master Plan (ORCMP) is stepping back into the sometimes harsh spotlight of political discourse: The next PAC (Project Advisory Committee) meeting — scheduled for Thursday, October 5th at 4pm, 1900 SW 4th Avenue, 7th floor — is set to discuss an updated set of draft recommendations for Forest Park. Public participation is encouraged. The October 5th meeting is planned to be the penultimate; the final PAC meeting is planned for November 9th.
There’s good progress to take note of, especially the addition of a recommendation to “Develop a comprehensive trail plan that addresses pedestrian, cyclist, equestrian, emergency responder, and maintenance access needs; trail maintenance and restoration, trailhead access and facilities; and identifies desired future improvements.” This is a powerful (and requested) recommendation, demanding supporting detail: How will the full intent and scope of this recommendation be understood by those charged with implementation? What are the criteria by which successful completion (of a comprehensive trail plan) is measured? Assuring that this recommendation is fully fleshed-out enables the definition of a superior trail system in Forest Park, one beyond the handful of draft trail concepts (DTCs) currently in the ORCMP. As you’ll see below, this is crucial.
Another valuable new addition is “Concentrate pedestrian only routes near major trailheads/access points as pedestrians tend to prefer shorter routes.” This recommendation opens the door to opening or optimizing longer trails — beyond half the distance of an average hike — for off-road cycling.
To fully enable this, the above recommendation’s counterpart, “Do not convert the highest-use pedestrian-only trails to shared use,” needs rewording in a way that allows low-use segments of longer trails (e.g., segments beyond half the distance of an average hike from a trailhead) to be considered for shared use.
Yes, the above is a bit, as Andy Jansky would say, “wonky,” but it’s details like these that’ll make ORCMP have the positive outcome desired by all who’ve rallied around it.
The Draft Trail Concepts
Before diving in to the DTCs themselves, we’re going to skip over to process for a moment, to help answer the lingering question about why the Forest Park DTCs are even included in the ORCMP. There’s a clue provided under the section Implementation Process: “First, new projects must be conceptually approved by City Council in the Off-road Cycling Master Plan.” The DTCs are intended to accelerate implementation by facilitating Council approval. (We need to ask how, subsequent to ORCMP passage, are other cycling projects conceptually approved.)
Of the five DTCs initially proposed, only four remain, and a new DTC has been added. The DTC written around Tolinda Trail has been set aside. And based on pubic feedback, two of the original DTCs have been elevated to high priority: Concepts C and D.
Concept C replaces the .5 mile Firelane 4 (which is neither an emergency access route nor a lane’s width) with singletrack, designed with cycling in mind, spanning between Leif Erikson Drive and Saltzman Road.
Concept D is, roughly speaking, realigning (moving) and contouring (that is, no longer taking the shortest line down) Firelane 1, making it more suitable to cycling, and building a new trail, 2’ to 6’ wide and designed with cycling in mind, connecting with Firelane 1 at the new Nature Center and paralleling NW St. Helens Road (I’m estimating the new trail at 1.25 miles in length).
Concept E pairs with, and is conditional on the implementation of, Concept D. Concept E is a new trail south of NW 53rd Drive, 3’ to 6’ wide and designed with cycling in mind, connecting the tops of Holman Lane and Firelane 1 (again, I’m estimating new trail at 1.25 miles in length).
Concept B improves segments of Firelane 7A (a.k.a. Gas Line Road) and Oil Line Road below Wildwood Trail and above Leif Erikson (.2 miles and .13 miles in length, respectively); there’s no mention of singletrack and these segments are intended to enable emergency access.
Concept F, both new and less specific than the other DTCs, strives for cycling access to Forest Park from the St. Johns Bridge via a combination of new or re-engineered (Ridge) trail.
So, Where Does ORCMP Stand?
The recommendations are moving in a positive direction, but fall short of creating the degree of guidance (and confidence) desired.
And the DTCs? As is said, the devil’s in the details. And those (DTC) details are to be developed well after ORCMP passage. Collectively, Concepts D, E, and F perhaps double the amount of singletrack we currently have in the city. Concept C’s loop would likely be a great cyclocross and gravel grinder ride. Concept B, well, it reads as targeting non-cycling goals, sweetening that pot with cycling access.
Outside Forest Park, ORCMP is unquestionably a positive step forward. Within Forest Park, though, it’s not yet clear whether, as written, ORCMP works. Clearly, if the DTCs are implemented (ORCMP passage doesn’t assure this), the cycling status quo in Forest Park is advanced. But does accepting those DTCs ultimately wall off the creation of a superior cycling network that rises to the potential and stature of Forest Park?
That’s the elephant in the room.