Photo by Benton L. Fuller
The White Center Bike Park opened on Saturday, October 1.

White Center Bike Park opens pleasing many 'spokes people'

By Gwen Davis

We all know Seattle is a bike-friendly city. However, the Cascade Bicycle Club just took bike freedom and happiness to the next level.

This past Saturday, the Cascade Bicycle Club held the grand opening of the new White Center Bike Playground at Dick Thurnau Memorial Park.

The White Center Bike Playground is what’s known as a “traffic garden” — a paved, flat area with real-life traffic modalities. Traffic gardens contain simulated roads, sidewalks, stop signs, roundabouts and other realistic traffic signals, in order to teach bicyclists how to obey traffic laws for when riding on real streets.

Traffic gardens empower people to both learn how to ride a bicycle in a flat, car-free environment, while also learning the rules of the road. They are useful for all ages. Traffic gardens are largely found in Europe, especially in countries such as Denmark.

"I’m a big supporter of the Cascade Bicycle Club," said Steve Durrant, principal and vice-princiapl at Alta Planning and Design, the company that designed White Center Bike Playground, pro-bono. "I’ve been to Copenhagen several times where they have fantastic traffic gardens and teach kids from just barely out of the cradle onward how to operate safely in traffic."

The company used first-line resources as guidelines for how to build the traffic garden.

“We tried to set up as many scenarios as possible,” Durrant said. “We have stop signs, signals, a one-way system, a roundabout and different types of intersections.”

The White Center Bike Playground will be open to the public, as well as be used for the Cascade Bicycle Club’s own programming.

Elizabeth Kiker, executive director at the Cascade Bicycle Club, said the creation of the White Center Bike Playground was a joint effort.

“There were a couple of tennis courts that weren’t maintained or well-used very often, and King County Parks had a grant system for parks that were underutilized,” she said. “We were awarded the King County Parks grant, and wrapped it into our capital campaign.”

With the King County Parks’ $50,000 grant, as well as donations from the club's capital campaign, the Bike Playground was put into action.

“We planned to design and build a world-class traffic garden,” she said.

The project has been in the works for the past two years. The Cascade Bicycle Club was awarded the grant about a year ago.

"As a mom of three kids myself, it’s hard to find a place in Seattle to teach kids how to ride, so this is a great, safe, flat place to really teach kids,” Kiker said.

Jessica Emerson, of King County Parks, said that this collaboration fit exactly into line with her organization.

"The cornerstone of the work that we do at King County Parks is partnerships,” she said. "We work with all different partners to create recreational facilities at our parks. We met with Cascade Bicycle Club over the years and they came up to us with the idea of a traffic garden.”

Creating a traffic garden in White Center seemed like a particularly good idea.

"We think a traffic garden is a great thing to build a strong community,” Emerson added. "White Center doesn’t have a lot of sidewalks. This is a way for kids to learn how to ride on the road, for parents to teach their kids, and this is a really cool partnership that we’re excited about.”

Over 50 people attended the grand opening, which included over a dozen children riding their bicycles on the fresh facility. The event was festive, colorful and rich in pride.

Blake Shelafoe, Duwamish cultural teacher, kicked off the event by giving the White Center Bike Playground a ritualistic, musical blessing.

Among speakers who addressed the crowd was 34th-District State House Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon.

"I’m so excited to see this great playground,” he said. "We know that playgrounds are one of the best ways to make communities richer and better. We know that businesses in areas that are bike-safe and bike-friendly get a lot more foot-traffic and have a lot more success in generating revenue, and White Center has so many businesses that will benefit as this community continues to grow and become bike-safe.”

Fitzgibbon lauded the White Center Bike Playground, as a place for fun, safety and community-building.

"Biking is healthy, it's environmentally-friendly, but more importantly, biking is fun and that’s what we see today,” he said. “Today we see all these young people enjoy the playground have fun, learn safe biking skills, and explore this amazing community on two wheels."

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