Do the names Mat Hoffman, Danny Parks or Bob Haro mean anything to you? For many BMX bike enthusiasts, these are their Tony Hawk, Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan. The BMX Freestyle sport has boomed in recent years, thanks to national exposure, Olympic recognition and the love of die-hard fans; many of whom you can routinely find scaling stairs, makeshift dirt hills or ramps with their own bikes. The City of Chandler is now addressing the growing popularity of this sport, opening Arizona’s first public use, bike-only facility in the spring of 2007.
Addressing The Need
“The majority of skate parks don’t allow bikes in them,” says bike rider Dave Taylor. “That’s like putting candy in front of kids and telling them not to eat it.” The pastime has become somewhat controversial, with bike enthusiasts finding few free avenues to practice their skills safely and legally; causing personal rifts with some of their neighbors and law enforcement.
“We knew of the desire for a facility as more bike riders requested the use of our skate park,” says Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn. “Our studies show that skaters and bikers don’t mix well because of the conflicts that come with the types of maneuvers being performed.” After more outreach from bike enthusiasts, Chandler’s City Council unanimously approved the development of the 23,000-square-foot area, located at Espee Park in central Chandler. “To truly be a great community, you do have to strike a balance in terms of the services and amenities that you offer,” says Mayor Dunn. “This is a sport that is lacking facilities, not just in Chandler, but throughout the region.”
Bike advocates attended several council and parks board meetings in an effort to support making the bike park a reality. Pro bike coach Pat Blackburn was one of the key faces behind this campaign. He had tried unsuccessfully to get approval for a bike park in other neighboring Arizona cities, and approached the City of Chandler over two years ago with the idea. “I went in there ready to give black eyes, and they welcomed me with open arms.”
Citizens Influencing Change
Chandler officials went a step further, inviting bike enthusiasts to provide input on the design of their new park by way of continuous focus groups. “The kids were an integral part of the process,” says Mickey Ohland, Chandler’s Park Development and Operation Manager. “They let us know the types of amenities they wanted to see. We had them draw sketches and bring back different concepts. Who else is better to help design this than the kids who will be using it?” After several months of design sessions, the group came to a consensus. The City of Chandler broke ground in November 2006.
The experience was also empowering for the young bike enthusiasts. In addition to getting their long-awaited park, they also learned about municipal government and the power to affect change. “They [City of Chandler] were open to hear the kids speak and what we had to say, “ says 10-year-old bike rider Noah Lundquist. “I learned what it takes to run a city.”
The all-concrete facility will include many of the ramps and bowls associated with a traditional skate park, but with wider dimensions and angles suitable for bicycles. “It will be a regional draw for sure,” says Ohland. “This being the only bike park, it’s going to be popular. It is going to have an impact.”
Espee Park offers a buffer from adjacent residents and offers ample parking and restrooms for future visitors, which makes it the perfect location for the new park.
The new initiative is also in line with the City of Chandler’s goal of meeting the needs of its youth. This goal was recently publicly acknowledged by The Alliance for Youth, which identified Chandler as one of the “100 Best Communities for Young People.”
Mayor Dunn says the new bike park is a perfect example of why that is. “The young people of a community are its future. So to provide them with great amenities–but also to involve them in the process–is critical to our city’s future.”
Or, as bike rider Dalton Zanetti says, “I am really excited, I am going to be there everyday!”
Erica Ramos-Guevara works for the City of Chandler, Ariz., in its Community Services-Recreation Division. She can be reached via e-mail at Erica.Ramos-Guevara@chandler