Freestyle BMX riding is an exciting and challenging activity that
engages young people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. BMX
parks—and skateparks that permit BMX riding—provide
safe places for kids to ride and socialize, keeping them off busy streets and away from trouble. Unfortunately, BMX riders are often excluded from public skateparks across the country, largely due to unfounded claims that their presence in parks is destructive and even dangerous.
This document is designed to help riders, parents, and other BMX advocates approach city council, park planners, and others in the community who may assert that BMX is not appropriate in skateparks. Tips are presented to help explain how to reduce conflict between bikers and skaters, keep BMX legal in existing parks, and build new, sustainable facilities that are safe and fun for BMX riders.
To learn more about BMX access in Skateparks, also view the results and report for our 2009 survey and this article written by a Bikes Belong grant recipient designed to help others start and keep BMX parks open.
- User Conflict—Can't We All Just Get Along?
- Wear & Tear—The Myth and the Reality
- Safety First—Addressing Collisions and Other Concerns
- Liability, Insurance, and Management
- Keys to Success
User Conflict—Can't We All Just Get Along?
"Just because the term 'skatepark' doesn't have the word 'bike' in it doesn't mean bikes don't belong. 'Skatepark' has become a generic term for ramp facility, in the same way that Xerox has become a generic term for photocopies, or Kleenex for facial tissues—it's simple and easy to say."—AccessBMX.com
Problem 1: Conflicts Between Bikers and Skaters
Bikes are frequently excluded from skateparks because conflicts arise between BMX riders and skateboarders—whether they are due to perceived damage and safety concerns, overcrowding, or other issues. As BMX riders are usually outnumbered by skaters, municipalities often choose to "solve" conflicts by closing parks to bikes. However, public parks should serve the public; if BMX riders are part of that public, provisions should be made to include them in the recreation plan. Here are some ways to help do that.
Solution 1: Separate Facilities
Some experts claim that building separate parks is the very best solution to this complex problem. This solution eliminates conflict from the start, negates concerns about damage caused by specific users, and (arguably) provides bikers and skaters with the best, safest park experiences. However, many communities do not have the funding or the space to create separate parks for bikers and skaters.
Additionally, people often want what they can't have. . .and unless parks are supervised, skaters might stray into the BMX park, and bikers might roll into the skatepark in search of different terrain. When advocating for separate parks, you need to be sure your community's BMX riders and skaters are prepared to play by the rules.
Access BMX has designed a great online starter kit to help groups get public BMX parks planned and built. The BMX Riders Association has a comprehensive list of U.S. skateparks that allow BMX.
Note: www.accessbmx.com is currently offline. We will report when we learn anything about this.
Solution 2: Separate Schedules
Many successful multi-use parks have established separate schedules for riders and skaters. Though this approach requires some self-policing at unsupervised facilities, it is generally successful—particularly when separate schedules are established from the beginning. When designing a schedule, it's important to consider the user numbers for each sport, and to take prime recreation times into account. Here's an example of a schedule that accommodates BMX riders and skaters by giving each group some prime riding time.
The Flip Side
Although separating bikes and boards seems to be the easiest solution, some of the most successful parks in the world are completely mixed use, and skateboarders, inline skaters, and BMX riders coexist in harmony. In fact, they inspire one another to try new tricks, new lines—and even new sports. Great parks, designed and built well with input from all the user groups, can serve multiple disciplines and build a community of action-sports enthusiasts. Parents—chauffeurs to the under-16 set—appreciate the fact that their BMX-loving and skateboard-crazed children can ride in the same park at the same time, avoiding multiple laps to and from the park in the minivan. Parks in the UK, such as Southsea and Romford, have been making the full-time, mixed-use approach work since the early 1970s.
Wear & Tear—The Myth and the Reality
"We run bikes, blades, and boards together every session, we've never had any problems. . . bikes have never affected the maintenance of the park."—Effraim Catlow, Southsea Skatepark, UK
Problem 2: Wear and Tear on Skateparks
One of the primary complaints from skaters is that BMX bikes, by their design and the way they are ridden, are destroying skateparks. Critics say that pegs and pedals grind the surface and coping of parks, and that, over time, the damage can cause potential hazards for skaters. This can be true of old, poorly built parks that were not designed to current specifications, particularly in terms of concrete density.
However, new, well-constructed parks should not show abnormal signs of wear from BMX use. In fact, the Skate Parks Association (SPA/USA) has been conducting research on parks for several years and has not found evidence that bikes cause more damage than skateboards or inline skaters. (See spausa.org/bikes-parks.html for more information.)
Solution 1: Park-Friendly Products
"Park-friendly" pegs and pedals, made of or coated with plastic, can significantly reduce damage to weak surfaces. Some parks allow (or require) riders to borrow or rent these products, and a few progressive parks have set up exchange programs with incentives for riders to turn in their old pegs for a set of park-friendly ones. These products can be found at macneilbmx.com, hoffmanbikes.com, and terribleone.com, among others.
Solution 2: Protection
Protective treatments and retrofits, such as reinforced concrete or metal sheeting, can be applied to old concrete to strengthen it and hinder or stop the erosion process at old or poorly built parks. To learn more about these treatments, visit ramparmor.com.
Solution 3: Planning
If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. The cost of building a park that is sturdy enough to support BMX riding is far less than the cost of rebuilding or retrofitting it. Damage is much more difficult (and pricey) to repair than it is to prevent.
When building a new park, it is critical to hire a design/build company with a solid background in bike/skatepark construction, or to hire a knowledgeable consultant to advise the builder. These professionals know the best way to design a facility that supports both skaters and bikers, and they consider everything from lines and flow to concrete density and coping treatments. It's also important to bring BMX riders and skateboarders to the table during the planning process, to ensure that the park will meet users' needs and expectations. See Resources for a list of top builders.
Solution 4: Patience
Experts note that riding in a park before the concrete cures completely—or on "green" concrete—can cause excessive damage to the facility. It can take up to six months for concrete to cure, so BMX riders need to be patient. A great park is well worth the wait.
The Flip Side
Ask your community to weigh the importance of keeping a skatepark perfect and pristine against the importance of keeping kids happy, engaged in physical activity, and off busy streets. A little wear and tear—which can be caused by both BMX bikes and skateboards—may be a small price to pay for the numerous benefits these activities bring to the young people who pursue them.
Safety First—Addressing Collisions and Other Safety Concerns
Problem 3: The Fear of Collisions Between Bikers and Skaters
Some critics of BMX maintain that more accidents occur in parks where bikers and skaters ride together, and that these accidents tend to be more severe. However, according to a study commissioned by Portland (OR) Parks & Recreation, there's no substantial data to support this theory. In fact, many parks have seen no increase in accidents at all since they've opened their gates to BMX riders. The parks that see the most collisions—regardless of user groups—are the parks that host the biggest crowds.
The argument that a skater's experience in the park is diminished by the presence of bikes—whether it's because the skater is afraid of colliding with a bike, feels the skating flow is disturbed by BMX riders' big lines, or due to other concerns—holds a bit more weight. Skaters and bikers often agree that the riding experience in their favorite park is better—and feels safer—when they can have it all to themselves. Here are some solutions that can help improve park time for all user groups.
Solution 1: Separate Parks
If a city is able to build and maintain a separate park for BMX riders, this is a great solution.
Solution 2: Separate Schedules
The cost of two facilities can be prohibitive for many municipalities. Separate schedules for user groups can alleviate safety concerns and conflicts—assuming users abide by the rules or sessions are supervised.
Solution 3: Good Design—Bring Bikers and Skaters to the Drawing Board
By seeking input from BMX riders and skaters during the design phases, planners are able to build parks that mitigate conflict and address safety issues by their very design. Skaters will congregate in the areas that are most exciting and appealing to them, while BMX riders play in the spots where they feel the most challenged. In well-designed parks, collisions will be few and far between.
Problem 4: Inexperienced Users
When people are new to the sports of BMX and skating, their lines are sometimes difficult to predict. This can be hazardous to more seasoned park users. It can also be used as a reason to exclude BMX from a park, as a wayward bike can be more dangerous than a skateboard.
Solution 1: Beginner Times & Clinics
Some parks help new users get into the groove by designating "beginners only" times each week, when newbies can test and refine their skills. Others host clinics for new skaters and riders to speed them toward success. These measures help keep all park users safe.
Solution 2: Design for All Abilities
When parks include obstacles and events for all abilities, beginners will congregate in areas that match their skills, and advanced users will be drawn to more challenging spots. Good design helps riders and skaters regulate themselves, eliminating the need for supervision and helping to keep all users happy and safe.
The Flip Side
Many parks that have opened their gates to BMX riders report that they have no more crashes now than they did before bikes were allowed. What they have found is that skaters and bikers learn to anticipate each other's movements—and they learn to respect, appreciate, and even participate in each other's sports!
Problem 5: Overcrowding at Skateparks
When planning a new park, it's important to consider what success will mean. Good parks—even single-use facilities—can get a little crowded, particularly when they first open. When parks exceed their user capacity, it can lead to safety concerns, conflicts, and a less appealing experience for all involved.
Solutions to this problem include:
Click a topic above to go directly to that section of this paper.
The Flip Side
Overcrowding isn't such a bad problem for a park to have. It means lots of kids in the community are enthusiastic about skating and biking! They're engaging in activities that keep them fit, hone their balance and agility, and build their confidence. And, although it may not always seem like it when they're flying through the air or speeding down a ramp, they're in a relatively safe environment.
Liability, Insurance, and Management
"The key to keeping these parks successful is making kids feel like they have ownership. . . getting them involved from the beginning. . . . Let them establish the rules and be involved in the design process and you won't have any problems. Youth have a voice—listen!" —Ron Ecksley, California Police Activities League
Problem 6: Liability Concerns at Public Parks
Cities often balk at the idea of opening an existing park to BMX riders or building a new park for bikers and skaters because they fear that accidents could lead to costly litigation. Although codes and statutes differ from state to state and municipality to municipality, several general principals apply across the board.
Solution 1: Post the Rules
Many states have laws that classify skating and BMX biking as "hazardous activities" and declare cities exempt from liability as long as they post adequate safety requirements. Rules should be clearly displayed at the entrance to every bike/skatepark. Click here for a sample list of rules.
Solution 2: Investigate Insurance Options
Contrary to popular belief, most companies that insure municipalities don't consider public skateparks to be a high risk. In fact, slides, swing sets, and monkey bars in public parks often require higher premiums than skateparks. Many insurance policies that cover city parks already include accommodations for skateparks, and there are many companies, including the Skate Park Association of the United States of America, that offer additional coverage. This article from Insurance Journal provides more information.
Solution 3: Join Forces
Local police departments can be strong partners in your park project. Police are often willing to help enforce the rules at your park and to ensure that the park is a safe environment for youth. The Police Activities League (PAL) can be particularly helpful; check to see if your town has a chapter at www.nationalpal.org. Be sure to involve police from the beginning, by including them in the planning process.
The Flip Side
Skate Parkitecture, a skatepark design and resource company, conducted a comprehensive study of 60 skateparks on the West Coast. They reported that only two claims had ever been filed against these parks, and both claims were lost. Visit the Skate Parkitecture website for more information.
Problem 7: Management Options—What's Best for BMX?
Public bike/skateparks—and particularly skateparks that are considering whether or not to allow BMX—often find it difficult to choose between supervised and unsupervised facilities. There are plusses and minuses to both, and cities should choose the option that best fits their needs and their budgets.
Solution 1: Unsupervised Facilities
Generally, unsupervised facilities tend to have the best track record in terms of liability. As a result, more and more parks—particularly those in urban areas with high use—are choosing this option. By posting signs at public skateparks, stating that users skate and ride at their own risk, municipalities are unlikely to be held liable for accidents. Users at these parks must self-police and play by the rules, but management costs and liability are significantly reduced.
Solution 2: Supervised Facilities
Supervised parks can serve as recreation centers, benefiting kids through instruction and mentorship. Staff can also enforce rules such as skater-only and biker-only sessions, arguably ensuring a safer environment for users. Staffed facilities tend to incur more liability, however, so it's important to hire competent individuals who are trained in bike/skatepark management. Some parks charge admission fees in order to recoup the cost of staffing, while others are able to utilize park funding to cover staff costs.
Solution 3: Public/Private Partnerships
Some municipalities have partnered with private organizations in order to decrease liability and afford supervision at their bike/skateparks. The Action Park Alliance (APA) provides management assistance in the form of insurance, staff/supervision, maintenance, and programming/events. Partnerships like this enable parks to serve youth while keeping their management and insurance costs low.
The following articles from Parks & Recreation magazine provide more information on the issues of management and liability.
- "The supervision solution: a public-private approach to skatepark management"
- "Open for business: operational items to consider once your skatepark is in use"
Click here for more information on the pros and cons of various management styles.
Keys to Success
Activate the BMX Riders! One of the primary reasons BMX riders aren't allowed in skateparks is that they didn't help get them planned and built. Skaters have a long history and a great track record advocating for parks and raising money to build them—which is one of the reasons they feel justified in trying to keep bikers out. BMX riders should be involved in the planning process, from start to finish.
Attend City Council or Parks & Recreation Meetings. Let your voice be heard! Skaters have been doing this for years, and they have the parks to prove it.
Put It in Writing. By sending a letter or presenting a petition to your City Council or Parks & Recreation Department, you show that you're committed to your cause. Access BMX has sample letters and petitions in their online starter kit, at accessbmx.com.
Partner with Local Bike Dealers. These business owners can champion your efforts to get parks built or keep parks open to bikers. Bike shop owners want to see you succeed as much as you do! In fact, their business depends on it.
Align with Skaters. When it comes right down to it, we all want the same thing: great places to skate and ride. If you approach your city planners as a unified group of bikers and skaters, you increase your numbers—and your clout.
Involve Your Community. Local governments need to see that community members—not just BMX riders—believe in your cause. Help educate local businesses and individuals about the benefits of BMX, so they can be enthusiastic supporters.
Portland (OR) Parks & Recreation commissioned a discussion paper called "Public Skatepark Management Options & Free-Style BMX Bike Use." It includes useful information on the issues presented here as well as helpful feedback from professionals, builders, and riders.
There are also a number of resources online that discuss these topics in more detail. Here are a few links to help you get started:
Advocacy Groups and Other Resources
- Action Park Alliance: www.allianceskateparks.com
- AccessBMX.com: www.accessbmx.com (Note: accessbmx.com is currently offline. We will report when we learn anything about this.)
- BMX Riders Organization: www.bmxriders.org
- Gene's BMX: www.genesbmx.com/BMXandSkateparks.html
- Skate Park Association of the United States of America: www.spausa.org
- Grindline: www.grindline.com
- Pillar Design Studios: www.pillardesignstudios.com
- purkiss•rose-rsi: skateparkdesigner.com
- Site Design Group: sitedesigngroup.com
- Skate Parkitecture: www.skateparkdesign.com
- Spohn Ranch: www.spohnranch.com
- Team Pain Skate Parks: www.teampain.com
- Wally Hollyday: www.skatedesign.com