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Bike Paradise

Two BMX enthusiasts want bikes to be allowed at the new skate park, but the city isn't so sure it wants them there

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Chris Miracle and Mike Hines have known each other since they were in their early teens--riding BMX (bicycle motocross) bikes together, teaching each other bike tricks and digging ramps out in the middle of the desert because they had no other place to go.

Now the friends are in their late 20s, but both still make time to ride. When they do, the friends say they continue to see what they experienced growing up in Tucson--kids riding on the streets and on stairs and other concrete structures because there's no place else for them to go.

The consequences remain the same, too--taking to a nice set of concrete stairs and metal rails outside a local bank building or at the UA campus is illegal.

Construction on the Albert Gallego Skate Park began last year at Santa Rita Park with groans from some neighborhood residents who voiced concerns about having throngs of skateboarding youth descend on their neighborhood park. But the facility gave hope to Miracle and Hines, who wondered if the park could follow the same path as other skate parks in the region by allowing BMX bikes to join skateboarders at the same time.

But Hines says three weeks ago he called Tucson Parks and Recreation to ask if BMX bikes would be allowed at the skate park, and was told no. On Monday, Jan. 26, Miracle and Hines met with Tucson Parks and Recreation administrator Peg Weber and her staff to find out if there was any chance they could persuade the city to change its mind.

The BMX friends want bikes allowed alongside skateboards, and if the city won't OK that, they would like the city to dedicate a couple of BMX-only days.

Since the park broke ground last year, Hines says he's been doing research on other parks that share the concrete with BMX users. He discovered parks, like in Chandler, Ariz., built just for bikes, but Mesa allows skateboarders and bicyclists to use its park at the same time, as does Tempe's skate park. Closer to Tucson, Marana's skate park has a day reserved just for BMX. But the multiple use of parks has grown across the country so much that now most parks are known as wheel parks to make the use clearer, Hines says.

But Hines and Miracle shouldn't expect that to happen at the skate park in Tucson--at least not right away. Weber says that while the meeting with the two BMX riders was good, the design of the skate park won't accommodate bikes.

Weber says she originally wanted to meet with Miracle and Hines when she heard they would protest the opening day of the park if bikes weren't included in the user groups.

"I asked them to meet with us. We needed to know more about their sport," Weber says. "We know there are multi-use parks and ultimately it's the way we want to go, but the design of this park was meant for skateboards."

Ideally, Weber says she would like the city to build a second park just for bikes. But she admits funding is always an issue, as it was at one time for the skate park.

"Clearly I would love to build the next phase right now. But what (Miracle and Hines) can do until then is let people know, like the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the ward offices. Educate everyone about this. We want to understand and accommodate these kinds of things."

Weber says the meeting ended with requests to do more research on skate parks that allow bikes. And while Weber says that right now BMX bikes are not a possibility for the new skate park, Hines says he left the meeting thinking it was a possibility.

"It's true that if they can't figure out how to accommodate bikes we will protest opening day. It's not what I want to do, but we will the day it opens. I know I can have 100 bike riders down there surrounding the park," Hines says.

Hines disagrees with Weber about the design of Tucson's park. The park in Mesa, which allows skateboarders and bikers to use the facility at the same time, was designed by the same company that designed Tucson's park. He also thinks about that park's history--it took a year of protests from the BMX community to finally change park officials' minds.

"We're prepared to do that, too," Hines says.

Hines says the city should be prepared for bicyclists to use the park anyway--forcing the city to spend more money on police arresting kids at the park.

"All they have to do is erase that rule, no bikes. I have so many friends that have been involved in this issue. I knew this was going to come up. You know, in the late '70s and early '80s, there were no rules at skate parks, but then as liability became more of a worry, the rules changed."

Miracle says perhaps city officials need to be reminded of Kory Laos, a Tucson teen killed while riding his BMX near a busy street close to the UA on May 4, 2007--two days before Laos' 15th birthday. Miracle, a KGUN news cameraman, says he remembers the video footage from the day of the accident and felt a kinship with the teen when he discovered he rode a BMX.

"(Laos) would be alive today if there was a park that allowed bikes," Miracle says.

Hines says he thinks part of the challenge is similar to what skate boarders first experienced when they asked cities to build skate parks--it's an image issue. Even skate boarders have negative perceptions about BMX riders, Hines admits.

"But most of the kids also have a brother who might not skateboard, but he has BMX. Everyone knows someone. But I think part of it is getting over these negative stereotypes that these are bad kids. They need a place to go and it would be wrong to keep them out of the park."

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