The vibe can turn tense on many Orange County trails, thanks to bigger crowds on both foot and wheels.
“We are seeing more confrontation between hikers and reckless mountain bikers who flaunt speed rules, and make the trails an unsafe environment,” said veteran local hiker Cary Babrowsky of Aliso Viejo.
“I am a two-time victim of a bike strike. Fortunately, no serious injuries, but I do have friends who were not as fortunate.”
Babrowsky and other hikers, who joined cyclists at a county meeting on the conflict Wednesday evening, Dec. 1, were quick to acknowledge that most bikers are considerate in sharing the trails. But, they said, the few scofflaws create a serious safety hazard.
Bikers at the meeting emphasized that they were doing their part and expressed an eagerness to resolve frictions.
David Browning of the Orange County Mountain Bike Association said his group has distributed thousands of bicycle bells to help cyclists let hikers know they’re coming down the trail. Additionally, the association’s website includes an orientation program for bikers new to the area and at least one post encouraging trail etiquette.
But some cyclists took the opportunity Wednesday to push back a bit on hikers’ complaints, hinting at the underlying tensions between the two groups.
“The responsibility falls on all of us,” Tony Coppolino said. “We need to all go out there and recreate together. I give (hikers) at least 3-feet and let them know I’m coming. Sometimes they have ear buds and can’t hear.”
Search for solutions
The county Parks Commission’s Trails Subcommittee, which hosted Wednesday’s meeting at the OC Parks’ headquarters in Irvine, is exploring the possibility of restricting bike use on some trails while dedicating others solely for those with wheels.
Traffic on trails has grown with the county’s population. But the spike in use during the pandemic — part of the surge of people seeking outdoor activities — has brought things to a head.
From June through November, OC Parks oversaw a pilot project to address the issue at nine popular multiuse trails in three parks, Santiago Oaks Regional Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. One trail in each park was temporarily dedicated to biking only. A total of two trails were put off limits to biking, two others were made one way for all uses, and the last was multiuse with bikes restricted to one direction.
A two-consultant team from Utah State University, hired by the county, surveyed trail users about the changes and presented findings for two of the trails on Wednesday, with additional analysis scheduled for completion and presentation next spring. Prior to the program going into effect, users expressed strong support for the new rules at the two Aliso Wood Canyon paths, the Cholla and Rock-it trails. Support grew in surveys conducted after the new restrictions were in place.
However, both bikers and hikers at Wednesday’s meeting expressed complaints with the pilot.
Some bikers weren’t happy about losing two trails. Some hikers felt the pilot favored bikers. Even more hikers complained of some bikers ignoring signs explaining the temporary new system — and reiterated a long-standing concern that the 10 mph speed limit was often ignored, with bikes sometimes going 30 mph or more downhill past hikers on narrow trails.
The complaint over lack of rule enforcement — both before and during the pilot program — resonated with at least one of the five subcommittee members present.
“If we do this perfectly but don’t deal with enforcement, what are we doing?” asked member Ron Vanderhoff, adding that he looked up enforcement action for 2019 and found that not a single citation was issued on a county trail. “It seems like we’re putting our head in the sand on that issue.”
But Chairman John Koos said funding to enforce the rules probably isn’t coming soon.
“There’s a lot of competing needs (for money) and diminishing resources,” Koos said. “There’s nobody to give tickets.”
Hiker John Squicciarini, a retired deputy sheriff from Tustin, also doesn’t see enforcement in the future. And he would have plenty of reason to want it.
In February, the 72-year old was hiking in Whiting Ranch when he was hit hard by a bicyclist, leaving him with injuries to both knees and his back.
“I’ve been unable to hike since then,” he told the subcommittee. “There was no call out (from the biker), no nothing.”
The next day, he described the arrogance and disregard of the cyclist. He also said that he’s had positive interactions with other bikers, including good conversations with the biking association’s Browning. Browning was among those who expressed his support to the subcommittee’s pilot project on Wednesday.
“We applaud you for trying this and we’re confident you’ll find something that works,” he said.
But Squicciarini doesn’t see increased trail restrictions — as tried in the pilot project — solving the conflict, since enforcement is unlikely and many users would like full access to all trails.
Instead, he hopes bikers and hikers can work it out among themselves, the way that others have in different recreations — including skiers and snowboarders, and surfers who ride long and short boards.
“The hikers and the bikers need to sit down outside of these meetings, and work something out,” he said Thursday. “People have to recognize that we have to share the land.”
Source: Orange County Register