BMX and Skate Parks
By now you have probably been approached, or soon will be, by your local BMX bike riders. They will be asking you to allow them into the skate park or to build them a BMX park.
I know what you, as a city parks and recreation official, are thinking: "Gee, we just got the skateboarding thing ironed out and now we have this to deal with."
Not only that, but you may not even know that much about why the local BMX riders are so interested in using the skatepark. You built them a bike lane, you allow them to ride on the streets next to buses. What more danger could they possibly want and is it our responsibility to supply them with places to ride?
Well, with the understanding of how freestyle BMX riders work, it would be easy to see how a skatepark is a logical place for them to practice, to gather, and to add to the danger level a little bit.
Also, satisfying the needs of this group of citizens is every bit as important as satisfying the needs of the skateboarders, the inline skaters or the soccer players. That is why the responsibility facilitate this activity falls upon cities and other public entities. But more than a civic-and vocational-responsibility, it is in the spirit of all that is American to help these freestyle BMX riders practice and achieve their goals, just as other athletes are able to chase theirs.
If we, as Americans, can pursue a variety of religious beliefs or have the freedom to speak our minds peacefully on any issue, why can't we, in the same way, pursue our athletic dreams? The United States has always been a leader in all areas of athletics. Just while I've been alive-50 years-I have witnessed the invention of windsurfing, snowboarding, snow skates, snow skis (for people with disabilities), inline skating, roller hockey, women's hockey, women's soccer, skateboarding, motocross racing, BMX bike riding, sky surfing and so on.
When a sport grows and thrives, like BMX has, it should be available to everyone, not just the well off. It is our responsibility to help our youth and support them in every way we can. This is an investment in our future. How fortunate for us that BMX involves not only 12- and 14-year-olds, but older youth and grown men. It, like skateboarding, is an activity the whole family can enjoy.
The popularity of events such as the X-Games has spread to five continents. Freestyle BMX riding is one of the staples of the X-Games competition and remains one of the most popular events they have.
However, despite the wide-reaching popularity that freestyle riding has achieved on this continent and others, BMX freestyle riders are still often unwelcome to many skateparks throughout the country. I have worked with a number of BMX riders on a number of projects and I find that they are every bit as dedicated and committed as the skateboarders to their sport and to the advancement of it.
The sad truth is that some of these riders have gone through the tough experience of serving on a local skatepark committee, only to see the park refuse to let BMX riders use the park. Despite the hours of work and help the BMX riders put in to the project, the quick decision of an official places the BMX riders back on the streets with no designated place to practice.
In order to make a better educated decision as to what to do with BMX bike riders and skateparks, we should first understand who the freestyle riders are. Approximately four million Americans are serious BMX riders. Both kids and adults ride BMX bikes. Kids like them because, not only are they challenging and enjoyable, but there are no complicated gears to deal with, no special shoes that clip in, and their feet reach the ground.
"BMX" stands for bicycle motocross. Kids too young for a motorcycle built dirt courses and jumps in their backyards and vacant fields and used bicycles instead of the motorcycles to gain speed, jump, flip and land. The sport began to get more recognition when George E. Esser founded and incorporated the National Bicycle League as a non-profit bicycle motocross sanctioning organization in 1974.
After some time, there began to be riders that were less interested in the more traditional racing that had become associated with the BMX riding and began to turn to doing tricks on their bikes. They started calling themselves "freestylers" and a new chapter in the history of BMX riding was born. When the first skateparks were built, BMX freestylers were there side by side with the skateboarders. In the 1970s, BMX magazines started to pick up on the new trend and regularly published photos of the freestylers. In 1984, the new magazine Freestylin and the legendary skatepark competition series "King of Skateparks" both made their debut.
Freestyle BMX continued to grow but when the skateparks closed down in the 1980s, the bikers took to the streets. They, like the skateboarders, had to adapt to their new playground and it forever changed the sport of Freestyle BMX.
As skateparks are returning to cities, so too, are BMX riders returning to the skateparks. Be Core Productions, owned by Mark Billik, produces the "Core Tour" and features dirt, street and vert competitions in BMX. Billik produced the Philips X Rage tour of 10 countries last year which also featuring BMX competitions.
"BMX riders are very professional guys to work with," said Billik. "They are spectacular in the stunts and wonderful with the kids. They really make a connection. BMX riders show up in every country that we stopped in."
Unfortunately most cities are still refusing to allow bikes in their parks. Unfortunately, many of the skateboarders, who used to work with the freestyle BMX riders to get parks built, do not want the additional crowding of BMX riders on their park and therefore are against the BMX cause. Although every situation is different and each city cites different reasons for not supporting BMX riders in their parks, listed below are some of the more common concerns.
Cover BMX riders through SPA/USA or Police Activities League (PAL). Either one of these options can limit liability concerns. You can get up to $1 million in liability coverage included with membership in SPA/USA. When joining with the PAL, the PAL will have an officer at the park supervising for their program.In Washington state: - Revised Code of Washington State RCW 4.24.210 Liability of owners or others in possession
of land and water areas for injuries to recreation users:: During the 1997 session, the legislature adopted SSB 5254
which amended the recreational user statute, RCW 4.24.210, to expand covered activities by adding "skateboarding
or other nonmotorized wheel-based activities, bicycling, hanggliding, paragliding."
This means that the cities will not be held responsible for injuries sustained by skateboarders or
inline skaters bmxers ( bmx is bicycles ) at skateboard parks operated by the city as long as:
(1) a fee is not charged for use of the skateboard park; and
(2) conspicuous signs are posted to warn of any known dangerous, artificial, latent conditions.
This legislation was effective on July 27, 1997. WCIA Skateboard Information - Issued 1-96
Tips For BMX And Dual Usage Parks
Although the ideal situation is to build two separate parks, this is often impossible due to budget and land restrictions. Another option is the dual usage parks.
Gary Ream, owner of the legendary Camp Woodward in Pennsylvania, said, "We don't have a conflict (between BMX riders and skateboarders). BMX was here first. We started as a gymnastics camp and let BMX, then skateboarders and finally inline skaters into the facilities."
Ream also noted that while inline skaters can ride anything, BMX riders need more space than a skateboarder. Last year they had 2,400 BMX riders enroll in the program with an average age of 14. Ream reports no difference in the injury rates between skaters and BMX riders. They do not ride in the same parks at the same time and all riders are required to wear helmets and full pads.
Dave Duncan, a professional skateboarder, skatepark designer and builder, said that an above ground dual-usage park should have sheet metal on either side of the coping to lessen the damage from the pegs that are often part of BMX bikes used for freestyle.
The important thing to remember is that cities and municipalities have a responsibility to all of their youth. Considerations need to be made for freestyle bike riding and there are a number of ways to go. The best thing to do is evaluate what your city can afford, talk with your designer and builder, talk with your skatepark committee and figure out the best way to do things in your community.
As in all skatepark projects, it is imperative to find a builder/designer that has experience in skatepark building. Always hire or consult with professionals. These sports are very dangerous and very specialized. I strongly caution against buying a "How to build a skate or BMX park" book. There is a park right now being sued because they let local kids build the ramps. The ramps were fine but the attorney is looking for a loophole because his client has outstanding medical bills.
If you hire a landscape architect, make sure you ask for the qualifications of the skatepark designer. Do not accept the local 12-year-olds as consultants to the skatepark project. Landscape architects have to accept the fact that they are going to have to hire a consultant for this part of the project if they are not qualified. You are paying for the park and you deserve to have a good park built that is as safe as is possible and that facilitates both skaters and BMX bike riders.
For additional information on BMX bike riding and freestyling, contact either the National Bicycle League (NBL), the American Bicycle Association (ABA) or the more broad based organization, BMX Riders Organization (BRO).
Heidi Lemmon is the founder of the Skate Park Association
of the United States of America (
BMX and Skate Parks - EDITORIAL
Somewhere between birth and high school graduation we learn a very important lesson. Life isn't fair.
I learned that life wasn't fair when I was about five-years-old, which was also the same time that I mastered the phrase "That isn't fair."
The first realizations of life's unfairness, and the following utterance of that famous phrase, probably had something to do with the dealings between my older brother and myself. He was probably allowed to do something that I wasn't able to. Or worse, he probably harmed me in some way and wasn't given what I believed to be a satisfactory punishment.
We all realize that there are some areas of life that we just can't expect to be fair. However, there are some things in life that should strive to be, and I believe for the most part, can be fair.
One is that of use of a skatepark.
The scenario to get a skatepark often begins with the saying of "That's not fair." Well, not those words exactly, but will come in the form of a protesting skateboarder who has been ticketed by a local police officer for skating downtown. It may come from a local that sees that a neighboring city has a place specifically designated for skating, and in turn believes that it is only fair to build one in their city.
Eventually (not to trivialize the process that we spend so much time trying to educate people on) a skatepark is built. In many cases, as soon as the grand opening is held, a big sign is placed at the entrance of the park that explains that no BMX riders are allowed in the park.
Now, unless it is a private park that was funded entirely by a private group of people and will be maintained by the owners or operators of the park themselves, this discrimination seems unfair.
These same skaters that were crying for being unfairly discriminated against because the city builds and maintains softball fields for those citizens who enjoy softball are the same ones that often times suggest that BMX freestylers be excluded from enjoying the picture perfect riding situation that a well-designed, well-constructed new skatepark can bring.
To me, this seems odd.
I understand that there are a number of maintenance issues that cities have to deal with when BMX bike riders are allowed into the park. I understand that there are additional risks of injury when the various types of riders are using the park at the same time and I understand that there are often subtle design differences that should be taken into account when trying to facilitate both types of users. However, I believe that if it is a priority for a city to offer a place for BMX riders to ride, then a solution can-and should-be found.
Ideally, I believe that a city should build and maintain a separate park for BMX riders. This park could be specifically designed and built to be used by BMX freestylers. To be fair, the park's size should be relative to the number of potential users. For example, if during the planning stages of the park it is determined that there are equal numbers of BMX freestylers as there are skate boarders, then the BMX park should be the same size and have the same amount of money allotted for design and construction.
However, I know that for many cities throughout the country, the thought of placing one of these parks in your city is a little frightening, especially if you haven't done it before. The thought of organizing the building and maintaining of two parks is almost more than you can bear.
The fact is that, whether you like it or not, BMX freestylers are going to use your parks. There are exceptions, and there are ways that you can strongly deter them if that is a priority. But by and large, bike riders are going to find there way to your park. I have been to parks where these young people lurk in the shadows waiting for rule enforcement officials leave the area and then join the fray with any number of skating users. They are viewed as jackals waiting to pounce on small prey when no one is watching. This double standard is unjustified.
The BMX riders are kids-just like the skateboarders or inline skaters-and should be treated as valued members of the community. Not as some lawbreaker that looks to rebel against authority.
To combat this idea, another option that should be considered is setting aside a specific time for BMX riders to use the facility. Many cities are doing this, either as the solution or while they look for a more permanent solution. I believe that BMX riders are similar to skateboarders in their personality in that if they are given a place to ride (or a time to ride) they will be willing to follow that regulation, especially if they are part of the decision making as to when the park will be for their use. Setting aside time on Monday morning from 5:30 a.m. until 7 a.m. just for bikes and not allowing any other time is not right and you will see BMX riders using the park at more "peak" times.
Work with the local bike riding community. Have BMX riders on your planning committee or task force. Get their input. One of the main things to consider when planning for bikes is to use a quality manufacturer, designer and/or builder. Let them know that you are going to facilitate bikers. If it is set up in advance that they will be part of the community using the park, adjustments may be able to be made to make maintenance less of an issue. Also, using the higher-quality professionals will help with these later costs as well.
They have valuable ideas that deserve to be heard and valuable talents that deserve to be developed.