Mar 10 2011

Civility in the Debate with Runners in Boulder

My partner Brad beat me to this post after an email exchange on the subject this morning, so I thought I’d take some of his post and rewrite it from my perspective (note that I’ve purposely lifted some entire sections and changed the words to be written from my mountain biking perspective). While we disagree on the issue at hand, we strongly agree that the tone of some of the debaters isn’t productive or helpful.

I’m in favor to opening up Eldorado Canyon Trail to Mountain Bikes. However, when I read the article titled “Boulder open space official: Return to civility in West TSA mountain bike debate” I couldn’t believe the tone of some of the people opposed to mountain bikes on these trails. Replace “mountain biker” with an ethnic group in these quotes and the people making these statements would never think of uttering them. But they’re happy to lump all mountain bikers together, spew vitriol and generalize demographics and behaviors of a few to the entire group (you get where I’m going with this…).

Brad is a huge runner. He and I had a thoughtful exchange about the issue of MTBs on the Eldorado Canyon Trail. We disagree on this issue but it was a substantive exchange. As a long distance runner, Brad explained that while most MTBs were good actors, a small percentage weren’t. Even on reasonably well shared trails, he told me that he’s been run off the road numerous times by MTBs careening around a blind corner on a downhill or when someone somewhat out of control flies by. I’ll admit that I too have come around the occasional corner a bit too fast and been surprised to find a hiker (or another mountain biker) right in front of me.  And as all mountain bikers know (or should know), the downhill rider has the right of way over no-one, on foot, horse, bike or otherwise. Brad and I ended our discussion with agreement that we’d go hike Eldorado Canyon Trail together and discuss this further, which will be fun regardless of whether we end up agreeing on the issue.

I’m not at all happy to hear that some cyclists abuse the rules of the trail. And it’s incredibly frustrating to me as a responsible rider to hear just how egregious some riders behave. However I’d remind everyone that 1) the vast (and I mean vast) majority of cyclists (and runners) are responsible trail users and 2) regardless of how you feel about the question up for debate, there’s no reason to demonize or vilify the entire cycling community because of the actions of a small number of cyclists. Using this kind of language clearly doesn’t add to the debate. In fact to me it totally undermines the credibility of those making these kind of statements.

I’m completely open to trying to better understand why some trail users don’t favor opening up these trails for use by cyclists and I’d like to help figure out how to allay their concerns. But I have no room for discussing or even listening to people who can’t figure out how to engage in a thoughtful conversation. Name calling is for kindergartners. Grow up!

A closing note for my cyclist friends who may be at the open hearing on this issue next week. Let’s keep the debate from our side completely civil. Let the other side say what they will, but let’s not stoop to that level. We’ll have a much better chance of furthering our aims if we are respectful than if we let this debate spiral down to name calling and stupidity.