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The Philly Pumptrack
Landscape Architecture by Sigora Wells-Appel

by Thomas J. McLane, RLA, ALSA | McLane Associates

The Philly Pumptrack

Opened in the spring of 2014, the Philly Pumptrack, located near downtown Philadelphia in Fairmount Park, is situated on a piece of land that the city owns. It is known as a pumptrack because you use a pumping up-and-down motion instead of pedaling. When the park is open, visitors can borrow a bike and helmet for free after signing a liability waiver.

At the Philly Pumptrack in Philadelphia, project teams were able to convert an abandoned and underutilized tract of land into a bike park through adaptive reuse.

Bike parks provide users with a range of opportunities based on their skill level, from easier to challenging, allowing park users of all ages to participate in healthy activity in a safe environment. Bike parks encourage personal growth, social development, family interaction and build self-esteem. They are not necessarily proving grounds; rather, they often introduce riders to foreign terrains, varying slopes, and biking as a lifestyle and recreational activity.

Before the creation of the Philly Pumptrack, the Brooklyn Pumptrack was a demonstration facility built in the summer of 2013. The track was eventually demolished in late fall 2014 to make way for an apartment building, but the Brooklyn Pumptrack was a great example, and a real-world testing ground, for what would become the Philly Pumptrack. The design of the track, stormwater management, plant selection, track difficulty/fun and overall community feel were assessed while in operation in Brooklyn; and after minor modifications, the track design that was originally implemented in Brooklyn, is now being utilized in Philadelphia.

The main elements of the Philly bike park include a bike shop/storage area, gathering space, multi-use trail, beginner/advanced pumptracks, skill stations and connections to adjacent bike trails. The skill stations facilitate development of basic skills, which are required for off-road biking. Furthermore, the parks also accommodate clinics for teaching kids about biking and proper riding techniques.

Stormwater control, environmental education and informative signage are integral components of the park. The rain gardens not only promote stormwater infiltration, but are also hubs for plant, insects and wildlife, and even bring nature into an urban setting. Park signage provides riding tips, difficulty ratings and educational information.

Due to its location in Fairmount Park, the Philly Pumptrack is well-positioned to foster interactions between bike riders and the urban crowd nearby. As a result, this park has facilitated dialogue and interaction amongst groups that may not normally be in the same circles.

Design Details
Underlying design goals centered around providing a progressive venue to accommodate all ages and skill levels while still challenging the advanced riders. Additionally, the design aimed to provide a space that facilitates teaching of bike skills while effectively handling stormwater in a visual and educational way. Lastly, bringing nature into an urban setting was a huge consideration.

In the beginning, the design team first spoke with community leaders and potential park users who validated the need for a bike park and community space. Then, the team conducted site inventory and analysis to assess conditions like grades, soils and drainage patterns. After conceptual renderings by landscape architectural firm Sikora Wells-Appel, McLane Associates prepared the various construction and permit drawings required by the Philadelphia Water Department.

The Philly Pumptrack

The park's layout and landscape plan were designed by Sikora Wells-Appel of Haddonfield, N.J.

The Philly Pumptrack

The inaugural day at the Philly Pumptrack was a huge success, as adults and children came from all across the area to get a chance at riding the pumptrack.

Stormwater management was integrated into the design, which reduced the need to dedicate large areas for water control. This was accomplished with the use of rain gardens, which were installed within the track for a few reasons: to soften the "feel" of the track, provide track shade over time, promote environmental education, treat runoff and capture sediment.

Soak away pits (made from clean stone wrapped in geotextile fabric) were also installed to capture and further filter stormwater runoff after treatment via the raingardens. One soak away pit was situated beneath the storage container holding the park's supplies. This provided a stable level base for the container and did not waste valuable space within the compact pump park.

The main challenge was to create a space that would be geared towards progressive biking, but still be welcoming for all ages. Furthermore, ensuring the proper utilization of standard practices, revolving around recreation, landscape design and site planning, as catalysts for positive community growth.

In the beginning, the space was nothing more than a vacant lot and there is generally apathy toward these abandoned urban lots that foster only the growth of litter and weeds. These lots can also be negative symbols and visual reminders of that which was lost in a community. Because of this, not only did the formation of this pumptrack foster community activism (as many volunteers came to assist in the building process) but it also provided a biking venue and turned an underutilized space into an asset.

The Philly Pumptrack

Several months in, and a few storms later, the plants used for the rain gardens, (native grasses and lilies,) have grown almost as high as this rider's jump! The colorful shipping container in the background holds the park's rental bikes and equipment, while also separating the advanced track from the beginner track.

Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architects were responsible for overall site layout, fostering safe track design, construction and permit drawings, plant selection, cost estimating, and stormwater management.

All bike parks need to drain-away stormwater, however, not all parks install functional, working landscapes and strive to educate riders about green infrastructure. In the end, a combination of rain gardens, native plants, and soak-away gardens adequately handle site stormwater in the park, as well as, benefit the local watershed and wildlife.

The visual impact of plants is obvious in this urban setting, especially when juxtaposed to the barren clay surfaces. The use of blueberry bushes and serviceberry trees even provides the riders a chance to forage for berries between rides - if the birds do not eat them first.

The site design provides an interactive venue for multiple age groups, entire families and skill levels in a safe and organized space. Riders learn from each other (beginners can learn from the experts and the experts can challenge each other). The progressive design and educational signage facilitate the safe enjoyment of the park by all skill levels. There continues to be a buzz about the Philly Pumptrack and park usage is steady.

The Philly Pumptrack

The Philly Pumptrack is managed by a group of volunteers known as the "Friends of Philly Pumptrack," and they supplied the pop-up tents on the inaugural day. Nine tennis courts, surrounded by a metal fence, abut the pumptrack, while the track itself is enclosed by a wooden fence.

The Philly Pumptrack

The track combined urban stormwater control, education, and connectivity to nature, into an emerging recreational amenity. Sod was added to the sides of the jumps in order to prevent erosion of the dirt (which would make the jumps unsafe), to help with water capture and retainment, and to soften the "feel" of the track.

Additionally, this project highlights bike parks as a large-scale form of art - the sculpted clay berms and rollers rise and fall across the ground in a living manner, the pockets of vegetation with various heights, textures, colors and movement, and the bike riders gliding through the site, make the pumptrack an artful display.

The wholistic view of the landscape architects helped accomplish more site and community interaction within a facility that had potential to be very specialized and even closed-off to outside uses and users.

Team List
Friends of Philly Pumptrack
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia
Fairmount Park Conservancy
Jim Dellavalle Designs: Lead Track Designer and Builder
Thomas J. McLane Associates: Final site layout and track design, conceptual renderings, construction and permit drawings
Sikora Wells-Appel: Initial site layout and space planning

As seen in LASN magazine, March 2019.

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July 19, 2019, 2:39 pm PDT

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