In a word: Yes.
However, mixing bicyclists and non-bicyclists within the same facility introduces safety and maintenance considerations. This is particularly true in skateparks where patrons are often moving quickly, focused intently on their individual actions in an often hectic environment.
Safety and displacement is the first primary concern. Care must be taken throughout the skatepark design process if the park is intended to be mixed- or dual-use, (i.e., including BMX patrons as a sanctioned user group). The largest design concern is that skateparks—particularly if there few facilities in the area—are very popular and typically over-capacity with only skateboarding patrons. Adding bicycles to the environment further strains capacity and can displace the less experienced users—be they bikes or boards—and return them to inappropriate places.
Increased maintenance is the second primary concern with dual-use skateparks. Skateparks featuring concrete coping, (regardless whether it is “pool coping” blocks or poured-in-place), is typically a point of contention as hard points of a BMX bike can chip the material and make it unusable by skateboarders. If bikes are an intended user group, steel tube coping should be used and not concrete coping. This recommendation applies to any leading edge where skateboard trucks may come into contact with the structure. For dual-use skateparks should reinforce all leading edges with steel.
The secondary considerations are more subtle.
There are sophisticated design considerations if bikes will be included. Bikes travel at higher speeds and can use the park in ways that skateboarders cannot. As a result, bikes can introduce “blind corners” to a park that would otherwise not exist for skateboarders. Experienced skatepark designers can anticipate these areas and will be comfortable designing a skatepark that is safe for mixed use.
There are social considerations as well. In most communities bikers and skaters may share the space without issue. Occasionally, however, the competition for space leads to frustration and resentment that can cause friction between the groups. While it may not be appropriate or warranted, both groups have a tendency to distrust the other. Bikers often feel that they are legitimate park users and resent being held to a different standard than skaters when policy is being determined. Skaters often feel that they have a stronger claim in the space due to the fact that it’s a “skate” park, or that they provided advocacy and fundraising leadership that led to its creation. In the end it will be up to the conflicted community to decide how to best resolve the issue. SPS’ recommendation is that every effort is made to safely include all users who wish to use the park for recreational purposes.
Specifically, Skaters for Public Skateparks encourages and supports mixed-use facilities provided the following conditions are met:
- The BMX and Skateboarding communities are jointly involved and adequately represented during the advocacy, fundraising, and design process. The onus of responsibility lies on both user groups to collaborate and coordinate efforts to advance their mutual goals.
- The skatepark is designed with bike usage as a maintenance and safety consideration. It must be made clear to the designer at the appropriate time that the skatepark will be dual-use. (Conversely, the designer’s dissenting opinion should not be a factor in the community’s decision whether or not to include bikes in the skatepark, nor should they provide designs that cater specifically to skateboarders at the expense of other users.)
- The hosting community has a reasonable level of service for skateboarders and that different user groups will not need to compete for space. No large community should have a sole facility for all of its recreational users. Commitment to an active lifestyle must be demonstrated by the larger community through the designation of adequate recreational space for all its active youth.
SPS recognizes the growing need for sanctioned BMX recreational spaces and we believe that in most cases that space can be the skatepark. However, the voice and message of the local BMX community must be clearly heard. Too much of what defines BMX advocacy is overshadowed by demonstrations to gain access to existing skateparks and not enough on proactive advocacy and coordination with active skatepark activist groups. With a tone that side-steps the skateboarding community’s commitment to skatepark creation and dismisses concerns for maintenance, safety, and displacement—as well being absent during the critical advocacy period—we must see change before BMX can be recommended with fewer stipulations.
BMX Advocacy Today
The most common arguments for (and against) mixed-use skateparks often come across as inaccurate and naive. At SPS we feel that the language that dominates BMX advocacy, (and counter-BMX advocacy), must be retooled and that it’s time for BMX activists to join skatepark advocates in a unified approach to our mutual needs. That cannot happen if the following arguments continue to dominate the communication between these groups:
(BMX appeal) “Our needs are identical.”
This is a common response by BMX activists to skatepark design considerations. It is likely rooted in a desire by those activists to better align BMX needs with those of skateboarders and depict the group as well-suited to the skatepark environment. In fact, BMX and skateboarder needs are not identical. They merely share some common design preferences. Some skateparks will be more popular with BMXers than others, just as some skateparks are more popular with skaters than others.
Bikes have much larger wheels can easily ride across rougher terrain and variances that skaters. Skateboards, with their smaller wheels, can enjoy smaller radii in the structures yet have a narrower tolerance for variances. Obstacles that are challenging for skaters are often easy for bikes, and vice versa. Bikes travel much faster and can often span areas of a skatepark that only the most skilled skateboarder would even consider. (This is not generally a concern among experienced BMX riders or skaters but can be a serious safety issue when inexperienced users are present.) It is clear that although BMX and skateboarding needs are similar in many ways, they are not identical.
A simple illustration of the divergent needs of skaters and bikers can be found in their footprint. Skateboards are typically 8- by 30-inches, or 240 square inches when a person is standing on it. A BMX bike about 10- by 60-inches, or 600 square inches total. While it may not seem like a difference of inches should be significant, a few bikes can easily fill the space on the decks of ramps and bowls. A typical design consideration therefore would be that in parks where bikes are a sanctioned user group, the decks and staging areas around the skatepark should be larger than they might be for a “skateboard only” park.
(BMX argument) “Our constitutional rights and/or taxes grant us access to this ‘public’ place.”
This rhetorical strategy relies on an expectation of privilege and has no practical bearing on a real-world consideration for BMX inclusion. Obviously people cannot simply recreate however they please in any public space that suits them. Skateboarders understand this probably better than anyone. In places where it’s appropriate and sustainable these users’ needs can and should be accommodated.
Our taxes pay for many things that we either do not personally use, have no need for, or even deny us access. Skateparks are commonly created to provide a safe place for skaters to recreate. This is particularly true when it is local skateboarders who advocated for the park’s creation. Once the park is open, two groups benefit from its existence; the skaters and the people who are frustrated by skateboarding activity in those places where it’s not appropriate or allowed. The skatepark has provided a mutually beneficial solution to two problems: The skaters had no appropriate place to recreate and area businesses had an epidemic of nuisance behavior. When bikes are permitted in the skatepark as a result of a policy change, there is a new beneficiary; the BMX community. It may be claimed that area businesses also benefit if BMX activity was presenting a nuisance. Skateboarders, however, do not benefit whatsoever at face value. What skateboarders gain from BMX users in the skatepark is a more crowded space. If the park becomes unbearably congested, displaced skaters and BMX riders return to recreate in places where it’s not appropriate. The only solution is that an adequate amount of skatepark terrain is available to accommodate all of the intended users.
The best method for ensuring adequate space is for BMX users to be considered when the park space is allocated. If there is insufficient BMX representation during this portion of the process, introducing those users later can easily introduce problems.
(Skateboarder rebuttal) “Build a bike park.”
This is a common reaction by skatepark advocates to increased access demands by bike riders. While this seems reasonable at first, the truth is that skateparks often require several years of devoted advocacy and fundraising to become a reality. The practical considerations of the BMX community to embark on a mission to create a bike-only facility is unfairly demanding. A majority of skatepark advocacy efforts have little BMX involvement or representation. Whether this is because there are fewer BMX riders interested in skatepark access than skateboarders or an underestimation of the importance of their role in the process, skaters often conclude the process feeling like the local BMX community “didn’t do its fair share” in regards to advocacy and fundraising. As a result, the no-bikes policy may have a moralistic subtext that further erodes the potential for collaborations between the two user groups.
There are bike parks in the U.S. and it has been demonstrated that in many areas there is a tangible need for more parks that cater to BMX. At SPS we are confident that this need will continue to grow and become the catalyst for renewed BMX advocacy for new dual-use skateparks.
Many communities that are flush with skateparks typically see the older parks become de facto bike parks with the skaters flocking to the newer, (and usually smoother), facilities. As parks get older, sometimes the surfaces can become rough and unpleasant for skaters but larger, softer bike wheels are unaffected. Depending on the designs of the older parks, this has generally been an acceptable solution. Therefore, an expedient solution for growing BMX agitation may be to revise BMX policy on the area’s older skateparks.
SPS Recommends: Creating new facilities specifically for BMX faces many practical and economic challenges. If these can be overcome, BMX-only facilities are a great way to meet the growing needs of your community’s bike riders. If not—as is usually the case—providing BMX access to those parks where BMX is most appropriate from a safety standpoint is the next best option.
(Skateboarder rebuttal) “Bikes will damage the park and make it unsafe”
Safety of the users and damage to the facility are the most common reasons for excluding BMX from skateparks. While this argument is absolutely true—bikes DO damage the skatepark and DO introduce risk—the same can be said of skaters. In fact, just about any kind of use will ultimately damage the skatepark. It’s simple wear and tear. The pertinent question is this: Do bikes significantly accelerate wear-and-tear on the skatepark?
Similarly, the argument that bikes make the skatepark unsafe is dispelled with the same logic. Skateboarding is an inherently risky activity just like any other sport. Bikes don’t introduce this risk but they may magnify it. The question becomes: Do bikes significantly increase the risk to park users?
The answers depend largely upon the design and construction of the park.
Wear-and-tear is the result of the contact areas between the user’s equipment and the structure. (Weather can be a factor in weakening the structures and accelerating wear-and-tear.) For skateboards the contact points are the wheels, the axle (or hanger) on the trucks, and the underside of the decks. In some situations the ends of the axles that protrude slightly from the sides of the wheels will also contact the structure. The evidence of contact can be seen on the leading edge of ledges and the tops of the ramps. You will often see colorful scrapes where the underside of the deck has slid along a railing and deposited paint from the board’s graphic. The other evidence is residue left by wax that many skaters use to decrease friction and enable smoother slides and grinds. Tiny aluminum flakes from the skateboard’s trucks mix with the wax and oxidize, becoming black. For skaters this does not represent wear-and-tear but rather a “conditioning” of the ledge that improves its skateboarding function.
The contact areas for bikes is naturally different. When abandoning a trick, the bike’s handlebars, pedals, sprockets, axles, and axle pegs can all contact the structure. During successful tricks, pegs, wheels, and pedals are the most common points of contact. Tricks involving pegs are as common for BMX as tricks involving grinds for skateboards. Depending on the angle of the bike, the end of the peg is usually the main contact point and will eventually leave a grooved gouge behind the leading edge of the ledge or lip about three or four inches onto the deck. In concrete parks with steel coping this isn’t a concern but in wood or polymer parks, such as those featuring a Skatelite surface, if there is no protective steel plate behind and below the coping, a deep and potentially destructive groove can form which will eventually compromise the sublayer and support structure beneath.
Sprockets, axles, and handlebars most often cause damage when the bike is thrown away from the rider as a trick is abandoned. (Just like skateboarders, when it becomes clear during a trick that things are not going to end well, the rider’s equipment is often kicked away to prevent a dangerous landing.) The bike can create a small divot in the place that it hits the ground. In parks that feature larger halfpipes—a structure many BMXers enjoy—the pitted evidence of abandoned tricks can be found about the 5- and 7-o’clock positions on the curved form. There is no remedy for this situation except to use high strength concrete in these impact areas. Some features in skateparks, concrete coping in particular, are easily damaged by BMX pegs which leads to an unusable feature for skaters and an expensive (and frequent) repair by the park stewards.
SPS Recommends: Wear-and-tear from BMX can easily be mitigated through proper skatepark design and construction. We encourage communities and the companies they employ to build their skateparks to presume that BMX riders will be attracted to the park and be frequent visitors to the facility, (sanctioned or not), and design the park appropriately.
BMX and skater safety is a paramount concern for everyone. It is irresponsible to toss around allegations of safety compromises without some practical evidence as it diminishes the importance of the topic. Claiming that BMX does not introduce safety concerns is irresponsible and potentially hazardous. BMX inclusion represents risk, but that risk may be acceptable provided other precautions are taken.
The first important exercise in determining to what degree introducing BMX to an existing skatepark will negatively impact safety is to assess how many people are currently using the park. Every skatepark has a natural rhythm that dictates who goes when and where. This “skatepark ettiquette” is the result of years of skaters sharing the space. Some users will be more perceptive than others but the less-experienced skaters and BMX riders will suffer the most. They may be struggling to understand when it’s their turn to go…when the “coast is clear.” The person starting their run across the park can easily be missed because it is outside of their experience level to perceive and appreciate. An experienced park user, particularly a regular at that specific park, will be sensitive to everyone in the park, what they’re doing, where they are likely to go, and how they can be safely avoided.
For the inexperienced skater or BMX rider, a swift bike rider can be within the their path within seconds. It’s not malicious or intentional; it’s simply two different levels of experience attempting to share the common space. The bottom line is that not everyone has the same capacity or tolerance to manage the complex impact that bikes can bring to a skateboarding space. The ideal solution is to mitigate the potential of collisions through design.
SPS Recommends: Anticipate the inclusion of BMX—sanctioned or otherwise—and design the park with a sensitivity towards mitigating areas that BMX riders and skateboarders might collide. These are typically found in structural relationships that bikes can traverse and average skateboarders cannot. Inform your skatepark designer that bikes will be a likely park visitor (often regardless of the posted park rules) and to design accordingly.
(BMX appeal) “We can have split sessions.”
Bike-only sessions have been known to work in some cases but in skateparks without an active stewardship group the schedule generally collapses within a few weeks. While many park users will respect the posted schedule for bike- or board-only access, it simply takes a few individuals to demonstrate that the rules can be easily overlooked. The temptation of the first nice day after a period of showers can further strain agree-upon times, especially when circumstances get one group “rained out” while the other enjoys sunshine.
If the skaters and bikers didn’t universally support a split session scheme in the first place, a different solution may need to be found. It’s common, and reasonable, that the skaters currently enjoying a skateboard-only skatepark will be skeptical of a schedule constraint. If one of the user groups supports scheduled sessions as a concession for exclusive access, resentment and conflicts can arise…particularly skaters who typically have more concerns with sharing the space with bikes than bikes do with skaters. A good rule of thumb is to gauge the level of current policy compliance. If skatepark rules are routinely ignored, it’s unlikely that introducing more structure to the environment will lead to greater compliance. In other words, if local BMX riders are frequently found using the skatepark in spite of a no-BMX policy, there is little evidence to suggest that they would universally become compliant and adhere to a schedule.
SPS Recommends: While split sessions sound reasonable, they are difficult to implement and enjoy widespread compliance. Therefore, split sessions should only be an option for supervised facilities or in cases where there is existing universal compliance with the skatepark rules.
Please avoid the temptation to find the expedient solution to your BMX access concerns. Doing so only ensures that your skatepark will fail to meet your community’s needs. Similarly, we thank the majority of individuals and communities who continue to study the issue and experiment with new ways of providing equitable access to both groups of users. BMX advocates are continuing to improve their involvement in skatepark advocacy and skateboarders are becoming increasingly tolerant and sensitive to the needs and methods of BMX park usage. SPS is confident that in the near future BMX considerations in skatepark environments will seem like an antiquated and trivial concern.
Additional Steps for BMX Inclusion:
There are a number of opportunities to introduce BMX users to an existing skatepark that have not yet proven to be successful but may be viable for your community.
BMX lessons: Enlist experienced volunteer BMX riders to provide BMX lessons in the skatepark. The lessons can conclude with a few hours of “free ride” time. This provides a window of access for local BMX enthusiasts to enjoy the park under the supervision of a Parks “employee.” The instructor’s presence will provide the tacit supervision and structure to ensure that the park is used responsibly and safely. With enough regular frequency, skaters and BMX riders will come to understand when the park is “BMX friendly” without having to rely upon an aggregate self-discipline.
Peg covers and pegless bikes: Some BMX activists will offer the use of peg covers and pegless bikes as a condition of access, or even the avoidance of particular tricks that are known to rapidly increase wear-and-tear on a park, (particularly on concrete coping). While these concessions are well-meaning, they are difficult to enforce and the “requirement” soon becomes a “suggestion” after the new users become familiar with the space. Without strict enforcement, the user who is unaware of the requirement may be in violation of the policy without even knowing it. However, WITH enforcement and methods for bringing a patron’s bike into compliance expediently, a policy like this may be successful. Peg covers should be made available during bike sessions (or persistently available for dual-use parks), and tricks that violate the intent of the policy should be addressed immediately, consistently, and appropriately.