On average, 70% of the skatepark’s users will be skateboarders, and the remaining 30% will be a mix of BMX and scooter riders. Even at facilities where BMX is prohibited, BMX riders are likely to occasionally use the park. It’s not that BMX riders enjoy flaunting the rules; rather, they see a fun place to ride that appears to have little negative impact on anyone else. Park rules, such as “No BMX Bikes,” that provide no direct value to the patrons are often overlooked. Scooter riders also introduce some special considerations that should not be overlooked.
Most organizations, including the Tony Hawk Foundation, fully embrace BMX usage in skateparks and encourage all communities and advocates to resolve any concerns they may face about these users directly and equitably.
Advantage: Increased park usage
BMX is sometimes prohibited for fear of the increase in users and, as a result, heavy loads put on maintenance and upkeep. Parks Departments may not support increased usage, particularly if it exceeds capacity, but it’s much better to perceive this as a “good problem to have.” In other words, you’ve created a facility that is too popular. This is not an uncommon issue for skateparks, particularly in areas where they are rare. The opportunity to draw even more youth to the facility (and off the streets) far outweighs the minimal increase to wear-and-tear.
Advantage: Wider spectrum of patron
More types of users at the skatepark will introduce more youth to each other and help incubate an inclusive space. Prohibiting particular park users, even if for justifiable reasons, will increase a degree of separation between the skateboarders and the broader community. As skateboarders, BMX riders, and scooter riders tend to maintain social groups based on their athletic interests, when it comes time to rally park patrons and supporters for events, including all three types of users will ultimately reach a wider audience.
Should the facility exceed its capacity, some potential patrons will be displaced. When the skatepark is crowded, less confident visitors will have difficulty asserting their right to be there and will miss their turns, while the skilled visitors will feel comfortable going whenever they like. Unfortunately, those youth that can most benefit from the skatepark may feel intimidated by the level of activity. By constraining the type of users invited to the facility, its peak hours will be dominated by the sanctioned users (skaters), and prohibited users will “poach” the park during off-peak times.
Disadvantage: Increased maintenance
More people means more trash and increased wear-and-tear. Also, some skateparks feature materials that parts of BMX bicycles can unintentionally damage (rendering them unusable by skateboarders). Pool-block coping, a bullnose cement “brick” at the top of some bowls, can be chipped by BMX pegs. This is a common claim made by those that advocate against BMX at skateparks (usually skateboarders). In skateparks with steel coping, BMX generally poses little threat of causing this kind of immediate damage. However, areas of the park without some kind of leading-edge protection will see accelerated wear in parks that allow BMX compared to those that do not.
Disadvantage: Increased risk of collisions
This is a claim that skateboarders often make and that BMX riders often deny. The anti-BMX claim is that BMX bikes travel faster and, as a result, can fly further and bridge areas of the park that skateboarders will not expect. (To compound matters, many BMX bikes lack brakes.) Skateparks with blind spots can become areas where near collisions are commonplace, particularly involving patrons that are unaccustomed to the nuances of the terrain.
The pro-BMX claim is that all skatepark patrons should unanimously put others’ safety first, and that there is no excuse for recklessness. BMX riders want to collide with skateboarders no more than skaters want to collide with each other. (Anti-BMX skateboarders counter that a collision between a BMX rider and a skateboarder will put the skater at the greater risk of injury.)
There are no studies on the impact of BMX and scooter inclusion at skateparks. The trend is towards more inclusive skateparks, and to date there are no significant data to support a wholesale recommendation to prohibit BMX and scooters at skateparks.
Every effort should be made to allow BMX and scooters at your new skatepark.
Advice for BMX Advocates
There is a profound lack of skatepark advocacy coming from the Freestyle BMX community. While there are a handful of committed, talented BMX advocates active in the United States, the unfortunate reality is that in most towns, local BMX riders stay uninvolved with skatepark advocacy until the facility is open and they see what they’ve missed.
Arriving at the park after ribbon-cutting to revise a “No BMX” rule is the poorest timing you could find. On average, a skatepark takes three years of advocacy and fundraising…yet some BMX riders try to excuse their inactivity by claiming that they never heard that a skatepark was being developed. This argument presumes that it is not their responsibility to know what’s going on in their community, and had they only known there was a skatepark effort going on, OF COURSE they would have been 100% supportive in every way possible. This is a flimsy defense and most skatepark advocates will perceive this as an overt insult. It’s one of the worst excuses you could use.
If you ride BMX and want to ensure that BMX is allowed in the new skatepark, you must be present at those meetings where policy is discussed. Understand that nobody will ask you to attend this meeting; you must be involved enough with the group that your presence will be expected…and to get to that point, you will have to be involved with the park visioning, advocacy, and fundraising. This is where most BMX riders disappear.
Arguing for BMX inclusion after ribbon-cutting is difficult. There’s little incentive for anyone but your fellow BMX riders to endorse your position. Why would they? The skateboarders have a new facility that many of them worked very hard for, and they have a right to ask what value the BMX riders are going to bring to the facility. You need to have an answer that appeals to everyone and not just the BMX community. A good answer can mean the difference between access and prohibition. Maybe the local BMX community will initiate (or participate in) clean-up work parties, or help advocate for the next skatepark.
What DOESN’T work is claiming a “right” to use the facility. BMX has no “constitutional right” to use the skatepark any more than the skaters. Some BMX activists have even claimed a civil liberty argument for inclusion, as if not being able to use the skatepark somehow repressed their individual freedom. Nice try. Everyone must follow the park rules, and it’s childish to claim that BMX has a right to use the facility simply because they want to. Claiming some kind of innate right to use the park is an argument based on some abstract sense of entitlement that will not sit well with the skateboarders or City administrators. It makes the BMX community look kind of stupid. Don’t do it.
BMX inclusion is improving based largely on the hard work done by a small number of passionate BMX advocates. It’s time for the BMX community as a whole to recognize the value of positive advocacy and begin coordinating with local skatepark advocacy groups.
Bottom line: Get involved and stay involved.