Seems our fair city is just a smaller version of this fair city. Doesn’t Austin’s bike lane maps look similar? Here’s ours:
Seems our fair city is just a smaller version of this fair city. Doesn’t Austin’s bike lane maps look similar? Here’s ours:
Editor’s Note: This post is in no way meant to attack the people working at the County. They are capable, skilled professionals. I think most County staff support shared-use trails at County parks and work to create more opportunities for park users.
It is completely reasonable that inconsistencies in present use at County parks and County code were discovered as County staff reviewed legitimate issues around Ragged Mountain. It is apparent County code is inconsistent with what appears to be long-time, compatible uses at several parks including Ragged Mountain. So instead of involving park users and the public in general in discussions about changing the County code to come in line with long established use, the promoted uses were quietly changed.
Within weeks of discovering their own code deficiencies, the Board of Supervisors is now insisting that the City cannot use its own land in a manner consistent with City code because of conflicting County code the County itself has not been following for many years. The BOS letter only mentions mountain biking. Yet, they make no mention of the other use inconsistencies which include the permitting of boats (which is no longer required by RWSA) or trail running which was also approved by City Council in December.
After a very lengthy and transparent public process, the Charlottesville City Council voted to follow the will of a majority to open up multi-use trails at Ragged Mountain.
This week, the Albemarle Co. Board of Supervisors’s chair Diantha McKeel released a letter to the public raising a number of concerns. I tackle much of that here. However, the biggest revelation is that the County insists the City adhere to Albemarle Co. code that does not allow cycling (or trail running since it is not explicitly mentioned either) at Ragged Mountain and that the County will enforce those regulations on the property regardless of City code. As it turns out the County has not been only ignoring its own rules, it has been promoting the opposite for many years. The County staff have been changing its website information to match County code.
There are three Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority reservoir properties in question. Ragged Mountain is owned by the City. Totier Creek Park and Chris Greene Lake Park are county parks. In her letter, Supervisor McKeel references code section 11-303 that says that activities not expressly stated in the code are forbidden at Ragged Mountain. Section 11-302 and 11-306 make similar rules for Chris Greene Lake and Totier Creek respectively. Since none of those code sections list bicycling as a stated activity, it is now allowed at any of these parks. The problem? Until after the Charlottesville City Council vote to allow cycling and trail running at Ragged Mountain, the County was actively encouraging cycling at both Chris Greene Lake and Totier Creek.
Luckily content on the internet never dies! Let’s go to the video tape, well screenshots anyways.
The legend for the trail map for Chris Greene Lake still shows a condition that has been in place since at least 2011. It shows trails for both hiking and biking.
Hopefully, that will not change.
UPDATE: Since this post was published, the County has changed the park map to remove cycling because it is not one of the expressly stated activities at the park. The new map is dated February 2017. Yet, the dog park continues despite not being officially sanctioned in City code.
However, the map for Totier Creek was changed recently. The previous (at least back to 2011) map legend showed exactly what the Chris Greene map showed:
Now the current version with “biking” scrubbed:
Notice the creation date of new map as January 2017. The old version of the map was up until at least January 2017.
Now for the County’s park activity matrix. The new:
Notice the difference? Chris Greene Lake and Totier Creek mountain bike activities have been removed in the latest version.
The vintage of the current Totier Creek is known because it is dated. Determining when the change of the activity matrix occurred would be tougher if it were not for the Internet Archive.
The last entry in the archive is Feb. 15, 2017. As of that date, the old matrix was still in place. It has been replaced since then.
Here is the Internet Archive record for the Totier Creek map.
The February 9, 2017 record shows the new map. However, the record from December 21, 2016 shows the old one.
The County BOS now insists the property owner, the City of Charlottesville, cannot allow an activity that the County itself did, in fact, promoted for many years at parks that have the exact same County code. They are asking City to suspend our planning process for a shared-use plan at Ragged Mountain. If you live in the County, please contact your Supervisor and ask them to change code section 11-303, 11- to allow both cycling and trail running to match the property owners’ wishes and to change sections 11-302 & 11-306 to allow historic compatible multi-use.
So, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors has weighed in on Ragged Mountain. Please find the NBC 29 story with all three letters from Albemarle Co.
Below is the letter address to citizens with my responses embedded with italics.
An Open Letter to City and County Residents
This letter is for those City and County residents interested in the public water supply at Ragged Mountain Reservoir, those who have enjoyed walking the trails in the Ragged Mountain Natural Area (“RMNA”), those interested in biking within RMNA, and others. This information has been previously shared with members of City Council and their staff.
The City engaged in a very public process from 2014 to 2016 to determine what activities it wanted to allow at RMNA. With respect to biking, the City received a significant number of comments on both sides of the issue. [with overwhelming support for multiuse trails at Ragged Mountain] When City Council adopted its ordinance on December 19, 2016 to allow biking [they also voted to allow trail running. Why no mention of that?], the controversy surrounding the question was reflected in City Council’s 3-2 vote. The two Council members who voted “no” encouraged delaying the vote based on a written request from the Board of Supervisors. [As stated in the same paragraph by the author, the City of Charlottesville engaged in a lengthy, very public two-year process. The BOS had plenty of opportunity to weigh in and chose not to.]
The City’s ordinance is unique in that it claims to regulate activities outside of the City’s boundaries. [That is not unique. Charlottesville owns several other properties in Albemarle Co. for which it has ordinances. There are also other localities in Virginia that own property in other localities.]
Ordinarily, cities and counties are authorized to exercise their powers only within their respective boundaries. [except where permitted by law as in this case]
There are exceptions, and the City relied on a State law (Virginia Code § 15.2-1725). That law allows the City to adopt regulations pertaining to recreational areas such as RMNA even though it is located outside of the City’s boundaries. The State law restricts how the City’s authority may be exercised. It prohibits the City from adopting any regulations in conflict with the County’s. Unfortunately, the City’s new regulations conflict with a County regulation (County Code § 11-303), which does not allow biking at RMNA. The County’s regulation is intended to prevent pollution of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir by limiting the types of human activities allowed at RMNA. [However, the County does not have a general law against cycling, nor does it ban cycling at most of its parks. So the ban at Ragged Mountain is an exception. Who does the County have regulations regarding Ragged Mountain at all? My understanding is that the County needs the regulations in order to enforce the city laws for Ragged Mountain not to actually dictate uses there. Without their own regulations for the property, ACP would be powerless on what would otherwise be considered private property.]
The Board of Supervisors has contacted City Council to resolve this matter as quickly as possible, offering to hold a facilitated meeting between designated members of the Board and City Council and their respective staffs. The Board acknowledges the desire of the biking community to have greater access to off-road public lands. Indeed, the County promotes properly located recreational activities. Therefore, the Board has proposed to City Council a solution for our community by opening a new County park on the Hedgerow property much earlier than originally planned. Hedgerow Park will have a new entrance and be accessible for biking without the risk of polluting the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, our community’s public water supply. [Hedgerow will only be accessible off of Rt. 29 and will not be accessible by bicycle unless you want to ride on the 250 bypass under I-64 and then another mile or so to the park entrance. No thanks. So, you will still need a car to access that park. One of the keys to a successful bicycle networks for which Charlottesville strives, is to have meaningful destination you can reach by bicycle. Other than the Rivanna Trail and O Hill which are both places that rely on the benevolence of private owners, there is no destinations for a bicyclists that do not wish to use a car. Ragged Mountain provides a nice nature experience that should be enjoyed by more users engaging in physical activity. The Ragged Mountain property is also not the source of the majority of the reservoir’s water, that water is pumped there from the City’s other reservoirs that are also in the county. Also keep in mind, that I-64 runs through the Ragged Mountain watershed and over the reservoir itself. It is hardly a pristine environment AND has the potential to suffer much greater effects than adding a few multiuse trails.]
In December, after City Council adopted its ordinance, it passed a motion asking the Board to consider amending the County’s regulations. The Board has invited the City to share the information that it collected during its lengthy public process for the County’s staff to analyze. This information will complement and accelerate County staff’s own analysis of the issue. [Why should the county have any say what uses are allowed on City-owned property?]
Lastly, readers may wonder why the issue of whether biking should be allowed at RMNA is important to the County. This concern extends beyond only preventing pollution of the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. [There is no evidence to suggest that allowing cycling among the other newly sanctioned activities like trail running add more to pollution of the Ragged Mountain reservoir. In fact, evidence suggest that properly designed and maintained trails that replace the current poor trails at the park will make for better water quality overall.]
Imagine if the County purchased land within a residential City neighborhood in order to establish a County-owned urban park. Then, based on its ownership of the park, the County decided to allow a use that was prohibited by the City. As an extreme example, assume that the County decided to allow riding motorcycles in the park at any time. The City would justifiably feel that its authority over the lands within the City was being violated by the County. The Board of Supervisors’ expectation is that City Council will respect the County’s sovereignty and its regulations, regardless of whether the City Council and City staff disagree with those regulations. [This is a specious argument for several reasons. 1) It is a false equivalency to suggest that motorcycle use is anything like mountain bike use. 2) It is against the rules of all the City’s parks to allow motorized vehicles. That is obviously not the case for cycling. 3) The County maintains properties in the city which includes at least two schools and an administrative building. Does the County seek permission from the City to govern those properties? I bet the answer there is “no.” It is a shame that elected County officials choose to dabble in such arguments.]
Everyone can agree that our community is not well-served when its local governments are in conflict. Everyone can also agree that it is the responsibility of both the City and the County to provide rules that are clear and consistent. The Board of Supervisors looks forward to a speedy resolution of this controversy. In the meantime, the County is bound to enforce its regulations. [This is a completely manufactured controversy. The County clearly has had the opportunity to weigh in. The RWSA has no issues with mountain biking at Ragged Mountain. The overwhelming public input, the City’s park advisory board, the City’s bicycle and ped. committe and the City’s planning commission all reviewed the proposals. All voted to allow cycling at Ragged Mountain. The County could quickly end the “controversy” by voting to amend its regulations to mirror the City’s.]
Chair, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
Now we Albemarle supervisor Rich Randolph saying this really isn’t about bicycles at Ragged Mountain. It is about the City not ceeding to the whims of the county board.
If that is the case, why did Ms. McKeel ask for a postponement of a preview new trail alignments at Ragged Mountain scheduled for this weekend? This has never been about anything other than a very small group’s attempt to keep all but a few from enjoying the reservoir. I read the County’s regulation re Ragged Mountain. It also says boats must be permitted. I have been to Ragged Mountain many times. I have yet to see any posting mentioning the boat permitting. I also bet the County has chosen not to enforce the that portion of the law up to now. So why all the posturing about enforcing the rules now? I also would be willing to be the County has never run an enforcement operation against trail running there either.
It has also been pointed out that the County allows cycling at two other RWSA reservoirs. Chris Green Lake and Totier Creek Park have almost the exact same language in their county code as does Ragged Mountain. Yet, the County actively supports bicycling at those parks. The County’s Chris Green Park trail map is evidence to that.
UPDATE: It appears the county is updating its park use maps and matrix to come inline with its own regulations. The Totier Creek Map was changed in January to remove references to bicycling. The park use matrix was updated on February 24th and the references to cycling at Totier Creek and Chris Green Lake have been removed.
It is time to County residents to contact their supervisors and tell them you do not want them participating in this. They should quickly change the regulations to match the City’s inclusive use policy for the betterment and enjoyment of more City and County residents.
There were a number of pro cycling bills passed by the state legislature this week. Specifically, two were really good news:
See more at the Virginia Bike Federation site here.
Bike Snob hits the nail on the head, again.
I would also like to point out that beyond preventing nothing really beyond superficial and skull injury, helmets make the effective circumference and radius of your head much larger. Logically, this size increase may make your head hit things, especially glancing things, it might not otherwise. So, the possibility exists that your helmet actually causes a larger chance of “catching” a glancing surface which will cause your head to turn in a rotational fashion about the axis of your spine. This causes a severe brain injury called diffuse axonal injury.
From a study on glancing glow effects on helmeted dummies:
“The rotational effects of the tested helmets differ a lot. The shell helmets do not grip the asphalt layer at all and do not rotate, which implies that neither the head form rotates. The non-shell helmets grip the asphalt layer in each impact, rotate and transfer this rotation to the test dummy head form.
“The method used in this investigation is probably applicable as an oblique impact test and might prove effective for testing several properties of a bicycle helmet; whereas today’s recognized standards use different methods for testing different properties of the helmet. Different accident types can easily be simulated and extensive measurements could be carried out. “
Now it is true that all modern helmets should have slick shells, a large number of people (including me) put things that are not slick on their helmets. I see visors, stickers, lights mounts, lights, cameras, reflectors and other things. All will grip pavement. Technologies like MIPS are promising but the efficacy is largely untested.
And then there is this:
“It is concluded that: (a) the meta-analysis does not provide scientific evidence that bicycle helmets, not being tested for capacity to mitigate the main factors that cause serious injury to the brain, do reduce it; and (b) the Australian policy of compulsory wearing of helmets lacks a basis of verified efficacy against brain injury, suggesting a need for an independent and open review taking account of relevant scientific research.”
Everyone pushing helmets perpetuate the myth that cycling itself is inherently dangerous. Getting hit by cars is what is dangerous. The trauma sustained by getting smacked by a car at 30MPH will not be lessened by a piece of foam strapped to your head. Having proper bicycle infrastructure (to reduce solo cycling accidents, dooring and dangerous car/bike interactions) and getting more (educated) people out on bikes is what is the most important to protect us.
Yesterday, I was wrangling my bike to the street on my way to work. An acquaintance riding the wrong way on a one way street went by and said “You forgot your helmet.” I shrugged. We ended up at the stop light together. She turned and asked my where my helmet was. I told her I don’t wear one. She looked at me oddly. I said I often where one while mountain biking. Which wasn’t true; I always wear one mountain biking.
We pulled away from the light. She proceeded to ride on the sidewalk to avoid some congestion which puts you exactly where a motorist who is pulling out will not see you. She then jumped a stop light at a bad intersection. Up on the sidewalk again when there was lane closure and flagmen directing around some street work. She had her helmet on and put herself in some bad places. I followed the rules of the road, stayed in the flow of traffic, road defensively and stayed visible and predictable to motorists. I managed to stay just behind her. She was “prepared” to get smacked by a car and invited it; I road to avoid the same. I know that all sounds harsh. She is a nice, smart person, just uninformed.
For the record, there are times that a helmet is absolutely necessary for me. Helmets are great for fending of overhanging branches and tree trunks that jump out in the middle of the trail when mountain biking. They are a place to put your sunglasses and make great platforms for lights and cameras. Helmets are important for those competing at their limits in racing or other cycling disciplines. My next helmet will be a MIPS design.
“One of the most frequent complaints drivers have about cyclists is their tendency to ride through intersections without stopping for stop signs (and sometimes even red lights). Cyclists should have to obey the laws, they say, just like us. And while that may be technically true (anyone using the roads is supposed to obey traffic laws), such sentiments would mean more if the vast majority of drivers didn’t routinely ignore traffic laws themselves.”
“To enhance the quality of life for all through the stewardship of public
land and parks and to provide quality recreational experiences.”
~ Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Mission Statement (emphasis added)
Case for Multiuse Trails throughout Ragged Mountain Park
As the above mission statement says, Charlottesville parks are for use by all citizens. Excluding the use of bicycles on trails at Ragged Mountain excludes a good portion of Charlottesville citizens for the benefit of a small minority at the expense of the park itself.
Investing in bicycle infrastructure such as bicycle networks and destinations like Ragged Mountain are good for the local economy. Providing for destinations and access increases livability. Increased livability leads to increased tax revenues. People riding bicycles are not driving cars and creating pollution. Providing active transportation and recreation like bicycling for citizens decreases health care costs by making people healthier. This is especially important in this era of the obesity epidemic and increasing disease caused from pollution.
Economic benefits of trails:
Economic benefits of bicycle infrastructure:
If we can attract new citizens who wish to be car-free and convince more citizens to give up their cars or dramatically reduce their use, we can save wear and tear on our roads and eliminate the need for larger volume road projects:
Providing Quality Recreation for More Citizens
At the Charlottesville Planning Commission discussion of Ragged Mountain on Nov. 9th, 2016, Commissioners Kurt Keesecher and Lisa Green made the point that the city is actively working to increase density. There is an ever increasing need for more recreational space for more activities for more people. There are minimal options for bicycle destinations that do not involve cycling on poor roads (like Plank Road, Lynchburg Road and Ivy Road) or by car. Ragged Mountain is the only city park that had the potential for a quality cycling experience that is easily reachable from town by bicycle.
Opponents of shared use trails at Ragged Mountain cite the miles of mountain bike trails at other public land in the region. As the parent of a mountain bike team member here in town, I assure you that we must load up all the kids in motor vehicles and drive upwards of 40 minutes every week to get to these referenced trails. Groups like the Boys and Girls Club cycling team must deal with the same transportation issues. With limited time and resources, the possibilities for cyclists drop dramatically. People wishing to take a quick lunchtime or evening ride have extremely limited options.
The only in-town options are the Rivanna Trail and O Hill which rely on the benevolence of private owners and the University of Virginia. The Rivanna Trail’s woes are well documented and UVa’s risk management approval of allowing mountain bikes at O Hill is tenuous at best
Building Trails and Community
One of the main arguments of the multiuse opponents is that riding bicycles on trails damages them and causes water quality issues. It is true that riding on poorly designed trails, especially after significant rain, can cause trail damage. Inadequacy designed trails will erode without any use. This is clearly evident at Ivy Creek and Ragged Mountain where no bikes have been on the trails. Yet, extensive erosion of trails exists. The best way to combat trail damage and erosion is to (re)design and (re)build quality trails using techniques championed by the International Mountain Bike Club (IMBC) to avoid water runoff damage.
Who has the best trail building knowledge and skills in the Charlottesville area? The Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club (CAMBC) does. CAMBC members have taken the time and expense to become certified trail builders through the IMBC. CAMBC actively works with groups like the Charlottesville Trail Runners, the Rivanna Trail Foundation and area parks departments to design, build, reconfigure and maintain trails in many locations in the area. Are these people motivated by having more mountain bike trails? Yes. Do they intend exclusive use of these trails? Absolutely not.
So by excluding the use of bicycles, a major beneficial community is excluded from Ragged Mountain. I see no reason why CAMBC would put resources into a park which its members cannot use. I would also point out that the only trail work at Ragged Mountain since the dam project completion was done by CAMBC members.
The proponents of multiuse trails at Ragged Mountain are in favor of ALL citizens using the trails including people with disabilities. We are not proposing exclusive use and wish to engage all trail users to create the best trail system possible. CAMBC members have suggested hiking-only trails as part of the Ragged Mountain trail system. We are an inclusive bunch. Excluding the best trail builders from using Ragged Mountain will negatively affect the experience for all at the park.
Argument for a Full Multiuse System
Understanding that the two Parks and Recreation Advisory Board votes to exclude bicycles from areas on either side of the pontoon bridge were well intentioned, they were misguided and will have unintended and lasting negative consequences on other trail users.
The trip around the Ragged Mountain Reservoir is a conservatively estimated (using a general line loop) 7 miles. That would take hours to circumnavigate on foot. From the parking lot, it can easily take more than two hours to reach the pontoon bridge traveling in a counterclockwise direction and over an hour across the dam in the clockwise direction. That means that regardless of use, very few hikers will visit the SW side of the reservoir and would be the largest draw for cyclists. Yet, this is exactly where the parks board voted to exclude bicycles and force all the cycling activity into the area with highest concentration of other trail users.
The argument that we must keep cyclists out of the SE area of the park (area between dam and pontoon bridge) because of the terrain assumes that the topography is indeed too steep. The issue was raised by a board member who was admittedly not a cyclist, much less a mountain biker. She was reacting to a specific small section of the trail over a steep incline that is poorly designed.
A majority of the existing trail in the SE area is on tame terrain with many sections close to being flat. The problematic section of trail is a concern for the trail experts as well. This section of trail needs to be redesigned to limit erosion and create a better experience for users by creating switchbacks that dramatically reduce slope and water erosion. There is no reason this redesign cannot easily accommodate mountain bikes as well.
The argument for banning cyclists from the SW corner of the park is based on a letter from a vegetation ecologist from Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Division on Natural Heritage, Gary Fleming. Mr. Fleming recommends a buffer of 250 meters around an area identified in the Ragged Mountain Natural Area 2016 ECOSYSTEM SURVEY report as containing a plant listed as threatened under the Commonwealth of Virginia Endangered Plant and Insect Act. According to Mr. Fleming, there should be no trails in this buffered area. Not hiking-only trails; no trails. Why would the parks board then vote to only ban bicycles there? The board had no discussion of how a hiking trail would be any less damaging that a multiuse one.
Not only that, Mr. Fleming’s recommendation is based on some dubious references. His letter references three studies that were monitoring major disturbance of large portions of forest canopy either by building logging roads or clear cutting forests. These disturbances give invasive species much needed sunlight to get established. The building of foot and bike trails has negligible effects on tree canopy and does not provide large amounts of sunlight through the canopy needed by invasives. Let’s also keep in mind the biggest disturbance of tree canopy in this area is the reservoir itself. Is there the potential for more exotic species invasion? Yes. How do we prevent that? By engaging concerned citizens, like the members of CAMBC, as enthusiastic participants in eradication efforts, not excluding them.
Should we protect the area identified in the survey report where this threatened plant exists? Yes, let’s not build any trails in the area. Keep in mind, Mr. Fleming’s recommendations pretty much excludes ANY use at the SW corner of the park including the new pontoon bridge and the opposite shoreline. 250 meters is a long way.
Allowing for circumnavigation of the reservoir and developing multiuse trails in the area farthest from the parking lot will attract cyclists to the areas where there will be the least number of hikers. That will reduce the pressure on the areas closest to the parking lot and make for fewer hiker/cyclists interactions. I believe most cyclists would choose to take different routes out and back given the opportunity. Yet if circumnavigation is not allowed, the potential exists for a hiker to be passed by the same mountain biker twice on the out-and-back.
Recommendations for Council
Council should pass an ordinance allowing mountain biking at Ragged Mountain with no restriction by area or trail. Council should then task the Parks department to engage the city’s trail planner, other trail experts and concerned citizens to create and implement a comprehensive multi-use trail plan with special consideration to hikers (in the form of hiking-only sections) and people with disabilities.