Comments on Board Retreat Topics

Thanks for providing the opportunity to follow and comment on the board retreat. I didn’t comment live as I wanted to collect some more coherent thoughts about the board and staff discussion. I hope the following comments can be useful.

AA04 El Corte De Madera

There was a discussion about the single-use bike trail option and that it would require changes to policies. As a mountain biker this is very interesting to me (and lots of others) but I want to make the point that this is not really getting to the core issue about trail policies and multi-user management. Midpen’s trail policies date mostly from 1993 and most of the good thinking about how to design and manage multi-use systems has gone on (or at least been published) in the 21st century. I’ve mentioned in my previous comments that CA State Parks completely overhauled its trails handbook beginning in roughly 2007, and published the fully updated version in 2019. It’s available for the public to read:

Here are some sections that I think illustrate some of the good thinking that went into State Parks’ handbook, that is missing in Midpen’s:

Introduction, which discusses how trails contribute to CSP’s mission component of high quality recreation (in my opinion this is equivalent to Midpen’s use of “enjoy” but it’s more to the point):

Mountain bike trail design –section 6.1 in the next link is just about a page. This explains the experiences desired by mountain bikers and which ones are compatible with CSP’s values. The values are very similar to Midpen’s, but I don’t think Midpen has any similar explanation of what users are looking for. Other parts of the CSP handbook go through this for other user types.

Multi-use trails. This has some of the info I’ve shared about how to lay out multi-user systems, but one particular thing I’d like to point out is section 9.3.2 (in next link) on tread width. CSP only requires a 36” tread for a full multi-use trail, but specifies that there need to be wider crossing areas. This won’t work for all trails (e.g. close to Rancho San Antonio parking you need whole trails that are wider) but when you’re in a lower density part of the system like the Purisima-to-the-Sea Trail, you can create a much better user experience with a narrow trail that has built-in crossing opportunities. Your trail will be lower impact, more sustainable, and have more flexible routing for points of interest and ecological factors. Features like this as well as the pinch points I mentioned in my previous public input can address user safety and experience in crossings.

Speaking as a cyclist, the key issue with Midpen’s policies is not really the 60-65% access or whether or not there is one bike-specific trail at ECDM. It’s that the entire hierarchy of trail types guarantees that most experiences offered to cyclists will be poor. The hierarchy of hiking-only/hiking-equestrian/multi-use trails is just an old, bad response to the development and increasing popularity of mountain bikes in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. In 1993 it may have made sense to land managers, but today we have much better information and much better methods.

As a multi-user trail advocate, the point I want to make is that this system is not just bad for cyclists: It’s bad for all users. The hierarchical idea of trail access tends to push bikes toward the roads, which is the worst thing not only for cyclists but also for hikers and equestrians. I’ve made this point about St. Joseph’s Hill and other places. You want people to stay under 15mph? Design trails that help do that. You want slow-down-and-say-hi crossings? Likewise. You will never get these behaviors on fire and ranch roads. Enforcement can address some issues of bad behavior, but it can’t address the issue that many hikers interpret a 10mph crossing as rude and dangerous while cyclists interpret it as safe and considerate.

I fully support Midpen’s closure of certain preserves to bikes. It’s important for people to have places they can go if they want a fully non-mechanized experience (as several Audubon Society members discussed in the 12/8/2021 board meeting). I fully support restricting overall bike access to 60-65% of trails. A well-designed system might even provide less access, but it would be much better for cyclists and everyone else. The key message to the board is that the trail policies need to be brought up to date with best practices applied by land managers around the world. Midpen is certainly among the best funded land managers on the planet. It is inconceivable to me that a set of projects that could expand the trail system by 200 miles would be approached with obsolete policies.

AA16 Long Ridge

Director Kishimoto mentioned this as a case relevant to the 12/8/2021 discussion of open space recreation benefits and impacts. Her comment was phrased in the sense of “benefits versus impacts.” That’s not the way I would frame it. This is a great example of where we can provide a better recreation opportunity at the same time as reducing impact. The section of trail leading to the lake is not particularly interesting for cyclists anyway. It’s another legacy roadbed. A well-designed, sustainable, narrow trail re-route that joins to the hillside portion of Peters Creek Trail would increase the quality of trail for all users while retaining the hiking-only option to the lake (perhaps that trail could be narrowed as well). While there would obviously be some environmental impact to create such a trail, the key issue would be addressed and appropriate choices could be made to minimize new impact. This is a win/win, not really a tradeoff as framed in the discussion.

In my opinion there are many places where these options exist and we need to look for those projects that serve both the human and environmental goals. Road to trail conversions/re-routes are another great example as the trail system is full of roads that don’t need to exist as first-class trails, if at all.

AA22 Cathedral Oaks

While I support the delay to resolve the newt danger, it concerns me that the Beatty project is framed as a parking lot (“and trail connection”) rather than a trail project. I understand the importance of parking in helping people access these areas, but the parking is required when you provide a good trail system. This may be pedantic but I think words matter and they provide insight to priorities. As seen on the “imagine the future of your open space” slide, trails are the “big word” when we look at what people wanted (this doesn’t mean that people are opposed to conservation – as mentioned in my previous item about Long Ridge, they are looking for the win/win). The Measure AA advertisements clearly appealed to voters’ desire for better access and new trails (not old roads). Framing projects as first parking/second trails is not consistent with these voter and taxpayer priorities. Another example of this is Purisima-to-the-Sea, where there was a lot of confusion as to whether the recent public input session would even involve a discussion of the trail, because so much of Midpen’s communication seemed to be around multi-modal access. I heard this confusion from many people.

The written comments above were provided to the Midpen Board of Directors after their December 8, 2021 board retreat.

The following is a spoken comment given during the board retreat:

I’d like to comment on the discussion about engaging the public in realizing benefits and responsibilities of a regional environmental protection vision.

First I want to step back to a thought about last night’s discussion of the impact review.  I submitted a comment later in the evening to say that I was concerned that all of the discussion focused on the impacts and risks and none on the human benefits.  In my opinion, the really big opportunity here is to go after those benefits, and that is the path to engage the public in this vision.

We won’t turn every person who visits the preserves into an environmental activist, but if we provide great access for high quality recreation, and the trails and other options provided demonstrate our commitment to environmental protection and sustainability, we’ll gain more and more supporters and advocates for this vision.  That’s going to happen because we provide those benefits to the public, not because we see them as a tradeoff against conservation.

The written comment referenced above was as follows (12/8/2021):

Thanks for sponsoring the impact study. I think this information can only help in good decision making, but it’s important to keep in mind the whole picture that was presented.

I was concerned that in the discussion following the presentation, all of the focus was on the impact and not the benefits. It’s important to keep both of these in mind. Midpen preserves exist at the edge of an urban environment where millions of people live. We could minimize impact by shutting off all access, but that would eliminate most of the positive human effects as well. It would also minimize our ability to build environmental stewardship in the next generation. There is a huge opportunity to increase the benefits by reaching more people and, improving access to the preserves, and improving the quality of recreation provided. Please keep the whole cost/benefit balance in mind in these discussions.