Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 11th, 2012 at 3:32 pm
A debate has been stirring for almost a year between Arlington Heights Neighborhood residents and people that ride skateboards down the steep hills of SW Fairview Ave.
As reported today by The Portland Mercury, City Commissioner Randy Leonard will propose a ban on skateboarding on certain streets in the west hills. According Leonard's policy advisor Stuart Oishi, the ordinance is currently being prepared by the City Attorney's office and will up for a vote at City Council on June 27th.
As news of this ordinance has spread through the community, many people who bike down Fairview for fun as part of Zoobomb are afraid that this could lead to a ban and/or crackdown on downhill bicycling as well.
Long time Zoobomber and citizen bike activist Randy Albright recalls many battles with Arlington Heights residents — especially federal attorney Eric Nagle, the man who's pushing this current ordinance — in the past. Albright says he feels the skateboard ban is ominous news for Zoobomb in general:
"Currently, the neighborhood association seems a lot more concerned with skating than biking; but they have also tried taking action against Zoobomb several times in the past [by trying to eliminate late Sunday night MAX stops at the Zoo], and in my opinion, success with a skate ban might embolden them to move against Zoobomb again."
Billy "Bones" Meiners is an active local advocate for downhill skateboarding through his work with PDX Downhill. He's frustrated by the skating ban ordinance. He feels that Nagle went to Leonard's office behind his back after many months of good faith negotiations. Meiners is going to rally opposition to the ban when it comes up on the 27th. He also shares the sentiment of Albright about how this might creep over to Zoobomb and bicycling: "I worry that if this passes then Eric will set his sights on Zoobomb next. We cannot let that happen."
Stuart Oishi in Leonard's office says bicycling on Fairview has not been discussed at all during his talks about this proposed skating ban with Nagle and other residents. One reason might be that bikes are much quieter (skateboard wheels are loud at high speeds) and bike riders are few and far between compared to the frequent skateboard runs on nice days. But Oishi says it has more to do with the difference between bicycling and skateboarding.
Here's more on that topic from a phone conversation I had with Oishi today:
"I think it's basically a safety issue whereas a skateboard tends to use the whole street, back-and-forth, to slow down. Bikes have better braking ability and a better ability to stay in-line... Think of the analogy of a skier versus a snowboarder. I don't think the neighborhood had too much resistance to bikes... Bikes can actually stop... Not only can a skater not stop as quickly as a bike, when they do, the board can then become a missile."
Oishi also commented that skateboard riders tend to not tend to wear reflective material or use lights as much as bike riders do. His perspective is that the neighbors are only trying to put regulations in place that will prevent a tragedy in the future.
Oishi points out that the new ordinance won't ban skateboarding outright, just the "thrill seeking" type. As part of the negotiations on the ordinance, Oishi says the neighborhood mapped out specific streets to remain legal for using a skateboard for transportation. The proposed ordinance would seek to amend section 16.70.410 of the Portland City Code to prohibit skateboarding in the newly defined "enforcement area" and traffic citations for skateboarders would go up to $115 — from the current fine of $25.
In the past, Nagle has pushed for the City's transportation bureau to install traffic dots or rumble strips on Fairview to slow people down. Thankfully, PBOT remains against such requests and does not plan to install anything like that as part of this recent crackdown.
It's interesting to note the mayoral politics that might be in play here. Mayor Sam Adams has resided over a period of great calm and collaboration between PBOT, the Police Bureau and Zoobombers. With Adams in his final months, perhaps Nagle sees an opportunity to change the dynamic. It also happens that mayoral candidate Charlie Hales spearheaded Portland's pro-skateboarding laws and skate-specific transportation routes back when he was transportation commissioner. Another interesting wrinkle is that PBOT Director Tom Miller cut his teeth on politics in this town as a skateboard activist. It was Miller's work on bringing respect to skateboarding that landed him a job in then Commissioner Sam Adams' office in 2004.
We'll keep you posted on how this all develops.
UPDATED, 4:40pm: I got a call back from Commissioner Randy Leonard. He said the neighborhood residents did, "Everything a neighborhood could be expected to do in being proactive about this problem." When talks broke down between skateboard advocates and concerned neighbors, and it became clear that PBOT wasn't going to do anything, Leonard felt he had no other choice but to act with an ordinance before the safety issues get worse.
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