In the name of safety and to protect itself from lawsuits, the city took a bulldozer last week to the result of years of work by local youths: The informal BMX park known as "Creek Trails," located in plain sight of the Stevens Creek Trail at Central Avenue.
The dirt bicycle track had been there for at least 20 years, its large jumps and berms built and rebuilt by daring bicyclists, usually teens, with the intention of getting airborne on their bikes.
It may not have been the first time the area faced a bulldozer, but it was no doubt a bummer for many.
"Friday was a sad day for me," wrote Jeral Poskey in a post on the Voice's Town Square forum. "As I rode my bike to work along the Stevens Creek Trail, I witnessed bulldozers flattening the dirt bike recreation area. This area was always inspiring to me. I don't know the full history, but it appeared to be homemade by determined kids."
Poskey said it seemed like an unfortunate thing to happen as the city tries to figure out how to build a teen center. In response, others commented about how American society has become overly litigious; that there was nothing for kids to do anymore; and some wondered if it meant the city would finally build an official BMX park -- an idea that has been on hold for years.
City attorney Michael Martello owned up to having "Creek Trails" removed. Although he said it was an easy decision to make intellectually, his sentiments were also with the BMX riders.
"This comes under the heading of one of the times where you hate to be an adult," Martello said.
Martello said his decision came out of discussions about liability and safety. Unless such jumps are city approved and maintained to city certified design, the city is highly exposed to a lawsuit if someone gets hurt.
Martello pointed to an $8 million claim filed with the city of San Jose by the father of a 16-year-old who paralyzed himself at Calabazas BMX park in San Jose. The action prompted San Jose to bulldoze the informal park and put in a certified set of jumps at a cost of $800,000.
The increasing prevalence of "certified" BMX parks has reportedly made it easier to sue cities if someone is injured at an informal park, especially if it can be proved that the city was aware of the existence of uncertified jumps. In San Jose, the most damning evidence was a shed the city had built at Calabazas for riders to store shovels and other track-building tools.
"When you ask the city attorney about it, there is really only one answer the city attorney can give," Martello said.
There is hope for the city's dirt bicyclists, however. The city has already budgeted $60,000 for an official BMX park that would likely have broader appeal to both novice and highly skilled BMX and mountain bike riders. The city has even selected a site for the park: a long slice of land which sits between a levy at Shoreline Park and Google's Crittenden Lane Campus under a set of PG&E power poles.
The City Council, however, has not moved the project forward for several years. Martello said the project, which was originally envisioned to cost only $60,000 -- to simply dump dirt and have volunteers build a track -- is likely to be significantly more expensive if the jumps have to be designed and certified for safety.