New Cheasty Bike trails are unsafe and unwelcoming

Letter from Seattle Nature Alliance, Oct 2018

Dear Seattle Parks and Recreation, 

We are writing to express our strong opposition to the latest version of the Cheasty Greenspace Pilot Project (released October 2018). The latest version puts bikes and pedestrians on the same paths and is unsafe, unwelcoming, and it is not what the Parks Department promised. We are asking you to either stop the Cheasty Pilot altogether, or to redesign the trails to be safe, welcoming, and pedestrian-only.
(See the maps in the pdf attached below. We redrew these maps so people can easily see the trails. They are accurately traced from Parks-provided maps, which are confusing to look at.)

As a citywide nature advocacy group, we are opposed to adding specialized uses in park natural areas. Seattle’s forest remnants are too small and fragmented to withstand the cumulative impact of specialized activities that each require their own separated spaces. We believe a policy of “passive use” that is low-impact and compatible with other uses and with wildlife habitat is the only sustainable way to manage our natural park spaces. Urban mountain biking is not a passive use because it requires specialized, separated trails. 

We opposed the previous trail design (presented in 2015) mainly because there were too many trails for a small space and the cumulative impact on the forest would have been too high. It is notable that community opposition was so strong a group of citizens went to the considerable effort and expense to make a formal appeal to the Hearing Examiner. It is significant that they won their case. It is also worth noting that if they had not appealed, Cheasty would now have trails impacting several Environmental Critical Areas.

After all that, it is astounding that the latest version of trail design (released October 2018) is equally unwise. Half of the trails in the new design are bike-only, and the other half are extremely unsafe and unwelcoming for pedestrians. Younger children, older people, and less-abled people will be excluded from this forest, and all pedestrians will have to be constantly vigilant for speeding bikes.This will ruin the nature experience for everyone except bikers.

Furthermore, this unsafe and unwelcoming trail design is the exact opposite of what Parks has been promoting for the last several years. From the beginning, this pilot was trumpeted to bring “equity” to nature-access for less privileged people who tend to feel excluded from nature. Maps showed perimeter walking trails, easy bike trails, and accessible-pedestrian/wheelchair trails. It was even promoted as a way that elementary schoolchildren would be able to walk to school. 

But, in the latest design there are no pedestrian-only trails. Pedestrians will be forced to either stay off trails, or to share narrow 4-foot trails with bikes. The trails zigzag sharply, and unless the understory plants are completely stripped away—something that is not mentioned in Parks’ latest DNS—the trails will be a series of blind switchbacks. Also, the “shared” trails are poorly sited—going to and from awkward points and leading nowhere interesting in the forest. They are mainly links for bikers to access their own trails, not as walking trails for people who want to experience nature. This will make Cheasty  a specialized mountain bike park, not a park that serves everyone. 
The appearance is that Parks made false promises to get community support for something that few people would have supported if they had known the true outcome. It appears to be a backdoor way of using a pilot project to get around current policy, and possibly to open the door to allowing bikes in all park forests without having to get further community input.

The fact is, mountain biking is not an appropriate activity for Seattle’s park forests. Mountain biking takes space, and Seattle is a rapidly growing city with many people that depend on a few small forests for health and happiness. Our park forests are completely different than other places that allow mountain biking or shared bike/pedestrian trails (the examples used in Parks’ rationale were roughly ten times bigger than Cheasty). Our urban forests should be preserved, carefully managed, and shared with all people, not with all “uses.” 
The best way to manage Seattle’s park forests is by adhering to a policy of passive use. True passive use was the genius behind the National Wilderness Act of 1964, and without it we would not have Wilderness Areas today. Back then, activists foresaw the direction National Parks were heading: too many roads, visitor centers, hotels, amusement parks, and other high-impact and incompatible uses. They knew that without a “use-restriction” to permanently preserve core areas of public lands for passive-use only, we’d end up losing wild nature to the forces of development and commercialization.

Today, Seattle faces similar forces from density and development. Special-interest groups are organizing, and each one demands space for their own particular use. Park forests are an easy target, because many people view them as empty spaces just waiting to be put to use. But, they are not empty or unused. Our forests are beloved by many, and they are essential to the health and happiness of all people. We should do more to encourage people to use park forests, but it must be passive use. It is of the utmost importance that these irreplaceable core areas of semi-wild nature in our park system are preserved so they will be there for future generations.

We are asking you to either stop the Cheasty Pilot altogether, or to redesign the trails to be passive use only, with pedestrian trails that are environmentally low impact and sustainable. 

Seattle Nature Alliance

Directors: Denise Dahn, Mark Ahlness, and Rebecca Watson

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