Feature Article - May 2020
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On a Roll

Creating Bike-Friendly Parks & Communities

By Dave Ramont

Bike Parks

Bicycle playgrounds, or bike parks, are just what they sound like—places to ride and safely build cycling confidence, typically featuring a variety of fun obstacles including ladder bridges, rollers, tunnels and teeter-totters. Like traditional playgrounds, they create places for neighborhoods to gather, and they can provide great opportunities for parents to teach kids to ride, especially in neighborhoods that don't offer kids a safe place to learn.

Pump tracks are structures—typically in a loop—where riders use an up and down pumping motion to propel their bike forward, instead of pedaling. They're suitable for bikes of all sizes, and can accommodate all ages and skill levels. Originally, the berms and other obstacles were often made of dirt, but there are also hard-surface pump tracks, which might be modular, precast concrete or asphalt. Smaller pump tracks are often central features in bicycle playgrounds.

John Hunter is vice president of a Missouri-based designer and builder of skateparks and bike parks. He said that hard-surface pump tracks are becoming extremely popular, since they require less maintenance and can be utilized by a broader user group, including bikes, skateboards, scooters and roller blades.

"Like most park developments, the project variables and goals dictate which type of track is most appropriate," said Hunter. "A composite modular track best serves projects that might want to be able to relocate or reconfigure the layout of the track. Precast concrete tracks are usually a component of a bicycle playground or skatepark design, ideal for smaller developments where the customer is looking for a permanent installation. (An asphalt track) is a permanent installation that can be designed and constructed on a small site to serve a neighborhood or a large development as a regional attraction."

Hunter said they'll work with communities in the planning process to determine which type of facility is most appropriate for their particular project.

A pump track can be a great facility to develop as a repurposing of existing park areas, such as old tennis courts or playgrounds, according to Hunter, potentially saving money on the overall project. "The key is to identify the opportunities and challenges on the front end and work to maximize the site conditions and project budget. Pump track layouts don't have to conform to specific dimensions like a basketball or tennis court, so an asymmetrical site can still be ideal for an organic pump track layout to be created."

Site visits are important in the planning phase to understand how to work with existing conditions and identify challenges and opportunities, explained Hunter. They also like to involve the community and potential user-groups to discuss things like desired features or obstacles, and the spirit or theme of the project. "When possible we try to include unique features that tie the facility to the area or general feel of the community. For example, we've modified a decommissioned helicopter to be a ride-through feature of a bike park in Arkansas that's adjacent to the airport runway in town. A bicycle playground in Kansas that we're currently building has a yellow brick road section and sunflower-inspired bike sculpture, both paying homage to the state of Kansas. The more unique and engaging we can make a facility, the more likely people are going to get out and enjoy it as either participants or spectators."

Features like ramps and tunnels can also be added to existing trail systems, and Hunter said they often get requests for this. "Adding new features keeps the trail interesting and allows users to try something new and develop skills. We even see a demand to add features along paved greenway trails as quick offshoots to spice up the experience."

Site amenities—which might include lights, seating, receptacles or restrooms—are also considerations in the planning stage, and Hunter points out that bike parks can be places for the whole community, not just the users. "For example, a well-designed bicycle playground would have comfortable seating for parents to watch their kids ride while they relax or read a book. Including picnic tables along a trail creates the opportunity to have a picnic along your ride. There are endless opportunities to leverage bike infrastructure, so understanding the project goals on the front end is key to steer the design development."

In the summer of 2016, Ruby Hill Bike Park opened in Denver, featuring a slope-style course, dirt jumps, a skills course and small and large dirt pump tracks. "The park spans 7.5 acres with 12 different lines, from beginner to advanced," said Deak Brown, Bike Park operations supervisor with City of Denver Parks and Rec. "Everything we build is progressive and meant to improve and test every rider's skill level. Being a dirt park, we were able to change and adjust lines from year to year, always trying to keep it fresh and fun."

The park has features for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders, and Brown explained that since the park is built on a slope, one challenge was keeping lines slow enough for beginners. "We have an extra small and small line in our slopestyle section that cater well to beginners and young riders. The pump tracks offer great challenges to all riders. Our large dirt jump and slopestyle lines are advanced; they challenge a lot of riders and can be enjoyed by the best riders."

There's also a multipurpose natural trail around the perimeter of the park that sees all kinds of users, according to Brown. "It has switchbacks and a lot of different terrain packed into the 1.7 miles." No new amenities were added to the bike park, because Brown said the park already featured softball fields, a concert venue, restrooms, pavilions, playgrounds and "a ton of open space that brings a lot of exposure to the bike park."

Brown said Denver has a large bike community, adding that most summer evenings, 60 to 100 riders visit Ruby Hill. "We get families and people of all kinds coming to the park. We've had some great events. We hosted the Colorado Slopestyle Championships. We have a lot of small events such as Ladies Night, Earn a Bike for Kids, Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day, and we do projects with volunteer groups."

Denver has plans to build some asphalt pump tracks around the city, and there are a few other bike parks as well, according to Brown. "Barnum is a dirt jump park that's mainly maintained by volunteers. It has a variety of lines and jumps but is mostly built for advanced riders. At Garfield Lake Park we have a quarter-mile beginner loop with wooden features and a lake crossing that circles the playground. Denver is growing fast, and we'll be adding more bicycle infrastructure."