SOUTH LOOP — Grant Park's future skate park has been referred to as a "wheel-friendly park," but the city's BMX bikers aren't so sure.
While the park's wheel-friendly status has been referred to more than once by activists lobbying for TIF funding for the project, BMX bikers and supporters say they are furious because they have been left out of the planning process. They also note that the Chicago Park District has banned them from other skate parks, forcing them to practice their sport illegally at times.
"The city has taken a discriminatory stance against BMXers in the past," said professional BMX biker Brian Kachinsky, who lives in Pilsen.
Kachinsky, along with other BMX bikers and supporters of the sport, lamented their persona non grata status in the city at a Grant Park Advisory Council meeting last month, where detailed plans for the skate park were presented — all without their input.
"Is this [park] something that's going to finally be open to BMXers?" John Ustaszewski, 44, an avid BMX biker from Bridgeport, asked planners at the meeting. "Chicago is a hub for BMX ... but they can't ride anywhere."
Ustaszewski said he and other riders often are shooed away from the skate plaza in Logan Square by police.
"Right now, most of us do ride illegally," he said. Many are forced to drive out to the suburbs to use BMX-friendly courses, Ustaszewski said, but that's not a good option for kids or bikers without a car.
While he admitted that the city's ban isn't always enforced, he said that hasn't led to any conflicts with skateboarders.
"It's worked hand in hand in the past," he said. "I ride Wilson [skate park] by myself with skateboarders and have never had an issue there."
Skateboarders and BMX bikers also coexist at plazas in Arizona, California and the Pacific Northwest, Kachinsky said.
In a statement emailed to DNAinfo Chicago, a Chicago Park District spokeswoman emphasized that "bicycles are prohibited from skate parks, but the Chicago Park District is currently in the process of designing wheel-friendly amenities," she said.
However, the Park District did not elaborate on what those amenities were or whether they would accommodate bikers.
John Mac Manus, the landscape architect designing the Grant Park skate park with his firm Altamanu, seemed confident at the November meeting that the park would get the Park District's blessing for BMX biking.
"We're interested, the Park District and the superintendent are very interested in it," he said of the possibility of expanding biking options. "The direction from the Park District is it's open-wheel friendly."
Any change, though, could add some costs, he said, specifically because metal railings in the park might have to be bigger.
"The major difference for us is it's more expensive," he said. "When you grind with your bikes, you rip up the concrete, or it tends to more so than a skateboard. ... What it means for us is those metal angles [in the park's skating area] will get wider so we can protect the surfaces."
To accommodate bikes, "the railings will be extra chunky," he said.
But Ustaszewski said that might not be necessary; recent changes in BMX culture will also help protect the new park from getting damaged. He said most riders have stopped using metal pegs attached to their back wheels, and most pedals are now plastic.
"It seems like they're a little out of touch with BMX," he said. Bikers "won't cause more damage than a skateboard."