The mayor’s vision for the bosque from the first plan through this last one, of which the main feature is still the 10-foot wide surfaced trail, has always had a peculiar dissonance with the nature preserve character of the site. An eyewitness to a discussion with Hizzoner told me the mayor’s vision is pretty much based on his desire to ride his mountain bike through the bosque.
A battle 10 years ago in Washington, D.C. to keep the city, backed by the powerful Washington Area Bicyclists Association, from stripping a 10-foot wide asphalt “trail” down the middle of a long and skinny neighborhood park taught me cyclists are the most entitled of athletes. And the least interested in, and the least scrupulous in protecting, the slow-moving amenities of pedestrians. It may be different in the land of enchantment, but in Washington, D.C. cyclists are the highway lobby dressed in green clothing.
Without going into the truly ferocious war stories of the battle between the dogs and the toddlers and the runners and the baseball players and jungle gym climbers and basketball players and tot lot occupants whose right to the public space they already occupied in the park carried no sway with the city or the cyclists, I have started to think about mountain bikers.
Only about 3% of all Americans participate in mountain biking, as opposed to the far greater number of pedestrian athletes — 12% hiking and 18.5% trail running, according to the Outdoor Foundation 2013 Outdoor Participation Report. Outdoor recreation is a man’s world; women’s participation peaks early in life, with 60% of six-year-olds playing outdoors. The percentage of women playing outdoors is all downhill from there, coming to rest with under 20% of women over 66 playing outdoors — as compared to twice as many men — 40% of men 66 and over.
Mountain biking is a Hispanic and Caucasian man’s world. Here are the Outdoor Foundation demographics by race of mountain bikers and other outdoor recreationists:
1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 19%
2. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 11%
3. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 11%
4. Birdwatching/Wildlife Viewing 5%
5. Car, Backyard and RV camping 4%
1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 18%
2. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 17%
3. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 16%
4. Car, Backyard, and RV Camping 16% 5. Hiking 14%
1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 24%
2. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 14%
3. Hiking 13%
4. Car, Backyard and RV Camping 10%
5. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 9%
5. Cross-country, Alpine, Freestyle and Telemark Skiing 8%
1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 22%
2. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 17%
3. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 14%
4. Car, Backyard and RV Camping 11% 5. Hiking 9%
Hispanics are the biggest percentage of people who mountain bike (17%), with Caucasians at 16%, Asian and Pacific Islanders (of whom the 2010 census counts about 600 in Albuquerque) at 14%, and African Americans at 11%. About three percent of children do mountain biking, and 2% BMX (competitive dirt trail racing).
Mountain biking is not for poor people. The average cost of a beginner’s bicycle is $600-$800, according to Essortment. Minimum equipment recommended for the minimum bicycle — a maximum mountain bike can cost $3000 — is “…good helmet, gloves, good cycling gear, shirt, lightweight jacket, cycling shorts that are padded, a hydration pack with at least 50-ounce water storage, and good cycling shoes. ” The cheapest mountain biking shoe at REI is $70, bike helmet, $25, padded bike shorts,$48 — for a dangerous minimum of safety equipment total of $143. Total outlay, $743 for a mountain bike and minimum safety gear.
Here’s the problem. As every pedestrian traffic engineer acknowledges, cyclists drive pedestrians away.
A 10-foot wide paved trail through the bosque would induce travel by cyclists at rates pedestrian traffic engineers have scientific formulas to calculate.
These cyclists would, as a matter of well-documented fact, chase pedestrians away. What would be left for outdoor recreation in the bosque is a path it costs $743, at a minimum, to access and use.
And what is the average income of the Hispanic communities closest to the part of the inner city bosque the mayor wants to close to everyone who doesn’t have $743?
In Barelas, the median per capita income is $16,118 a year. Households earn $29,194.
In Atrisco, the per capita income is $16,685 and household income is $43,052.
The Outdoor Foundation reports 35% of outdoor recreants — and remember, mountain cyclists are men — are cutting back on non-essential expenses in 2013. No one has done the statistical breakdown for Hispanics and their beloved mountain biking. But the user surveys show that everyone who recreates out of doors lists a pedestrian activity as their first preference.
It’s not hard to conclude that the mayor’s vision for the bosque, the centerpiece of which remains a 10-foot-wide surfaced trail, would essentially close the bosque to most of the people who live near it and wish to use it. The imposition of a plan privileging men on bicycles, and dis-empowering pedestrians — the majority of users of outdoor recreation — has a political theory component. It is a disturbing unilateral exclusionary move via landscape architecture. It fits into the centuries-long history of the privatization of public space by minority interests. The Spanish broke the Indians’ backs and privatized public land and water by making them dig the first acequia. The river hasn’t been the same since.
No road through the bosque.