In part 1 of this series, we discussed what active and passive recreational uses were and how they are defined.
As we discussed, to be a passive use, the activity would have to meet 3 criteria:
As point #2 illustrates, it’s not only the activity, but the infrastructure of that recreational use that would be a factor in determining if an activity could be considered passive or active. The example used in the previous article was that of a football field and a multi-use trail.
However, if we have a trail, in this case multi-use, could an activity come along might not be passive use? And where does mountain biking, as an activity, fit in with the idea of active and passive use?
That will be some of the questions we will answer in this second part.
Unfortunately, it gets kind of complicated
Can a new use be added to passive recreational use infrastructure that is active recreational use? Clearly, the answer is yes. If you go back to the original legal definition, it includes the fact that passive recreational activities are non-motorized. Therefore, any activity that includes motors, from dirt bikes to drones, by default is active recreational use. That also includes e-MTBs, which can be a sore point.
To qualify for passive recreational use, the activity would have to check all three of the above boxes. If it fails to meet one of the three, it falls into the active recreational use column. That means different versions of the same activities could be either passive or active. Walking or running along a trail would be passive use, but some kind of obstacle course with various structures would be active use as it would fail 2 of the 3 tests: it would have different infrastructure than other passive use and it’s hard to see how other passive recreational users and people scaling a wall or swinging on ropes are compatible.
That gets us to mountain biking: is it active or passive recreational use? Well, it’s both and that is where complications start. Depending on the type of mountain biking, the answer to those three questions would change. And that means this isn’t a yes or no question.
Issues with “no greater impact than other passive uses” – Many mountain bikers, when asked, will tell you that mountain biking and hiking have similar impacts. That is a true statement, but a functionally incorrect one. Why can that be said? The studies that have been done on mountain biking and sustainable trails are almost exclusively on one type of trail: cross country (XC) trails that are built and maintained to sustainable standards (i.e. IMBA 2004/USFS 2007). If we get outside the borders of that description, the amount of evidence we have of a similarity of impacts drop off and drops off fast. Clearly, when talking about disciplines like downhill or freeride mountain biking, one doesn’t need a study to know the resulting impacts of movement are higher than other passive uses. These disciplines have steeper trails, greater speeds and greater braking forces. That means more soil movement. That isn’t even considering other factors. Therefore, these uses don’t meet the criteria of passive use. What about adventure courses or all-mountain/trail/enduro/whatever we are calling it now? Depending on the factors below, those uses might be passive or they might be active recreational use.
Issues with using “the same recreational facilities as other passive uses” – For over a decade now, there haven’t been separate construction guidelines for hiking trails, mountain biking trails, or multi-use trails. So, on the surface, it would seem that this one is buttoned up. However, if you think about it, the recreational facilities for downhill or freeride would not meet these criteria. The jumps, drops and other parts of the trail required would qualify as active use facilities. Adventure courses would meet this criterion, as long as these would be placed on existing paths of use. Clearly, cross county (XC) mountain biking would. Again, all-mountain may or may not fit these criteria. It would depend on any number of on-site factors.
Issues with accommodating “other passive activities and users simultaneously” – This is probably the contentious of the three. What we are referring to here is the factual ability of a trail to accommodate differing types of users simultaneously, not the perceived ability. That means someone whose day is ruined because they saw a mountain bike in the woods isn’t the determining factor. Its whether or not that person is placed in an unsafe space by the other activity or he is unable to do his own passive activity. As we’ve discussed before, for hikers, speed and sightlines are the determining factor. This is where, again, freeride and downhill, just fail to meet this criterion. Adventure courses would always meet this criterion. Cross country (XC) mountain biking can meet this criterion, though it’s not automatic. User management techniques and trail layout need to be used to ensure that situations compromising another user’s safety don’t exist. For the third time, all mountain could go either way depending on the factors of the trail.
To recap, the active vs. passive breakdown for mountain biking looks like this:
Let’s walk though this
Remember the table we used in Part 1 to show the three questions of passive vs. active recreational use? Let’s show it again and then walkthrough how cross county mountain biking would qualify for the listed properties. The table:
Now, using a bullet, list let’s work though the cross-county mountain biking:
What this means
Simply put, it means one thing: when the property is defined by its need to have passive recreational uses within said property, then the only forms of mountain biking that would qualify would be cross country (XC), adventure courses and (depending on specifics of trail layout/design) all-mountain. For urban wildernesses, preserves, natural areas and greenways this should be the only type of trails that should be proposed in these locations. For locations that allow active uses, such as multi-modal parks or post-industrial areas, then any type of mountain biking could occur.
In the end, knowing what active and passive recreational use actually are helps to know where mountain biking , as an activity, can go. That is important, as the goal of urban riding is to create a diversified cornucopia of riding venues, trail types and experiences close to citizen's homes.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.