BMX riders want in, but skaters, city say no
Written by Scott LaosBicyclists lack own facility, but Santa Rita is off-limits
By Megan Neighbor
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 09.08.2009
A sign clings to the fence at Santa Rita Skate Park, banning bicycles from using the still-new $1 million facility.
But bicycle motocross (BMX) riders hope that ban will soon be lifted, at least for two nights a week.
"Kids shouldn't be (BMX) riding on Speedway, when they could be riding safely in a park," said Mike Hines, southwest director for BMXriders.org.
While skateboarders agree Tucson needs a BMX facility, they aren't looking to share Santa Rita Skate Park.
"I'm really pro about BMX riders wanting a park," said Roger Smiley, owner of Smiley's Skateboard Shop. "But I'm not pro about having them at this park."
Smiley's sentiment is one that's shared among skateboarders who utilize Santa Rita Skate Park on a regular basis.
"I live two blocks away and I'm here every day of the week," said skateboarder Gage Paynter, 15. "Taking two days away — this park was built for us in the first place and they (the BMX riders) just want to barge in, out of the middle of nowhere."
After a decade of collaboration with the Pima County Board of Supervisors, the Tucson City Council and Tucson Parks and Recreation, this spring skateboarders saw their dream realized. Santa Rita Skate Park, with its vert bowl, kidney bowl and snake run, opened to the public.
The skate park, south of downtown at East 22nd Street and South Fourth Avenue, has been used heavily since its debut last spring. According to Smiley, a frequent park visitor, hundreds of skaters use Santa Rita daily between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.
"To try and cram everyone (BMX bikers and skateboarders) into one spot, that's just a disaster waiting to happen," said Smiley.
But that hasn't stopped BMX riders — who have no place to call their own — from wanting to use the skate facility two nights a week.
Sam West, manager of Starr Skates, says BMX riders should build their own park, not try to utilize an existing one.
"They should ride somewhere else like we did," West said. "We put in a lot of hard work to have this park built."
But without any BMX parks in Tucson, extreme bicyclists struggle to find places to ride.
After Kory Laos was hit by a car and killed while riding his BMX bike near the University of Arizona in 2007, his father, Scott Laos, has worked to get the first BMX park built in Tucson.
While Pima County has donated land for the BMX park at North Shannon and West River roads, and granted naming rights, park backers haven't raised enough money to start construction. According to Laos, the BMX park will be a world-class facility, costing about $1.5 million.
Until the BMX park opens, Laos thinks that bikers should have access to Santa Rita Skate Park.
"It's a temporary place so that kids have a place to go a couple nights of the week and be out of harm's way," Laos said.
The ultimate decision lies in the hands of the Tucson City Council.
Councilman Steve Leal, a longtime advocate for Santa Rita Skate Park, said he'd be foolish not to heed the advice of the city risk manager.
"The risk manager and city attorney have stated that it (Santa Rita) was not designed for BMX bike use and there are serious liability issues with BMX bikes in the park," said Leal.
Tucson Parks Director Fred Gray voiced similar concerns.
"We had the firm who designed it talk to us about the possibility of bike use," Gray said. "The company gave the indication that they could design facilities for dual use, but this particular facility was not designed for anything but skateboards."
Even so, Leal says he recognizes the need for a BMX park in Tucson.
"They need a place to be," Leal said. "I'm happy to help them with that."
BMX riders and skateboarders say they will attend the City Council's meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to voice their arguments.
There, the council will decide whether BMX riders can utilize Santa Rita Skate Park two nights a week.