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  1. #1
    Trail Cubist
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    Anyone have knowledge of urban trail systems and liability?

    I'm wondering if anyone here knows anything about the whole issue of liability and urban trail systems.

    I'm asking because, as we all know, there are many, many urban trail systems throughout the US that are popular, well-maintained, marked, and (at least seem to be) fully recognized by the cities where they are located.

    In our city, there is a good trail system in a city park that has pretty much been a "don't ask/don't tell" bootleg trail system for years. When I suggested that the MTB community try to obtain formal recognition for the trails (by the city), the reaction was NOT good—people seem terrified that the trails will be shut down on the assumption that the city can't obtain liability insurance (at least not affordably) and wants nothing to do with the trails.

    But surely this isn't the case in countless other cities? (Or is it?) So I want to know how it's done in other cities? How do so many really nice trail systems exist in cities elsewhere?

    Furthermore...how can the city have no problem with liability for a skateboard park (which we have)? Kids are FAR more likely to kill or maim themselves in a skateboard park (IMO) than MTB trails...

    Scott
    29er wheels are dangerous. They may cause you to go faster which can result in serious bodily injury. —Jim311

  2. #2
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    recreation use statutes

    At one time imba.com had a list of each State's rec use statutes. In Wisconsin for example, a land owner can not be held responsible for injuries to people using a trail, unless the land owner is collecting money for access. The statute protects trails on public lands as well.

    check there and/or email them for your State, or google.

    good luck.

  3. #3
    Single(Pivot)and Happy
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    Recreational use statutes pertain to private parties.

    In California, Cal. Gov. Code 831.7 recognizes mountain biking as a "hazardous recreational activity" and thereby local governments & agencies enjoy immunity from liability.
    The suspension of your bike sucks if it's different than mine. Really. It sucks. Big time.

  4. #4
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    My original post was premature---apologies. I've done some research since then, and (of course) still have questions.

    A lot of good info here:
    IMBA Resources: Liability and Lawsuits: A Mountain Bike Liability Primer

    Some state recreational use liability statutes specifically include public land management agencies as "landowners" who are protected by the statute.
    So I need to find out whether West Virginia's recreational use statue covers public agencies as well as private landowners.

    The same article also discusses a potential setback with regard to the legal exposure of towns and cities...
    In 1996, in Conway v. Town of Wilton, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the right of a 12 year-old girl to sue a municipality for a serious ankle injury she sustained on a public tennis court. In doing so, the Court overturned years of prior decisions, including one of its own rendered less than four years earlier.
    This is disturbing, and as the article points out, plaintiffs and money-hungry lawyers, emboldened by Conway vs. Town of Wilton, are testing suits against other cities. But the California statue mentioned above gives us hope---that laws will be passed that simply state (in essence) that anyone who hurts themselves mountain biking was a dumbass because they were expected to know it's dangerous.
    29er wheels are dangerous. They may cause you to go faster which can result in serious bodily injury. —Jim311

  5. #5
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    Scott,

    I am a real estate attorney in Michigan. I have negotiated several trail development agreements with municipalities and counties -- liability has never been a deal killer. I would be happy to give you some pointers on addressing questions/concerns the city may have. PM me and I will give you my contact info.

    Aaron
    Last edited by smeets1; 08-29-2012 at 11:11 AM. Reason: typos
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by SWriverstone View Post
    I'm wondering if anyone here knows anything about the whole issue of liability and urban trail systems.

    I'm asking because, as we all know, there are many, many urban trail systems throughout the US that are popular, well-maintained, marked, and (at least seem to be) fully recognized by the cities where they are located.

    In our city, there is a good trail system in a city park that has pretty much been a "don't ask/don't tell" bootleg trail system for years. When I suggested that the MTB community try to obtain formal recognition for the trails (by the city), the reaction was NOT good—people seem terrified that the trails will be shut down on the assumption that the city can't obtain liability insurance (at least not affordably) and wants nothing to do with the trails.

    But surely this isn't the case in countless other cities? (Or is it?) So I want to know how it's done in other cities? How do so many really nice trail systems exist in cities elsewhere?

    Furthermore...how can the city have no problem with liability for a skateboard park (which we have)? Kids are FAR more likely to kill or maim themselves in a skateboard park (IMO) than MTB trails...

    Scott
    Many governments are self-insured so obtaining liability insurance is a moot point.

    IMHO, as a former Parks Planner, you would be wise to leave social trails as social trails unless you want them closed by City Attorney's, NIMBY's and environmental alarmists.

    It sucks.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boulder Pilot View Post
    Recreational use statutes pertain to private parties.

    In California, Cal. Gov. Code 831.7 recognizes mountain biking as a "hazardous recreational activity" and thereby local governments & agencies enjoy immunity from liability.
    Rec. use statutes vary by State and while you may be correct about their application to private landowners you need to keep in mind that trails are often built on easements across private property or on conservation easements on private property.

    This is one of the key points I try to make when negotiating trail easements across private property or dealing with developers of new subdivisions.

    Granting easements to a government agency for recreational purposes will protect a private landowner from (some) liability.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by UncleTrail View Post
    Many governments are self-insured so obtaining liability insurance is a moot point.

    IMHO, as a former Parks Planner, you would be wise to leave social trails as social trails unless you want them closed by City Attorney's, NIMBY's and environmental alarmists.

    It sucks.
    I appreciate the advice UncleTrail, and I've heard it echoed many times.

    The thing that gets me though, is that on the one hand, I'm constantly hearing about public officials and lawyers and insurance companies shutting down trail access (and everyone is paranoid about liability, rightly or wrongly)...yet on the other hand, there are COUNTLESS trail systems in cities and towns across the country---many of which are formally recognized.

    So it seems to me a bit like people saying "Flying isn't possible" while they're being buzzed by airplanes!

    My point is that, clearly, there is a way to make trail systems on city land work---lots of people have done it. I'm not suggesting it's easy...but I suspect that MUCH depends on the level of professionalism, knowledge, and preparation in the MTB community. (City parks and planning people are less likely to seriously entertain a rag-tag gang of sloppy, unprepared MTBers than people who show up in shirts and ties, with briefcases and beautifully-designed Powerpoint presentations.)

    Scott
    29er wheels are dangerous. They may cause you to go faster which can result in serious bodily injury. —Jim311

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by SWriverstone View Post
    I appreciate the advice UncleTrail, and I've heard it echoed many times.

    The thing that gets me though, is that on the one hand, I'm constantly hearing about public officials and lawyers and insurance companies shutting down trail access (and everyone is paranoid about liability, rightly or wrongly)...yet on the other hand, there are COUNTLESS trail systems in cities and towns across the country---many of which are formally recognized.

    So it seems to me a bit like people saying "Flying isn't possible" while they're being buzzed by airplanes!

    My point is that, clearly, there is a way to make trail systems on city land work---lots of people have done it. I'm not suggesting it's easy...but I suspect that MUCH depends on the level of professionalism, knowledge, and preparation in the MTB community. (City parks and planning people are less likely to seriously entertain a rag-tag gang of sloppy, unprepared MTBers than people who show up in shirts and ties, with briefcases and beautifully-designed Powerpoint presentations.)

    Scott
    I think you hit on a good point at the end about being "rag-tag gang of sloppy, unprepared MTBers". If you guys are not a club or don't have a local MTB club I would suggest forming one now.

    I live in central Wisconsin and for the last 10 years or so we were just about that. Kind of part of a club but not really. Very loosely organized but were fortunate enough to have built a good relationship with the County Park and Forestry Dept. But a lot of local riders wanted to do more and be more involved so we got together and formed an IMBA Chapter for the central part of the state. We are still new as a Chapter but have already seen the advantage of being part of a well oiled organization. We are gaining membership and more interest, we are insured (which may be an important requirement from land managers both for club protection as well as the land managers) and we now have a lot of experienced people within IMBA to help us out.

    If you haven't seen IMBA's Guide to Managing Mountain Biking (Book - Managing Mountain Biking | International Mountain Bicycling Association) get a copy. It has a lot more great info than what you can get from the IMBA website. Lots of good stuff on risk and liability.

    Also find out who the IMBA Regional Director is for your area and contact them. Explain what is going on and I'm sure they will be able to give you a lot of good advice.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by SWriverstone View Post
    I'm wondering if anyone here knows anything about the whole issue of liability and urban trail systems.

    I'm asking because, as we all know, there are many, many urban trail systems throughout the US that are popular, well-maintained, marked, and (at least seem to be) fully recognized by the cities where they are located.

    In our city, there is a good trail system in a city park that has pretty much been a "don't ask/don't tell" bootleg trail system for years. When I suggested that the MTB community try to obtain formal recognition for the trails (by the city), the reaction was NOT good—people seem terrified that the trails will be shut down on the assumption that the city can't obtain liability insurance (at least not affordably) and wants nothing to do with the trails.

    But surely this isn't the case in countless other cities? (Or is it?) So I want to know how it's done in other cities? How do so many really nice trail systems exist in cities elsewhere?

    Furthermore...how can the city have no problem with liability for a skateboard park (which we have)? Kids are FAR more likely to kill or maim themselves in a skateboard park (IMO) than MTB trails...

    Scott
    My personal experience has been that it is preferable to let a gov't entity assume the liability. Sometimes that entity, like a city, may purchase a liability rider for a particular trail or system. The County I work with is self insuring so there are no problems if they own or have a legal ROW or easement. Sometimes you can pay for the landowner's insurance. Make sure you have a lawyer or gov't official who knows what they are doing to lead your effort.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by SWriverstone View Post
    I appreciate the advice UncleTrail, and I've heard it echoed many times.

    The thing that gets me though, is that on the one hand, I'm constantly hearing about public officials and lawyers and insurance companies shutting down trail access (and everyone is paranoid about liability, rightly or wrongly)...yet on the other hand, there are COUNTLESS trail systems in cities and towns across the country---many of which are formally recognized.

    So it seems to me a bit like people saying "Flying isn't possible" while they're being buzzed by airplanes!

    My point is that, clearly, there is a way to make trail systems on city land work---lots of people have done it. I'm not suggesting it's easy...but I suspect that MUCH depends on the level of professionalism, knowledge, and preparation in the MTB community. (City parks and planning people are less likely to seriously entertain a rag-tag gang of sloppy, unprepared MTBers than people who show up in shirts and ties, with briefcases and beautifully-designed Powerpoint presentations.)

    Scott
    I work both sides - trail steward at two sites and board member of IMBA chapter as well as director of a private ski club and chair of the trail committee there.

    In our area nothing is closing. More opportunity is happening than we have help to make it happen.

    I'm not so sure our PowerPoint files are beautifully-designed when we eve make them as much as functional.

    I does not happen overnight. We started out as the outsiders or smallest group - the dirt diggers and not the racers or event people. When some faces changed years ago we embraced any style of riding, racers, races, free ride, kids, families, young, and old.

    My city land manager and city staff including legal feel we're better to not be covert and have just social trails so we get a budget and so no one individual might be in trouble. That doesn't make it easy but the end result has been budget, support, bike park, club house, local beer, clean kitchen and free wifi.

    IMBA is a great start and there are other sources to learn about trails. Go look for chapters and clubs near you to see how they do it.

    In our evolution as a group a few of us early on felt there should be some manner of stewardship for the sport and that went to a much higher level when IMBA started the chapter program and we made that change.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by SWriverstone View Post
    I appreciate the advice UncleTrail, and I've heard it echoed many times.

    ....

    Scott
    Scott, sorry for not replying sooner. Waldo Canyon post-fire flood prep ate a bunch of my free time over the past few weeks.

    I can tell you what others have done in our County. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

    There is an area in our County called Black Forest. The trail users are primarily equestrian users and the parks are developed with that in mind.

    The equestrian users, wanting more "connector" trails in Black Forest, formed a trail group called the Black Forest Trails Association. They developed their own trails Master Plan. Some were old existing social trails and others were new proposed trails for connectivity between the various County Parks.

    The connectivity issue was an area that our County Parks Department struggled with as plowing new trails through private property is never an easy task. From a Parks planning standpoint, having a local group familiar with the area was a boon.

    Anyway, the BFTA had several people who became members of the County Parks Advisory Board. This is a citizen group who in essence oversee what the County Parks Dept. gets involved in. Their members also became board members on several other trail user group. In essence they became a very strong lobbying force locally. Horses might be dumb, but... the BFTA was not.

    Here's the key. They took the BFTA Trails Master Plan and had the County Parks Board adopt it and then recommend that the County adopt it by Resolution. This means that the County Commissioners looked at their plan, agreed with it, and then by "adopting" it forced the County Parks Department to reference it when planning new trails or revising the County Parks Trails Master Plan.

    Yes. It's a long process. But somehow or another you have to get those social trails into a Master Plan for your local Parks Department.

    What you want to do is build a group of "Stakeholders" who all have a vested interest in seeing these trails adopted into your park system. These groups might be businesses, other trail user groups, politicians, Park Board members, etc.... VIP's.

    Show the local government that you can help them financially by supporting grant applications, or even applying for grants yourself, to help pay for these trails. Show them that you can provide volunteers for maintenance. Promote what we call a "sense of ownership" in your fellow riders towards trails, some might call it passion. It's that attitude that get's things done.


    Best of Luck!
    UT

  13. #13
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    Great comments UT (and no worries about the delay---I've been busy too!).

    That sounds like a textbook situation in your county...and a good model to follow. In our case, the social trails continue to be developed more and more. Lately, a small crew has been building split log bridges throughout the park (and really nice ones too---works of art) along the MTB trails...but of course hikers can use them too.

    The guy heading up this effort said "I'd hate to do all this work then get banned from riding here," but I'm hoping that all the work will add up to a clear demonstration to the city that yes, we can and do take care of the trails (and go see for yourself). I know this could be a double-edged sword...but I can't believe it would hurt.

    Scott
    29er wheels are dangerous. They may cause you to go faster which can result in serious bodily injury. —Jim311

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