Ever since I saw a Twitter post about this “traffic garden” (AKA bicycle playground, safety town) that was built in Washington state on a disused tennis court, I’ve wanted to see one built locally.
But where? And how? I didn’t know how to get started.
Eventually, the concrete pad poured in downtown Scottsbluff to accommodate artificial ice in the winter filtered into my brain. It was a new, unblemished concrete surface well-protected from traffic in a highly visible and accessible area that was otherwise going unused in the warmer months.
At a May 6, 2019, presentation to the Scottsbluff City Council on the activities of the Tri-City Active Living Advisory Committee, one of the council members asked if the ALAC had considered a “bicycle playground.” I mentioned the ice rink pad, and, because this coincided with the city’s desire to develop more activity in the downtown area, things progressed quickly. By July 4, 2019, the 18th Street Plaza Bicycle Playground was open!
In this post, I’ll summarize the major steps as well as materials and methods, for the benefit of others looking to build a bicycle playground of their own.
The primary partners on design and implementation of this project were the City of Scottsbluff and the Western Nebraska Bicycling Club. No city funds were spent to make this project happen. Paint was provided by our local Diamond Vogel. Some of the miniature signage was built with scrap material, and the rest of the signage was donated by Aulick Industries. Public health grant funds from the Panhandle Public Health District made available through the Tri-City Active Living Advisory Committee paid for additional materials.
Step 1: Design
With the concrete pad measuring approximately 40 feet wide and 80 feet long, design options were somewhat constrained.
Initially, the bicycle playground was designed as a “bicycle rodeo” skill drill course.
After some discussion, the design was tweaked into a mini street layout to also allow imaginative play while preserving the educational components of the signage (stop, yield, rail crossing, pedestrian crossing) and the skill of riding in a circle. The proposed layout was an oval track with a roundabout on one end and a cross street with a T intersection. To get everyone on the same page, a formal proposal was put together (with assistance from Fionnuala Quinn of Discover Traffic Gardens).
A rough plan for the layout was drawn up using shape files in Publisher, with a scaled 2’x2′ grid underlaying the design to facilitate proportion and later implementation. Lanes were designed to be 3 feet wide (internal measurement), with 3-inch lane lines. The outer diameter of the roundabout was 16 feet. Between 3-7 feet of space was left on all sides to allow people to walk past easily.
Step 2: Demonstration project
To demonstrate proof of concept and test the design, as well as collect data on what age level the bicycle playground would appeal to, a washable sidewalk chalk layout and activity called “imagination town” was prepared to coincide with the opening of the downtown farmer’s market on June 1, 2019. Flyers and social media posts advertised the event, and the farmer’s market helped disseminate the information as well.
The evening before the event, six members of the bicycle club used the layout plan, a tape measure, a string to draw the curves, and 40 sticks of sidewalk chalk to prepare the imagination town layout. Chalking took about an hour. The curves into and out of the roundabout had to be adjusted a little, since the turns were too sharp initially. The importance of not allowing a pavement seam to land in the middle of a lane also became apparent (wheels might catch on the seam), so a note was made to tweak the final design.
(Thank goodness it didn’t rain overnight!)
Here’s an excerpt from the report from the event:
Kids observed riding on the layout: six kids on bikes (5 boys, 1 girl) ages 9, 6, 5, 4 (x2) and 2; two kids on scooters (1 boy, 1 girl) ages 5 and 4.
The largest number of kids on the layout at once was three. Most kids rode in a counterclockwise direction.
The littler kids didn’t pay much attention to the layout and just zoomed around, unless their parents pointed things out to them. This might have been partly because the rather thin lines were somewhat hard to see.
The 5-6-year-olds were much more attuned to the “roadways” than the younger kids and paid more attention about sticking to them. The 9-year-old was bored by the simplicity of the course. He challenged himself to see how fast he could go while staying within the lines.
The 4 feet of buffer space on the west side felt sufficient, as did the 6 feet on the east side. It made more sense to have a larger buffer on the east side, since more people entered the area from the east side, and kids tended to have more speed on that curve than on the roundabout near the benches. The 3 feet on the south side seemed sufficient. The 7 feet on the north side seemed excessive – the course could be widened a little bit. Two crosswalk seemed repetitive. Kids noticed and appreciated the railroad crossing.
Parents either stood outside the fence to watch or sat on one of the benches inside. Several parents took the opportunity to point out and talk to their kids about the road markings and signs and what they meant, including a couple of families who didn’t have bikes but who walked across the layout.
Step 2: Permanent installation
Based on the successful demonstration, the City of Scottsbluff gave permission to go ahead with painting the layout. The goal was to have the layout done in time for the July 4 kickoff of the “Bands on Broadway” free concert series.
Over a couple of days, members of the bike club swept the concrete clean, laid out the design using a chalk line for straightaways, string+chalk for the curves, and cardboard templates. White acrylic traffic paint (used about 1 3/4 gallons) was mostly applied with 3-inch rollers, as well as a paintbrush. Careful attention was paid to which side of the chalk line the paint roller would follow, to make sure the lines all met up properly. We laid down strips of painter’s tape and ran a straight line over the top to create the dashed centerline. Red and yellow spray paint was used with a template for the sign shapes.
Miniature signs were constructed with bits of leftover materials the city had on hand, with additional signage donated by Aulick Industries. A heavy rubber base was necessary, otherwise the signs would blow over in the wind. The signs are stored in the skate rental shed most of the time. They are taken out during special events like the Bands on Broadway events. When the signs aren’t out, the colored shapes on the ground provide traffic direction.
Step 3: ribbon cutting and grand opening
A ribbon cutting was held on July 2, 2019, and the media was invited.
The grand opening was July 4, in conjunction with the “Bands on Broadway” summer concert series in the adjacent plaza. A kids’ decorated bicycle parade was held just before the music started, so some of the bikes on the playground looked very festive.
In addition to being a part of Bands on Broadway and the farmer’s market, the bicycle playground was also an official part of the downtown National Night Out event on August 6, 2019. A police officer staffed the playground and talked about bicycle and traffic safety.
Other than that, it has primarily been used by families on their own. At least one family drives in from an adjacent city to use it, as their neighborhood is not safe enough for their small children to ride bikes.
Step 4: Maintenance
Over the winter, a good portion of the paint flaked off or faded, so the paint will probably need to be refreshed every year.
The bike club repainted it in time for the July 2, 2020, Bands on Broadway kickoff. All better!
Copyright 2020 by Katie Bradshaw