Preferences can be strange things. Some preferences, like our favorite flavor of ice cream are relatively minor with little or no influence on our lives. Others, like whom we wish to form romantic attachments to, can be very powerful and they can be one of our defining characteristics. Many preferences change with time and a few stay the same our whole lives.
When it comes to trails and users on those trails, we can make choices that sort users and show that we prefer one set of users. Therefore:
Get your favorite ice cream spoon out as we dig into Preferred Use user management techniques.
Raising Children Australia, says the following about “sharing”:
Sharing is a vital life skill. It’s something toddlers and children need to learn so they can make and keep friends, and play cooperatively… Sharing teaches children about compromise and fairness. They learn that if we give a little to others, we can get some of what we want as well. Children who share also learn how to take turns and negotiate, and how to cope with disappointment. These are all important life skills.
While it’s safe to assume most of us learned how to share at home and kindergarten, it does raise some questions that are pertinent to the idea of shared trails:
How do you manage users on the trail? They will be there, often without knowledge of the trail and its history. Some will have no idea that different user groups are going to be there also. So how can you make sure everyone has a good time? How can you ensure everyone knows how to interact?
The way to manage these experiences is known as “user management techniques”. This article is the first in a series on user management techniques and how to use them for urban mountain biking.
Mountain biking, as a sport and recreational endeavor, isn't very old. Depending on how you define the moment mountain biking was born, mountain biking is around 40 years old. In those 40 years, we’ve gone from cobbled together rigid bikes to bikes able climb to and descend on nearly every terrain available. We’ve gone from a group of hippies to one of the fastest growing sports for high school kids.
There is a lot to be proud of.
But we have brought some baggage with us that, much like disco and sex in a van with an airbrushed desert scene, is better left behind. What could that be? It’s simple: illegal trail building and trail riding.
Its human nature to assume the things we like or accept as normal don’t have a large negative environmental impact. Things we don’t consider to be that big of a deal can have huge effects, like man made clothing materials or earthworms.
Years ago, there was a video by an environmental group that involved a young mother who returned to an area where forest thinning operations had taken place and complained about how it was a travesty to have any logs cut. Like a certain commercial from the 1970s, a tear literally did run down her cheek. Yet, she explored this area wearing a North Face puffy jacket made with polyester and stuffed with dacryon. Do you think she knew the difference in impacts she was illustrating? That area of forest would be back to its old self in her lifetime. Within her children’s lifetime that section of forest could be considered “old growth”. Her jacket would pollute the environment for the next three hundred years (at a minimum). The infrastructure required to create the materials of that jacket, i.e. petroleum, and ship them to factories and then to stores in her area directly destroyed hundreds of times the forests than the thinning operations. The carbon released by all this shipping threatens every forest on the planet, which, if the math is right, is much larger than the forest she shed tears over.
Can we, as mountain bikers, find ourselves in a similar Catch-22? Can we overlook a large impact that is front of our nose? How can we quantify existing conditions at a site before creating trails? Is there a way to quantify conditions after creating the trails?
One of the easiest ways to help cities and land managers to feel more comfortable with urban mountain biking is to feel like they have control over mountain biking, but also that it’s not totally on them. From the standpoint of a mountain biking club and the land manager the maintenance of, management of and control of trails, being partners can bring great benefits to all involved.
How can you codify a partnership between your local mountain biking club and the land managers? With a document called a “Memorandum of Understanding". Let’s look at what a memorandum of understanding is and how you can create one that is both useful and simple to understand for all parties.
On some medieval maps, unexplored areas where marked with drawings of monsters with the cheeky warning, “Here be dragons”. It was a way to denote unspecified dangers lurk outside of a known area. Today, Google Maps doesn’t have dragons or sea creatures at the edge of the map. Most of us would scoff at the idea that out there, somewhere, is a place with unknown monsters waiting for us.
But do we believe in a different type of dragon that might live outside our local area of comfort? Maybe those dragons, they vote different than we do. Maybe they worship different than us. Maybe they enjoy a different type of work than we do. Maybe they live in a part of the country we have preconceptions about. Maybe those dragons don’t seem as sophisticated as us.
For many things, “local” should be default. We want local schools. We want to shop at local stores. We want local produce. We want local beer. But “local” can become a way to isolate ourselves, to avoid in other words, the things we consider to be dragons.
Believe it or not, this same belief in the dragons out there can affect how we make urban mountain biking happen.
In the course of this series, we talked about some of the concepts of sharing and whether it was possible or advisable. When this series started, we quoted Mr. Troy Duffin of Avid Trails and included this thought:
The verbiage that Mr. Duffin uses is pretty clear that he does not believe shared trails are a positive idea.
We asked a this:
So, is that the end of the story? This is a simple “yes” or “no” question, right?
At the end of all this discussion are we ready to answer this question? Oh, hell yeah, we are.
Let’s look at the three areas Mr. Duffin mentioned and give an answer. Those three areas where 1) speed differences between groups, 2) visibility and the 3) attitudes of user groups.
In part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this series, we talked about some of the concept of sharing and whether it was possible or advisable. In the penultimate article in the series, we will discuss the attitude of the users and their expectations.
But first a reminder of how we got here. It all started with an article by Mr. Troy Duffin of Avid Trails who mentioned, in part, the following:
I’ve always advised clients and agencies that, if possible, they should build separate trails for the various user groups… Directional trails help, but there are still vast speed differences between different users when moving in the same direction. I continue to believe that separate trails are the best solution… Building bicycle-specific trails helps solve the problem, and results in more enjoyable trails for bikes.
In part 2 we discussed the speed aspect of sharing and in part 3 we discussed sightlines as they pertain to trail sharing. But both those discussions were about the mechanics of sharing, not the heart and soul of sharing. For that, we must discuss the usage of trails. How do users want to use the trail? What is their attitude toward other user groups? Can we alter attitudes of user groups to make sharing easier?
In part 1 & part 2 of this series, we talked about whether sharing was possible and how speed affected the ability to share. In part 3, we will talk about sight lines and how they affect the ability to share a trail.
Humans use sight far more than other our other senses to make determinations. The old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is happening a million times over in our heads every second. We make choices on everything from foods to clothes based on how they appear to us. The same is true with our comfort level as we travel down a trail. We are bombarded with thousands of visual clues about our surrounding and what they mean. We don’t even think about most of these, such as our brains mapping out where to put our feet based on the visual data at the extents of our vision.
When we talk about “sightlines” as far as trail sharing, we are talking about much more than the length users can see down the trail. We are talking about all the visual cues that inform how we process what the trail is like, where it goes and where our fellow trails might be. All of this has some far-ranging impacts on how sharing functions.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.