Civility in Debate with Mountain Bikes In Boulder
I’m opposed 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 was infuriated by the tone of some of the people opposed to mountain bikes on these trails.
My partner Seth Levine is a huge mountain biker. 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, I explained that while most MTBs were good actors, a small percentage weren’t. Even on reasonably well shared trails, I’ve 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 me. Single tracks are tough to share and I spent much of my time on them paying attention to traffic if I run mid-day, but I’ve had this problem on all shared trails. Worst of all, I’ve been hit several times by MTBs and I can only think of one case where the person stopped and checked to see if I was ok (I was, but pretty sore the next day.) Seth 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 a position on the issue.
In general, I’m very comfortable with trails being shared. Over time, I’ve learned how to anticipate when to pay more attention to MTBs and often just run off trail when I can (on the side of the trail, which of course is not what the Open Space people want but it’s safer for everyone.) But I still really struggle on single tracks, or tight trails, especially when one side is mountain and the other side is a steep drop. Having run Eldorado Canyon Trail about a hundred times, it’d be a really rough trail if it became mixed use, and I’m pretty sure I’d stop running it. That’s part of why I’m opposed to MTBs on the trail – I just don’t think it’ll work.
However, when I read the article in the Daily Camera today, the folks arguing against MTBs represent the kind of hostility in debate that undermines their entire position. Their attacks are emotional bordering on hysterical (in the “not funny definition of the word”) and excessively polarizing. It’s not dissimilar to the type of language we often see at a national political level in the extreme partisan case and I find it incredibly distasteful.
The other day I had a difficult meeting with someone who was upset with me and a decision I had made. While we were having the discussion, he referred to the meeting we were having as “date rape.” I was momentarily furious because the comment was completely over the line. I understood that he felt fucked by me and – while I didn’t agree – he was certainly entitled to his opinion. But accusing me of date rape was unacceptable to me, especially given that I’ve had first hand experience on the receiving end of rape. He backed off when I asked if he was sure he wanted to use this language (and if he had said yes, we would have been done talking), but it undermined his argument to me based on the personal attack that I didn’t think corresponded in any way to what was happening.
The vitriolic in the MTB debate has a similar impact on me. It doesn’t help the discussion, undermines the position opposing MTB’s on Eldorado Canyon Trail, and is generally offensive to anyone trying to understand and think through the issue. It also shines a bad light on the community in Boulder which I think is a special place that embraces incredibly diverse people, perspectives, and behaviors. And it creates emotional justification for the small number of bad actors in the MTB for their behavior (e.g. “they don’t want us on their trails so fuck them.”)
Boulder, you can do a lot better than this. Let’s have a real debate about this issue and make a rational decision about whether or not to open up these trails.