BMX riding in skateparks has been a contentious issue for years. Skateboarders are divided on the issue. Some feel that BMX presents a dangerous, radical element in the skatepark environment. Others don’t have any issues sharing the park with BMX riders and welcome the increased activity.
Scooters are relatively new introductions to the skatepark space. BMX riders and skateboarders are as divided on scooters as skaters are with BMX. Some feel scooters are a nuisance and a hazard while others have no issues with scooters using the skatepark.
BMX riders have had difficulty over the years in finding their collective advocacy voice. Progress has been made, but more work needs to happen. A challenge within BMX is that older riders move on to other kinds of bicycles to meet their recreational needs and interests. In other words, BMX riders become mountain bikers or road riders. Their concerns shift towards issues of trail access and shared lanes, and away from the challenges of freestyle BMX riding. Skateboarders, by comparison, continue to identify themselves as skateboarders well into middle-age, and when a skatepark advocacy effort emerges in their community they will be inclined to actively support the effort. BMX, without these “elder statesmen,” must build their advocacy voice over and over.
Furthermore, there are fewer BMX riders interested specifically in skatepark access as there are skateboarders. It’s difficult for BMX riders to rally the kind of support from the BMX community as it is for skaters (and it’s plenty challenging for skaters). This can result in the perception among skateboarding advocates that BMX is uninterested in participating in the effort.
Scooters tend to be younger and, as a result, lack the tenacity for a sustained skatepark advocacy effort. This is changing as scooter riding evolves and its participants grow older. Many skateboarders claim scooter riders, as a whole, are unaware of their surroundings and use the space differently. Being younger, in general, they tend to be more focused on their physical actions and insufficiently aware of the people using the space around them. As an activity, it is a relative newcomer to the skatepark environment and already there is growing friction among seasoned skatepark aficionados and the seemingly disoriented, bewildered scooter riders. The perception of scooters, as well as the collective behavior and needs of scooter-riders in skateparks, is still evolving.
For simplicity, we’ll refer to BMX riders and scooters collectively as secondary users.
Secondary users must be involved with the development of the skatepark. When scooter and BMX riders are involved with the leadership, advocacy, and fundraising efforts that create the skatepark, the collaborative effort sets the social tone at the skatepark. Conversely, when secondary users only emerge after the skatepark is opened and expect the same “right of way” as the skaters that are enjoying the result of years of hard work, the perceived inequity can produce a sense of propriety and ownership. It’s critical that BMX riders invest themselves into any skatepark effort active in their area if they want to be considered a legitimate user of the skatepark. (Lots of skateparks do not officially allow BMX but the policy is not enforced…with mixed results.)
BMX riders move through skateparks much faster than skateboarders, while scooters move slower. These differences in speed can increase the chance of collisions. The professional skatepark designer should be made aware that scooters and BMX riders will be invited to share the park. The designer will accommodate those users by reducing blind spots and areas that are only accessible to one type of user. (Pool-block coping, for example, is a point of contention between skaters and BMX riders as BMX pegs can chip the material and render it unusable to skaters.)
Skateboarders acting as skatepark advocates may struggle to recruit and retain BMX riders in their core group. Skaters have a shared interest in skating, and the shared interest makes social cohesion easy. BMX riders have their own heroes, their own videos, and they are often attracted to structures and spaces that skateboarders aren’t. While many skateboarders will consider individuals that ride BMX personal friends, few skaters will feel an affinity to BMX riding as an activity (unless they also happen to ride BMX bikes).
The BMX contingent of the core group should be several individuals that are prepared to reach out to the broader BMX community when appropriate. They will advise on BMX concerns, and participate in all events where the larger skate and BMX community needs to be activated.
Skatepark Advocacy for BMX Riders
The language of BMX advocacy is plagued by challenges. For BMX advocates, there are no easy solutions. Skateboarding advocates have it tough, but BMX riders have it even tougher.
Getting involved, and staying involved, with your local skatepark advocacy effort is the most significant impact you can have in shaping BMX access. Putting in the work and becoming allies with the skateboarders will ensure your BMX-riding peers share the rewards.
The worst thing you can do is to presume that BMX will be allowed at the new skatepark simply because someone told you, or that there is a picture of a BMX rider on the sign or advocacy materials. Any time you feel like there is “nothing to worry about,” you should probably worry. Nothing is guaranteed, ever, even for the skateboarders. The only way to improve the chances of BMX being allowed is for you to be at the table when BMX is being talked about. Nobody is going to invite you to that meeting out of the blue; you will need to be involved in the conversations that lead up to those moments when policy is decided. If you’re not in the picture while the skatepark is being planned, it’s unlikely that you’ll be in the picture when the park is open.
Advocating for BMX access after a park is open, and particularly within the first year, is very challenging. Here are some flawed arguments that inexperienced BMX advocates rely on to stage their effort:
“As a ‘public’ facility, we have a right to access.”
BMX riders have no stronger right to the skatepark than football players or remote control car enthusiasts. Just because the BMX rider is attracted to the facility doesn’t mean that their presence is guaranteed. This argument is naïve and easy for anyone that opposes BMX access to shoot down.
“As tax-payers, we have a right to access.”
Tax dollars pay for many things that we do not, as a community, get to enjoy. Tax dollars support the local library, but that doesn’t mean that skateboarders and BMX riders are allowed to skate or ride on its steps. This argument also presumes that the skatepark was paid for using tax dollars, and that may or may not be the case. Your tax dollars are spent according to community desires, and the community has spoken. If you weren’t a part of that conversation when it was happening, you missed the boat.
“We promise to ride pegless.”
This is a nice gesture but it is an unrealistic concession to promise, uphold, or enforce. If a BMX rider arrives with pegs, it’s reasonable to expect him or her to not do those tricks where the peg comes into contact with pool coping. However, the preservation of the skatepark relies heavily on the general respect that the local BMX community has for the facility. If they feel invited, and particularly if they were involved in the advocacy and fundraising effort, the compliance with park policy will be much higher than if they visit the park as illegitimate users or, even worse, unwanted guests. (This is commonly known as “barging the park” and involves groups of BMX riders showing up en masse and dominating the park for a short period of time before they can be kicked out by park rangers. It’s more common in areas where no-BMX policies are enforced.)
Using terms like “bigoted” and “segregation.”
Depicting BMX access issues in civil rights terms is fine if you’re trying to attract the ACLU, but it’s not going to work for skatepark access. The simple matter is that anyone is welcome to use the skatepark provided they follow the rules. If BMX is not allowed, you should focus on challenging the rule on the basis by which it was created. Furthermore, using this kind of language suggests that you are prepared to wage a campaign on grounds that you likely have little experience in. (That is, unless you happen to be a civil rights attorney.) Skateparks don’t allow BMX not because BMX riders are a particular type of people, and that BMX riding is outside of their control, but rather because BMX is perceived, in these communities, as a maintenance and/or safety issue. It’s the same reason why skateboards, in many areas, are not allowed to use bike lanes or to grind the library steps. These “no BMX” skateparks arrived at that conclusion because there were no BMX riders present when they were talking about it. It’s that simple.
“BMX doesn’t damage skateparks.”
This is a good argument for BMX inclusion but the phrase is wrong. Denying that BMX damages skateparks ignores the fact that allowing BMX at the skatepark will accelerate wear and tear. So, the better argument is, “BMX will increase wear-and-tear on the skatepark but not to a degree that it significantly adds to maintenance costs.” Skateboarders cause an acceptable amount of wear and tear. BMX advocates should be arguing that BMX does not significantly increase this anticipated deterioration, and that the increased activity at the park will ultimately create a more successful, inclusive public attraction.
If the skatepark is currently open and the BMX community has been working for access, there are some things that you can do to make progress:
Organize a park cleanup day—or better yet, cleanup days—with BMX and skateboarders. This will demonstrate that the BMX community is willing to be involved and collaborate with the skateboarding community. This helps skaters and the Parks Department see specific value in BMX inclusion. If the BMX community cannot offer something of value to skaters and the Parks Department, there’s no incentive to invite BMX riders to recreate in the space, particularly if that skatepark is already at capacity. Without something like this being offered, BMX advocates are basically saying, “we demand access to the skatepark but we’re unwilling to earn it.”
Put together a fundraising event, or events, to create a maintenance fund to offset the increased wear and tear that BMX will introduce. Offer this as part of your proposal to revise the No BMX policy. This may sound like a “buy off,” but it’s important to remember that the local skateboarders likely had to fundraise for years before the park was open.
The foundation of the BMX message, when it comes to skatepark access, should be:
- We have earned the support of the skateboarders
- Our involvement brings value
- The reasons for denying BMX access can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction