Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 25th, 2012 at 11:11 am
(Graphic: City of Portland)
An amendment to existing City ordinance that will ban skateboarding on several miles of roads in Portland’s West Hills near Washington Park will be brought up before City Council this Wednesday (6/27) at 9:30 am.
As I’ve reported, the push for this ban comes from the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association and their board member Eric Nagle. In a story earlier this month, I wondered if this proposal might impact Zoobomb, the weekly event where people ride bikes down many of the roads under consideration in the ban. Both Nagle and City Commissioner Randy Leonard (who will present the ordinance at Council) have claimed they have no intention of banning bikes; but it was clear — both from the wording in the original drafts of the ordinance and from communications between Nagle and the City of Portland — that this ban could have unintended consequences.
After all, if it’s decided that, “Skateboarders use neighborhood streets as a venue for an extreme thrill sport, and not as a means of transportation for which the streets were designed” — as it’s stated in the ordinance — than who’s to say the same couldn’t be said for riding down those hills on a mini-bike?
It also became clear that, despite his insistence that he didn’t want to “end Zoobomb,” in a series of emails to the City about this issue, Nagle brought up his concerns about bicycles and Zoobomb several times.
Another cause of concern was that the language in the initial draft of the ordinance (which we posted on June 12th) about what types of activities would be banned, could have been interpreted to include bicycles. Here’s the original draft language:
“No person may use roller skates, including in-line skates, skateboards, scooters, or other similar devices powered exclusively by human power upon any street, roadway or sidewalk on…”
On Friday, the City of Portland posted the final wording of the ordinance as it will appear before City Council this week (PDF). The language has now been changed to include, “not including bicycles.”
While I’m happy to see that bikes will be clearly exempt from this ban, the process by which we’ve arrived at this point still raises troubling questions.
For the past 11 months, a coalition that included City of Portland staff, Portland Police officers, Arlington Heights residents, and skateboarders has been meeting to try and solve the problem of dangerous skateboarding around Washington Park (it’s important to realize that not all skateboarders ride in the “daredevil” style that is such a concern). All parties worked collaboratively on several fronts to improve the situation. New streets signs had been designed and are ready to be installed, there were flyers and brochures to be passed out at skate shops, a new website has been created at SkateFriendlyPDX.com, the Police Bureau was working on a more effective enforcement strategy, and there were efforts to reach out and educate skaters about choosing safer routes and to show more respect for the safety of the neighborhood.
But that entire effort is on hold after Nagle went outside the process and got Commissioner Randy Leonard to support his ban proposal.
The skateboarders who had come to the table to work on safety issues and the Portland Police Bureau are frustrated at this turn of events.
In an in inter-office Portland Police Bureau memo dated June 8th 2012 from Officer Hillary Scott (who was acting as the neighborhood liaison for this issue) to Central Precinct Captain Sara Westbrook, Officer Scott laments the fact that this coordinated effort to find “practical and realistic resolutions” to the problem has not been able to progress. Here’s an excerpt from that memo (which I received through a public records request):
“We have made great strides toward a more user and neighborhood friendly skate route but have not yet had the opportunity to see the fruits of our efforts. I believe this is in part due to… the fact that we have not completely “rolled out” the project because it appears to have taken a different turn.”
In the memo, Officer Scott recounts how all parties have been working “collectively” and that the monthly meetings have been “productive and positive.” Then she calls out Nagle for going directly to Commissioner Leonard and working on the ban without telling anyone else:
“The Longboarding/Skateboarding community was disappointed that Mr. Eric Nagle met with city commissioners about this issue without their knowledge, particularly when they have been responsible, active members of the committee. It has been my experience that their knowledge of the situation and its’ dynamics are necessary pieces of our problem solving meetings.
This morning, the Portland Mercury reported that Officer Scott, at a meeting on the issue last week with PBOT and skateboarders, again expressed doubts that a ban would help the situation. Here’s a snip from the Mercury:
Officer Scott expressed that banning skating will likely not end skating on the contested hill… “I think that there’s a perception this will be a magic pill, but it’s not. We won’t have any more resources, we will still have a million things to do that are a higher priority than skateboarding,” said Scott.
The police and city workers who thought up the education campaign, meanwhile, are hoping the ordinance fails or is put on hold for the summer. “We’ve been working on this for 11 months and we haven’t been given a chance to implement it yet and see if anything changes,” said Officer Scott at Wednesday’s meeting. “The neighborhood going to city hall undermines all the work we’ve been doing and totally blindsides us.”
In my opinion, this issue is not about whether or not some people are skating dangerously. Everyone agrees that problem needs attention. But a ban is not the answer, especially when it’s clear that even the Portland Police Bureau oppose it and the policy itself (which is not likely to help the problem much) was conceived between a small group of residents and one City Commissioner without input from other stakeholders and without the basic level of transparency and process the public deserves.
We can do better. Please contact Commissioner Leonard, Mayor Adams, and the other three commissioners to let them know how you feel about this issue.
In addition to a ban on skateboards, scooters and other “similar devices”, the ordinance would quadruple fines on a host of traffic violations from $25 to $115. Download the City Council agenda item here (PDF).