City Council approves cycling and maintenance in Preservation areas and recommends development of a service package for a River Valley trails strategy

On Friday June 9, Edmonton City Council approved two resolutions recommended by Council’s Urban Planning Committee.

The first, to expressly permit cycling and maintenance on trails located in Preservation areas passed 11-2, with only Councillors Paquette and Rutherford opposed.

The second resolution directs Administration to prepare a service package for proposed funding in the 2023-26 budget for the development of a comprehensive River Valley trails strategy, as part of which Administration would carry out a science based, on-the-ground assessment of the natural surface trails in Preservation areas, to determine whether any of those trails need to be closed to all human activity or moved for ecological reasons. This resolution also passed 11-2, with Councillors Principe and Rice opposed.

Special thanks are due to the members of the Urban Planning Committee for recommending the motion to Council, particularly Councillor Salvador, who introduced the motion, and the Chair, Councillor Hamilton. We also wish to thank Councillor Cartmell for introducing and championing the motion at City Council and Councillor Wright for moving the amendment to the first resolution, to specifically include cycling (with maintenance) as a permitted activity on Preservation area trails.

The second resolution is an important longer term objective for the River Valley, which will be a critical step in realizing our objective of having a comprehensive, well maintained and properly signed system of natural surface trails for the use and enjoyment of cyclists, trail runners, hikers and other nature enthusiasts. The challenge for City Council will be to find funding for this project among all its other priorities, which is the likely reason for some opposition to the resolution on Friday.

The first resolution is a significant victory for cyclists, in that for the interim period, pending completion of the Ribbon of Green team’s on-the-ground assessment of each of the specific trails, cycling and maintenance will be permitted activities on trails located in Preservation areas, and no longer prohibited.

This permission has been hard won, and will require corresponding, concrete, action from the mountain biking community to demonstrate our willingness to address the legitimate concerns raised by opponents to cycling on Preservation trails.

The arguments against lifting the cycling prohibition have included: that cycling causes more damage to the landscape; interference with wildlife and important wildlife corridors; safety concerns for non-cyclist trail users; negative cultural impacts; liability concerns for the City; and the construction of rogue trails and jumps and other features.

EMBA volunteers have reviewed the science, the preponderance of which concludes that the impacts of cycling on the environment and wildlife are on par with foot-based human activity, and that the most important considerations are to ensure that trails are well built and well maintained, and that all users stay off wet trails. So please don’t ride muddy trails.

We have for many years advocated for safe, courteous sharing of the trails. Slow down and let people know when you are passing and put a bear bell on your bike. Since June EMBA has distributed over 400 free bear bells to cyclists to help alert others of your presence on the trail. Be friendly! It’s easy since you’ll be having a great day on the trail.

While natural surface trails have been a common presence in our river valley since the early years of our community and well before the invention of the mountain bike, the growth in construction of unauthorized trails and features, particularly in the rare circumstance where the builder has cut down mature healthy trees, has been the cause of the most vocal and vociferous calls for enforcement of the prohibition on cycling in Preservation areas and closure of all “illegal” trails.

EMBA will continue to work with the City to develop a process for speedier and pertinent review and approval of applications to build new sections of trail. But in the interim, we are again pleading with the community to cease all unauthorized construction of trails and features, as the City is looking to cyclists to reciprocate for the concessions they have made by lifting the prohibition against bikes in Preservation areas.

Those interested in jumps and other features will soon be able to donate their time to advocacy and fundraising for the Queen Elizabeth Bike Skills Park that an EMBA subcommittee is working to complete as a community led project.

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to participate in the City’s Ribbon of Green consultations and to contact your City Councillors and the Mayor to let them know how much the trails mean to you and your quality of life. You have played a huge role in this week’s success!

Edmonton Mountain Bike Alliance