The Coastal Post - May 1999

Bicycle Beating

By Terri Alvillar

The Marin County Board of Supervisors just approved a request by the County Public Works Department to spend this year's allocation of Transportation Development Act (TDA), Article 3 (bicycle/pedestrian projects) funds ($182,000) on a Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan. This is an excellent opportunity for Marin which, despite its wealth, is behind the times regarding bicycle transit planning and implementation. A word of caution, however, is in order.

Three Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) officers, the darlings of Supervisors Kinsey and Kress, made a presentation to the Fairfax Town Council on Tuesday, April 6th, asking the Town to create a Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) to support the County's plan. These three demonstrated an obvious deficiency in their knowledge of BACs and of their ABCs: Accommodations for Bicycle Commuters.

In her proposal to the Council, MCBC officer Debbie Hubsmith stated: If the Council so desires, a Fairfax BAC could help with off-road as well as on-road solutions. According to the State of California, the purpose of a BAC is not to resolve off-road recreational trail issues but is to assist the Town in identifying opportunities for improving bicycle and pedestrian facilities which are commute-related. A requirement of TDA funding for comprehensive bicycle/pedestrian plans is that: "Emphasis should be for accommodation of bicycle commuters rather than recreational bicycle uses."

As local jurisdictions decide whether or not to form BACs based on the advice of MCBC officers and members, it is important to remember that the MCBC's 1998 Bicycle Route Map's publication was facilitated through the use of TDA funding. This represents a conflict of interest. In March 1999, the MCBC asked the Board of Supervisors to be the TDA-paid consultant to create the Countywide Bicycle Master Plan but they are already on public advisory committees which will help decide who gets the contract-another conflict of interest.

Debbie Hubsmith told Fairfax Councilmembers that BAC members are "made up of local residents...who are selected through an open process." This comment rang hollow since Hubsmith is not a resident Fairfax and was just appointed to a County-level Bicycle Advisory Committee with no advertisement to the general public whatsoever (as were three other MCBC officers).

As the MCBC attempts to install its own officers and members in Bicycle Advisory Committees (BACs) all over Marin, it is important to analyze their past transportation recommendations. If you think the MCBC knows its ABCs, look at their 1998 bicycle route map. The map advertises what it calls "Secondary Routes." In Fairfax some of these are: Toyon, Oak, Laurel, Cascade and Porteous. In Mill Valley: Summit, Tamalpais, Vista Linda and West Blithedale. In Kentfield; Goodhill, Crown and Evergreen. These are not routes, they are local streets. Local streets are designed to discourage through traffic. MCBC president Chris Lang calls these "Secondary Routes" the "key" feature of the map because "they take you from the towns to the dirt."

Publishing these local streets as through routes has added to parking and traffic congestion in neighborhoods. Residents of narrow, winding streets are finding their parking spaces taken by recreational off-road cyclists trying to get closer to the dirt. Even residents of illegal second units can't find a place to park. As these hilly roads become more congested, maneuvering of fire protection equipment becomes more difficult and, consequently, residents' safety and personal property is jeopardized.

What the map does show, without doubt, is that the MCBC is primarily an off-road recreational cycling organization which can not be viewed as an environmentally friendly unit to advise on spending transportation tax dollars. The April 6th Fairfax Town Council meeting confirmed this fact.

There, the MCBC tried to portray itself as a transportation expert. Its president, Chris Lang, made a vigorous attempt to distance himself from mountain biking. While Lang was trying to convince the Council of this, he forgot to remove the satchel hanging from his shoulder which said "Free Mt. Tam," a slogan meaning that all footpaths on Mt. Tamalpais should be opened to mountain bikers. Lang, himself, is a mountain bike race promoter. It was difficult to find the MCBC's argument plausible when two-thirds of their packet was about mountain biking. One of their three presenters was another out-of-towner, Jim Jacobsen, president of the Bicycle Trails Council of Marin (BTC). As one might expect, Marin's chief single-track trail builder had nothing to contribute regarding bicycle transportation.

Three months before this Council meeting, the MCBC was asked by the Town of Fairfax to "present it with solutions and recommendations regarding conflicts on single-track trails." (This request was prompted by well over a hundred resident complaints about bikes on footpaths, presented during several Town Council meetings during the past year.) After 90 days to ponder the question, what positive answers were provided to the Council? President Lang's response was to open more single-track trails to mountain bikers. He also recommended legalizing illegally built single-track trails and opening all footpaths to mountain bikes. He refused to acknowledge that conflict existed and offered no solution to the Town. Hubsmith offered no solution either and, as usual, Jacobsen said that trail conflict was only a "perception." The MCBC's presentation was proof that the mountain biking industry is their first priority and the interests of Fairfax residents are of no consequence.

Included in their packet to the Town Council was a letter from MCBC president, Chris Lang to Marin County Open Space District (MCOSD) consultant, Leonard Charles, whose firm is currently doing a land management study of the White's Hill/Cascade Canyon area in and west of Fairfax. One of Lang's requests to Mr. Charles was to legalize a privately-owned footpath for bicycle use. "Do whatever it takes to keep this main corridor open and free of harassment by newcomer residents," Lang said.

This footpath is on property which was purchased by three families to prevent the land from being developed. One of these families has resided there for 30 years and objects to several hundred mountain bikers crossing the property every week, trespassing and destroying the footpaths. Harassment by a newcomer, indeed! Contrary to bikers' claims, this footpath only recently has been used for vehicle travel (except for rare instances).

MCBC officer Jim Jacobsen's letter to the Council announced that another privately-owned trail will be in the County's Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan (according to Rick Polito's recent Marin Independent Journal article, the County's plan will not address off-road cycling). He mentioned the use of this trail has sparked controversy with the MCOSD. "The Town shouldn't acquiesce to the vocal demands of a few people..." he said. Since when have landowners lost their right to object to trespassing, vandalism, personal threats and physical attacks while standing on their own property?

The April 6, 1999's Fairfax Town Council meeting was a perfect example of why mountain biking and road biking goals must be separated when considering local BACs and that a "coalition" can not necessarily be viewed as an environmentally friendly or a resident-friendly unit:

  1. ABCs - Accommodations for Bicycle Commute emphasis is mandated by the State of California.
  2. Recreational off-road cycling subverts the ecological priorities of and reasons for bicycle transportation funding.
  3. Recreational off-road cycling creates traffic and parking congestion rather than alleviating it.
  4. Melding opposing bicycle factions diverts important public support for and impetus to bicycle/pedestrian projects.

How will the $182,000 of TDA money be spent? That will depend on the extent of local control. Fairfax decided to use its existing Public Advisory Committee which is participating in the Town's General Plan update. Bicycle and pedestrian issues and planning will be addressed in the Circulation Element update. These TDA funds represent federal and state gas taxes, local sales tax, bridge tolls, etc., collected for transportation projects. Local jurisdictions can ensure this money will be used to enhance our intermodal transportation system, make safer bicycle routes and safer pedestrian facilities, by closely monitoring the development of the Countywide Bicycle Master Plan at their level and by excluding special interest groups and lobbies from their local advisory committees.

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