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.
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A cyclocross race in progress

The dispute over an event at West Seattle's Lincoln Park unleashes a "cycle" of anger. Once again, parks make good battlefields.

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:

Ya know, kids playing soccer really trashes the fields. Baseball players'ꀙ spit is unsightly. Joggers might bruise the gravel when from the impact of their plodding along. It is also really unfortunate that the elderly folks' canes leave such a pin-point indentation on the ground. Let's fence the park off to keep anyone from destroying our public facility! Get real folks, healthy outdoor recreation is a good thing!

Wrote another:

We should hold a Critical Mass at the park on Saturday to show our solidarity as cyclist[s]. Thanks West Seattle for showing your true colors as citizens...just a bunch of whiners!!

Another argued that West Seattleites were being short-sighted:

The more times I read this the more I get sick. Some folks are just disgusting in their quest to ruin West Seattle. All the hungry racers are going to go buy food and buy a pint in someone else's neighborhood now! And all the kids that were planning on racing (which is a HUGE AMOUNT) just got jacked. You people disgust me.

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'ꀙt understand or don't care. Maybe they're all really young, that would certainly explain the lack of thought.

Wrote another:

Who are the environmentalists here, the cyclocross advocates or the cyclocross adversaries? I'm surprised at the harsh words of the advocates in this thread (but perhaps not totally if they are of the self-centered Critical Mass mindset). Someone mentioned muddy fields from soccer. I presume these are designated play fields. If cycle races were permitted, I would expect there to be a plan to minimize damage during the event and to repair any damage after the fact. Did the organizers have such plans? If not, then I, a dedicated cyclist, would kindly ask you to find a different venue than our favorite park, a jewel of the community.

Another wrote:

Boy, speaking of whiners...I just read through this string and the whining about experiencing a little roadblock in your cycling life is unreal. Threaten, bluster, call people names, link this little bump in your road to national politics. That'll endear your cause to those of us who were curious about your event. I was thinking it was too bad the event was canceled until I read this thread...now I'm thinking it'ꀙs probably for the best. Who needs your attitude in our neighborhoods. You'd probably berate a youngster who accidentally got in your way or run over a wild critter who appeared in your path. How do you deal with real big roadblocks in your life? Throw tantrums?

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.


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.