Controversy from a recent Haines Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee meeting carried into the committee’s most recent gathering as well. But this time, the topic of debate was whether Haines should pursue a ‘bicycle friendly community’ designation. Questions were once against raised about conflicts of interest on advisory committees.
Several residents spoke out against parks committee member Thom Ely taking part in the biking discussion.
“I think Thom has a direct conflict of interest in this because he has a bicycle shop,” said Don Turner Jr.
Turner said Ely might benefit financially from the bike-friendly designation. Ely owns Sockeye Cycle, a bicycle tour business in Haines and Skagway.
But the parks and rec committee members pushed back. Chair Rich Chapell pointed out that it’s an advisory group. He compared the situation to the Port and Harbor Advisory Committee, which has boat owners, and the Tourism Advisory Board, which has tourism entrepreneurs.
Ultimately, Ely voluntarily recused himself for the sake of the discussion going forward.
But the disagreement didn’t end there.
“What’s happening is you’re promoting one user group over other user groups,” said Brenda Josephson. “And I believe you’re disenfranchising other user groups.”
Audience members also raised concerns about how much the bike-friendly designation would cost the borough in terms of new infrastructure and staff time.
Sockeye Cycle General Manager Dustin Craney tried to address some of those questions in his presentation to the committee.
“The purpose is to find a way to increase local cycling while decreasing conflicts with other user groups,” Craney said. “There’s certainly no prioritization of bicycling over other user groups. I think that would a failure on the part of bicycle friendliness.”
Craney said Sitka, Juneau and Anchorage all have bicycle-friendly designations. He said municipalities submit applications to the League of American Bicyclists, which determines whether the community qualifies as bicycle friendly and gives feedback for improvements.
“I think with our limited but amazing road resources here it’s a great place to ride bikes, I’d love to see more people riding bikes here,” Craney said. “I’d love to see anybody that has a negative view of bicyclists be involved in the conversation and find ways to decrease that negative view and use the roads together and enjoy the area we live.”
Craney offered to fill out the bike friendly application so that it wouldn’t cost the borough in staff time.
The parks and rec committee voted to ask representatives in Sitka for a presentation on their experience becoming a bike friendly community. The next committee meeting is April 3.
At that meeting, the committee will have new member Dave Long at the table. Chapell said he was happy to see Long apply for the seat.
“I think Dave will represent a new user group that we don’t hear from enough on this committee,” Chapell said.
Long was one of about 150 people who showed up to a parks and rec committee meeting in February to oppose creation of a winter recreation map. Many of them worried the map would restrict motorized uses, including snowmachining. The committee members said they were never planning on limiting motorized use.
That meeting brought a new level of scrutiny to the parks and rec committee. Before, its meetings usually drew just a couple audience members. But at the most recent meeting, there were more than a dozen people in attendance, many to speak out against the bike-friendly initiative.