The Tony Hawk Foundation strongly recommends that park policy allow BMX and scooter riders in skateparks.
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 widespread ban of BMX and/or scooters at skateparks.
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 protest a “No BMX” rule is a poor and ill-timed response. The best time to address a policy is when it’s being drafted. The best way to prevent a bike ban at the skatepark is to be in the meeting when that decision is made, and to do that, you will need to be involved with the project. It’s rare for skatepark projects to actively seek input directly from BMX and scooter riders.
Sometimes a parks department official will decide that BMX or scooters in the skatepark just seems like a bad idea based on a bunch of different intangibles, like risk of collision, capacity, perceived need and interests of the users, or maybe even the depth of a bowl. These decisions can seem uninformed and unfair, but they were made and now you have to try to undo it. It’s easier before the signs are printed.
Arguing for BMX inclusion after ribbon-cutting is difficult, but it can be done. It may take more than a carefully worded presentation. If there are concerns about what negative impact that BMX or scooters might have at the skatepark, like over-crowding, perhaps, it will help to have something to offer in exchange. If there is goodwill and a history of cooperation between the skateboarding and bike- or scooter-riding communities, it may just take a unified voice to successfully eliminate the ban. If the skateboarding community supports the ban, that will increase your difficulty.
BMX inclusion is improving based largely on the hard work done by a small number of passionate BMX advocates. Just as with skateboarders, it only takes a few people with a lot of passion to get things changed.
Bottom line: Get involved, stay involved.