The Coastal Post - June 1999

Bicycling The Balkans in Marin: Civil Wars on the Trails

By Stephen Simac

Bicyclists, pedestrians, equestrians and alternative transport users are natural allies against a motor vehicle dominated society, but in Marin they are fractured into Balkan fiefdoms.

Peak bicycling months are here, International Bicycle Day, Bike Day and Bike to Work Week have been celebrated around the country but in mellow Marin, the civil wars continue.

The mountain bike anarchists are accused of terrorist activities on the trails, seeking autonomy by fraudulent map making and illegal entrenching of new trails. On Mt. Tamsylvania, the hikers and horse people are accused of sabotaging trails with nails and wires, and generally being wrinkled, old grouches.

The road bikers are cursed by drivers of immense SUV's for hogging the road, slowing down traffic, and for fashion violations. The roads of west Marin and Highway One are narrow winding roads with heavy car, truck and RV traffic at high speeds. Even though the coastal highway is a state designated bike route, CalTrans has never bothered to improve it to a pleasant bicycling experience, much less a safe one.

Once bicyclists are in the parklands of West Marin, for the most part they must stick to those kamikaze roads. If they stray, the National Seashore militia practice mountain biker ethnic cleansing. The Serbian park ranger's brutish harassment of bicycle and other outlaws is local legend.

Off road cycling has it's hazards, but motor vehicles are more deadly. The National Park could easily be bombed by NATO, or at least sued for creating an attractive nuisance, and restricting bicyclists to the most dangerous terrain. Even the drivers who are injured or killed on the hazardous highways to and through the parklands might have a case, because the Park doesn't provide alternatives to motor vehicles while they build parking lots for cars.

The weekend traffic and parking problems from Stinson Beach to Pt. Reyes are always complained about by residents in the summer and prayed for in the winter, but the traffic and parking continue to worsen. The Park has never consented to help manage the traffic or provide bus services. For the cost of a couple of road slide repairs, overhead gondola service from San Rafael and Marin City could transport thousands who now drive to this recreational area for the entire Bay Area. Yosemite National Park, which has a similar number of visitors was forced to participate in a regional transportation plan.

In fact the park has always favored increasing motor vehicle traffic. In 1985 the National Seashore outlawed off road bicycling in most areas of the Park. A couple of friends and I were ticketed for riding out by Bass Lake shortly after the change by a ranger who almost got his gun out. Very Agro. Now I drive to the parking lot and hike when I go, but the bicyclists who do pass me are polite as are the nudists and potsmokers, too. At a certain point, we've got to get along..

Bicyclists can ride like jerks, going full speed around blind curves, passing from behind with no warning or carving erosion ditches into the trail. They are also more likely to severely injure themselves or others, so those costs provide a reason for keeping them off trails. The inconsiderate actions of some mountain bikers fractures possible alliances with hikers, horse owners, and even mass transit proponents to change the policies and include bicyclists in the mix.

For the most part even gonzo mountain bikers are learning to reduce erosion, show consideration for hikers and horsies, and slow down and smell the ceanothus. If they apply peer pressure to their jerk friends, there will be fewer and fewer pissed off hikers and other opponents of their access to appropriate lands. Experimenting with trails for hikers, horse or bikers only, a partitioning with UN troops, might lead to integrated trails which the rest of country lives with.

The National Seashore policy of banning bicycles off road was precedent setting, but few other parks have followed suit. It is based on prejudice and is being challenged by Barry London, a biker who was ticketed for riding off road in Olema Valley, instead of on Highway One. He's opted for a court case instead of paying the ticket, and hopes to persuade a federal judge to rule against the park policy. If he loses, his next project may be prison reform, from the inside.

Central Marin, from Fairfax to Mill Valley, hosts weekend hikers and bikers from around the Bay. Because Marin has almost no weekend mass transit they drive here, park their vehicles on narrow deadend roads to attack trail heads to state and water district lands where they strive to get away from it all and run into each other. Needless to say, the locals would rather ban parking and limit access on public roads, than build lifts from downtowns to the mountain so that visitors had an alternative.

They conveniently forget that the bounty of state and national open space and parkland in Marin, was mostly bought by Californians and Federal citizens for their recreation. In Ross, the rich revolted against the hordes of refugees seeking wilderness trails. Peeing and parking on their roads is illegal but the weekend warriors still flood in. In Bolinas the water board is floating a plan to limit parking downtown to stickered residents only, but it's a leaky plan. There's too many Range Rovers and Volkswagen Vans to fit. Mill Valley just keeps serving them coffee and sends them up the hill to pee in the manzanita.

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