Mike Hines just wanted someone from Tucson's City Hall to listen to what he has to say, and not make him feel like a punk kid who doesn't know better.
The reality is that Hines is hardly a punk: He's 28, employed and married with a 16-month-old son. He also happens to be a lifelong rider of BMX (bicycle motocross) bikes.
For the past year, Hines and his friends have been working to convince the city to allow BMX riders at the new skateboard park at Santa Rita Park. (See "Bike Paradise," Jan. 29.) Their main goal is to find a city facility that can safely accommodate the growing number of kids on BMX who take to the streets, because there's nowhere else to ride.
Before last week, Hines had directed his appeals to the Parks and Recreation Department, but says he felt largely ignored, even after he organized a protest on Sunday, June 28, that brought more than 100 BMX riders to Santa Rita Park, at 22nd Street and Third Avenue.
But after last week, Hines feels people may finally be listening. Hines took his appeal to the Tuesday, July 7, City Council meeting, accompanied by Scott Laos, father of Kory Laos, who was killed after being struck by a car two days before his 15th birthday while riding his BMX with friends near the UA in May 2007.
"I think it went well. The reception seemed positive," Hines says about the City Council meeting.
Earlier that day, Hines also attended a Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting to support Laos, who asked the board to name a future county skate park after his son. The board unanimously approved of the idea.
For the last year, while Hines has been working to get the city to allow BMX at city skate parks, Laos has worked with county officials to earmark bond funding and find a location for a BMX park to honor the memory of his son.
The county donated land within the Flowing Wells District Park, at 5510 N. Shannon Road, and an account was recently created with the Pima County Parklands Foundation to accept donations for the park, which is expected to cost $1.5 million.
"It was a good welcome. Before we even got to our part in the agenda, we were greeted with smiles and thumbs-up," Laos says. "When we started talking to the county about this idea, we took the steps needed to make sure our cause was heard by the right people. We asked them, 'What is it going to take to make this happen? Does another child like my little boy need to die?'"
However, the Kory Laos Memorial Freestyle BMX Bicycle Park probably won't open for another five to 10 years. The park is expected to receive most of what's needed from the county's 2010 bond election. However, Laos says because of the economy, he realizes the bond election may not happen (or the bond measures could be voted down), and he needs to continue fundraising.
In the meantime, Hines says, kids still need a place to ride, and the city has five skate parks that could accommodate BMX—but only if city officials are willing to make that happen.
"We need a place now. ... I think Santa Rita would be perfect until the bike park opens; two days a week would be acceptable," Hines says.
It looks like the city is starting to pay attention to Hines. The day after the City Council meeting, he received a call from Assistant City Manager Richard Miranda, asking if Hines would meet with him.
Miranda confirms that he plans to meet with Hines, but couldn't say yet when any changes could formally take place.
"I was thoroughly impressed with Mr. Hines. His presentation really took me back to the original vision for the skate park," Miranda says.
Miranda says there are bureaucratic issues that the city needs to deal with, such as liability issues. But then again, he adds, there are other recreation facilities in Tucson where everyone could possibly be hurt, such as playgrounds and basketball courts.
"We'll be sitting down with attorneys soon, but I think Mr. Hines had a good idea. I think we could end up with shared facilities or two days a week, or maybe rotating that throughout the city so people have chances to go to other areas," Miranda says.
The philosophy of shared facilities isn't a new idea. Ever since construction started on the now-completed Santa Rita skate park last year, Hines says, he's been doing research on other parks that share the concrete with BMX users. He discovered that Chandler built a park just for bikes, while Mesa and Tempe allow skateboarders and bicyclists to use its parks at the same time. 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.
According to Parks and Recreation Director Fred Grey, the skate park's own designers from SITE Design Group have said the park was designed specifically for skateboards and not for bikes.
Hines replies the city should look at other parks designed by the California company in Oklahoma City; Henderson, Nev.; and Lake Perris, Calif. All were designed as skateboard-only, but have been changed to allow full access to BMX.
"In Henderson, the parents and BMXers took parks and rec to court over this issue and won. Liability will not be an issue at the Santa Rita Park, because we want separate days, and we are willing to remove the pegs on our bicycles," Hines says. "We know this works, because we have a working example in Marana where the park was skate-only, then changed to (allow) BMX days."