A case of bike rage
The dispute over an event at West Seattle’s Lincoln Park unleashes a "cycle" of anger. Once again, parks make good battlefields.
By Knute Berger
November 03, 2009.
This dispute was off my radar screen until a reader emailed me late last week, but it goes to the heart of a long-debated Seattle topic: what, or who, is a park for?
The Seattle Parks Dept. approved a "cyclocross" race in West Seattle’s Lincoln Park, a bike version of motocross racing that involves doing laps over roads and rough terrain. A similar event had been held there some years ago and done a lot of damage to the park. Cyclocrossers had helped with some of the repair, but the city decided not to host it again. Someone forgot about the prohibition (apparently, it didn’t make it into the new electronic records system), so this year, the event was on.
This time, Lincoln Park users and neighbors objected, pointing out that parts of the race course went through areas without trails that had been designated for low-impact uses, and they worried about the damage to native plant restoration efforts. The Parks Dept. canceled the event, which was moved by organizers to another park in White Center. But not before enraging cyclocross fans.
The West Seattle blog has covered the controversy, but I was struck by the comment thread and the rage of the cyclists. There has been tension in Seattle and Portland between bike riders and drivers, but here we’re talking anger between cyclists and everyday park users. At least that’s how the cyclocross fans see it. The bike fans called the West Seattleites "whiners," "lame," and worse. "So is the park just for those on foot and professional dog sitters?" one wondered.
The level of anger from the cyclocross community surprised some West Seattleites, partly because it took on the flavor of a kind of class or generational war: stuffy old geezers versus the young and fit. Are Seattle parks simply for the elderly elite who live nearby and grumpily tell the kids to get off the lawn? Said one commenter:
Another argued that West Seattleites were being short-sighted:
The attitude of many pro-cyclocross posters seems to be that the damage done to the park would be reparable and that because they were fun-loving taxpayers, they had every right to hold their event there. It’s reminiscent of arguments used by snowmobilers who want great access to places like Yellowstone.
On the other hand, opponents were extremely concerned about the cavalier attitude of the cyclists toward environmental damage, and the sense of entitlement. Cyclocross skeptics also played the age card:
I’m not sure what part of "their race damages the park" the cyclocross dudes don’t understand, but apparently from their comments here they either don’t understand or don’t care. Maybe they’re all really young, that would certainly explain the lack of thought.
Seattle parks have long been battlefields: Think of the heated controversies at Discovery, Magnuson and Occidental parks. Should parks shelter the homeless? Should dogs run off-leash? What about ballfield lighting? Should park owners be able to carry guns? Drink? Should roadways be built through them? Does the property belong to Native Americans? Can the parks be logged?
Back when the Seattle park system was being developed and expanded, the city hotly debated whether parks should even have playgrounds for kids. The citizenry wanted them; landscape designers (like the Olmsteds) thought the parks should be preserves for more contemplative activities. There will always fresh fodder for debate, but let’s hope the rage is saved for blogs, not the parks themselves.