Feature Article - February 2008
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Ride the New Wave

Skatepark Terrain for the 21st Century

By Kate Bongiovanni

Bike Versus Board

Even with an estimated 12 million skateboarders in the United States, according to BoardTrac, many skateparks open their gates for other wheels as well. Not only will a skatepark see its fair share of skateboard traffic, but some allow the use of inline skates and BMX bikes. According to the BMX Riders Organization, BMX has a foundation in skateboarding, and for park-style riding BMX bikers utilize ramps and skateparks. The BRO Web site states that "because the terrain in skateparks is so unique, it is the favored discipline of many riders."

Yet while some park districts and cities are building multi-use facilities for all, others are barring BMX riders from their parks. Take Corpus Christi, Texas, where the Parks and Recreation Department announced in March 2007 that it was banning BMX bikes from its new skatepark because the bikes caused damage to the metal pegs in the park's concrete. The park opened in February 2007, first with a rule stating that bicycles could only use the Corpus Christi Skatepark on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, then a sign posted that bicycles are only allowed on the ramps on Wednesdays. As reported by local TV station KRIS, skateboarders, inline skaters and BMX riders used the facility on what was technically a bike-only day. With the ban, the bike riders switched to skateboards or the street to get in their riding experience.

At the Grayson Skatepark in Charlotte, N.C., a schedule is set for when bikes can be in use at the facility. As posted on the skatepark's Web site, Sunday is a BMX-only day, Saturday is for skateboards only, and mixed usage is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

BRO explains that the reason for the schedule for bikes and skateboards at the skateparks is not so much one of preventing use or mixing vehicles but of crowding. "It is no surprise that public skateparks are sometimes crowded: Bikes, boards and blades are popular with kids today," BRO said. "If a park is too crowded, separate hours can be set aside for BMX riders."

Skater-designed, -built, -operated and -maintained, the Washington Street Skatepark in San Diego at West Washington and the Pacific Coast Highway keeps bikers at bay. "Skateboards only, no exceptions," said Thomas Claypool, chief financial officer of the park.

Skaters for Public Skateparks asserts that both bikers and skateboarders seek recreational outlets, so it makes sense for BMX bikers to want to ride in a skatepark. However, the organization recognizes that having riders and boarders in the same facility can be potentially fatal from a safety standpoint, much like mixing dogs and children or cyclists with joggers. SPS says on its Web site, "Recreation personnel must determine what represents a safe mix of bikers and skateboarders within an enclosed and often crowded skateboard park."

But in terms of bikes damaging a skatepark beyond normal wear and tear, materials are available to mitigate damage from bikes, albeit sometimes for an additional cost. SPS explains that coping, high-quality steel edging, can alleviate bike damage, but it costs more to install and can weaken the experience for the skateboarder. Concrete with a higher PSI does stand a chance to withstand the extra pressure of handlebars, pedals and pegs from the bikes. Parks and recreation departments need to weigh these in terms of budget constraints.

Yet skateparks aren't all following the path of shutting out the BMX rider. In Glendale, Ariz., BMX riders fought to have a multi-use facility in operation without all the rules and schedules of other facilities. X-Court opened in October 2007 and allows bikes, skateboards, inline skates and all other non-motorized wheels at all times, plus it's free.