Blame it on Strava. The mobile app – and the cyclists who use it to brag about achieving top speeds on trails – weighed heavily in Los Altos Hills city councilmembers’ unanimous decision Jan. 27 to entertain an ordinance prohibiting bicycles from Byrne Preserve.
“I’m done with this as far as I’m concerned,” Councilman John Radford said. “The speed numbers that were talked about tonight are just incredibly unacceptable. I can’t even believe. Sorry, whoever’s done those apps and whoever puts that together – that just put a hole in the whole argument.”
Although Radford and his fellow councilmembers expressed considerable reluctance to deny an entire class of enthusiasts access to the popular open-space area, Strava-broadcasted boasts of trail speeds topping 20 mph and concerns about safety ultimately influenced their approval of a motion introducing the ordinance.
“I find myself gritting my teeth to vote on something because it’s not really how I personally feel, but sometimes, as a councilmember, you have to take your personal feelings out of the equation and do what’s best for the community,” said Courtenay C. Corrigan, a cyclist herself.
A second reading of the proposed ordinance is scheduled for the next city council meeting, Feb. 18. Members of the public may continue to submit letters of support or opposition to the ban, but as the item will appear on the consent calendar, the council may decide to approve it without fanfare.
Members of the town’s Open Space Committee and horseback riding enthusiasts have long complained about cyclists they say recklessly zip down narrow trails and frighten pedestrians and horses that could potentially throw their riders. Westwind Community Barn, the town-operated facility for equestrian riding programs and horse boarding, is located on Altamont Road adjacent to the preserve, and young riders often take to the trails to practice. In September, mounting complaints – particularly related to speeding on the steep Artemas Ginzton Trail – led the Open Space Committee to recommend a complete ban of bicycles from the preserve.
Councilman Gary Waldeck counted 31 speakers who addressed the council on the issue Jan. 27 and pointed out a noticeable commonality to those against the ban: eight of the nine speakers who voiced opposition reside outside of Los Altos Hills. They live in neighboring communities like Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto and use the trails for commuting and recreation.
Mountain View resident Andrew Yee said his son has grown up enjoying the preserve – first from a baby carrier, then from a stroller and later behind the handlebars of a balance bike. Now 5-year-old Kai steers a pedal bike up and down the trails.
“We can get kids off the road, they can ride on these paths,” Yee said. “In 12 years in living in this area, I haven’t had a single incident that’s been unpleasant with hikers, other bikers or equestrians. … I think we can learn and collaborate instead of discriminating against one group.”
Cyclists sought to bolster their case by lauding the environmental benefits of their sport and the seemingly peaceful co-existence of cyclists and horses at Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto. They questioned whether bells or another form of signaling device could alert hikers, cyclists and horseback riders of oncoming traffic. Equestrians countered by stressing the unpredictability of horses and the inexperience of Westwind’s youngest riders, some of whom live with disabilities. They said sudden noises could frighten the two-ton beasts.
“For me, it’s a potential safety issue,” said Jan Davis, a volunteer and sponsor for Westwind’s 4-H riding program. “There are so many blind corners that if a bike does come around quickly, it could be a disaster – and especially (on) the Artemas Trail.”
Cyclist and frequent Artemas trailblazer Katie Behroozi of Menlo Park said she uses the preserve to avoid grappling with vehicle traffic on “windy and crazy” Moody Road. Her wry reflection on the equestrians’ warnings about horse behavior garnered laughs from some council and audience members.
“You horse people have made me scared of horses now,” Behroozi said. “I actually think that maybe you should consider putting your kids on bikes because the horseback riding thing is starting to sound more and more dangerous.”
If approved, the bike ban may prove difficult to enforce, City Manager Carl Cahill said, but the town is prepared to pay between $4,000 and $6,000 annually for periodic law enforcement patrols.