Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Skateboarding ban ordinance now excludes bicycles; but concerns remain

Posted by on June 25th, 2012 at 11:11 am

Roads under consideration for the ban are marked in red.
(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).

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  • 9watts June 25, 2012 at 11:21 am

    “…and skateboarders”

    -> people who ride skate boards?

    Thanks for continued coverage of this issue, Jonathan. I’ve learned a great deal I didn’t know before in the wake of your earlier reports on this.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 25, 2012 at 11:24 am

      thanks 9watts. I think “skateboarders” works fine in that context.

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      • Jeff June 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm

        It works exceptionally well and anyone willing to apply .5 seconds of brain power can intuit the meaning if they don’t understand it already.

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        • are June 25, 2012 at 9:30 pm

          i think the point is that there has been a language push on this site to say “people operating bicycles” rather than “cyclists,” etc.

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  • A.K. June 25, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Of course banning skateboards won’t fix the issue.

    Just like speed limits, stop signs, laws against drunk driving, texting while driving, and other such laws will fail to stop any of those activities.

    If people don’t feel like they are being respected in the process of all this, why would be bother to follow along with the new rules?

    In all the time I’ve spent cycling up through those hills, I’ve rarely if ever seen police officers present. I’m willing to bet that most skateboarders would continue to be able to skate with very low risk of being ticketed.

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    • middle of the road guy June 26, 2012 at 9:19 am

      Just use the same reasoning comments people here use: Make the penalties high enough to stop the behavior.

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  • CaptainKarma June 25, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Something about lawyers and govt officials saying “trust me, I have no intention of…” just doesn’t set right with me.

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  • GlowBoy June 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    This will not stand, ya know. This aggression will not stand, man.

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    • Uncle Muscles June 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      Not to mention keeping an aquatic mammal (randy leonard)… ya know…in city limits… that ain’t right either.

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  • matt picio June 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Officer Scott is another fine example of the efforts of PPB to work with the community to solve complex issues while maintaining the input of all parties. I know a lot of folks like to dismiss the PPB as needlessly authoritarian, but there’s a lot of fine folks there working their butts off to serve the community. Here’s a great example of that.

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    • oskarbaanks June 25, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      I wholeheartedly agree with you on Officer Scott. I sometimes rant on about PPB, but he at least always seems to be a voice of reason.

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  • Jon June 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    It would be nice for the police to try some enforcement of laws before resorting to this ban. I have watched at least 3 cases where a car had to yield to a skateboarder who was running a stop sign at full speed (15-25mph). In each case if the car had taken its right of way the skateboarder would be dead. I have also seen many go in the the opposite lane while going around corners.
    I also believe that police should enforce traffic laws when it comes to bicycles the same way they do with cars. I see somewhere near 50% of cars roll through stop signs at a low speed but they are almost never ticketed. I don’t see very many cars run stop signs at full speed. I see a lot more bicycles run stop signs at near top bicycle speed and they should be ticketed.

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    • oskarbaanks June 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      We need yield signals at the top of the hill which the skateboarders can trip on the way down, much like the tunnel signals for cyclist’s on the coast highway. This of course is a ridiculous idea. but….

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    • esther c June 26, 2012 at 10:17 am

      I daily watch cyclists have to slow down while approaching Fred Meyers on Interstate Ave knowing that they’re likely to get right hooked. My guess is 3/4 of all turns involving bikes and vehicles at that spot, the cars take the right of way when they don’t have it.Cars constantly make right turns through the bike lane at that particular spot yet no one proposes banning bikes from Interstate Ave.

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  • John I. June 25, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    “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”

    Whats worrisome about this statement is that it implies any recreational activity other than getting from point A to point B is somehow breaking some unspoken law. That kind of thinking opens the door for all sorts of personal freedom infringements.

    Whats next? cant ride your bike because your just out enjoying the sun and the views from the top of the hill?

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    • 9watts June 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm

      Exactly. Especially the second half of that sentence. What is most chilling to me is the sentiment behind this language. Should we only use the interstate highway system for transporting munitions, because that perceived need inspired its construction? Who decides what is or is not legitimate use of the streets? I don’t see any clear way to differentiate all the types of legitimate, and in Nagle’s view illegitimate, ways to be on these streets. Why is ‘exclusively human powered’ even a category, much less one worth sanctioning? What if I get together with my exclusively human powered friends and decide to ban all ‘exclusively fossil fuel powered’ transport on my neighborhood streets?

      How is one to ascertain whether someone traveling by any mode is there solely for the purpose of thrill seeking, or transportation, or both, or neither!?

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  • Matt June 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    “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”

    Same could be said for the guys in their BMW’s going well over the posted speed limit, no?

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  • are June 25, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    what i do not understand, and what nobody seems to be addressing, is why this ordinance is also being used to increase (by several multiples) the fine for skateboarding on downtown sidewalks. the preamble talks only about using neighborhood streets for thrill skating. anyone operating a skateboard on a downtown sidewalk is probably just trying to get around. okay, yes, there probably should be a downtown core where everyone simply walks, but we already have that ordinance and the fine is already twenty-five bucks, which ought to be a sufficient dissuasion. a hundred fifteen is just plain vindictive.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm

      not only vindictive, but completely out of line given that a much more serious offense — talking on your cell phone while driving — is only about $110 I think, and a police office told me yesterday that it’s usually cut IN HALF if the person has a good driving record.

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  • Jerry June 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    The puns here are just begging to be called out.
    “A frustrating turn (of events)”
    “The neighborhood going to city hall undermines all the work we’ve been doing and totally blindsides us.”
    This is a slippery slope, you know. Especially when it rains.

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  • was carless June 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Who cares?

    This is a “get those damned kids off my lawn” ordinance. Complete waste of time that our government is wasting time and effort in banning skateboarding in the richy-rich part of town, purely because wealthy and politically connected whiners have the ear of a certain politician.

    Particularly ironic considering that Portland was at the vanguard of promoting skateboarding with its major investment in skateparks not that many years ago.

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  • Dan Kaufman June 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    One more example of bad new law that gives the government more power but doesn’t solve the underlying issue(s). Are we really going to write, debate, implement AND enforce a whole NEW law to help prevent (drum roll, please) Lawbreaking (most of the worst cases are probably carried out by handful of bad actors)?!!

    This defies logic and is an example of undue influence in of our Council.

    Any council member who votes for this will not receive my support in any future election.

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  • Evan Manvel June 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    The key thing to do: **take your comments and e-mail them to the Council (better yet, show up).** Comments on BikePortland are great, but they’re not reaching all the Councilors and the Mayor.

    Many thanks for having the link to contact addresses in the story, Jonathan – and for your coverage.

    $115/$25 = 360% increase since 2000, when the ordinance was adopted. Inflation-adjusting the fines would mean they’d end up around $32. They rolled two things into one: first, the West Hills issue; second, the amount of fines on all skateboarders. There’s no rationale for doing that. The rationale on the West Hills issue is flimsy and falls apart, but there are, as far as I can tell, no findings or arguments for radically increasing fines.

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    • Dan Kaufman June 25, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      Good point, Evan. I just called them all. Surprisingly, none of them were available to chat. Hopefully they’ll get the message.

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  • Andrew Holtz June 25, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    I’ve been trying to figure out the difference between “thrill-seeking” skateboarders and the “thrill-seeking” drivers who race through our neighborhood.

    Oh, yeah, skateboarders MIGHT hurt someone, while drivers ACTUALLY DO hurt and kill people.

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  • Andrew Holtz June 25, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    A quick review of recent PPB news releases found these names:

    Carrie Ann Hill, 36, killed 6/22
    Marcus Perez, 19, killed 6/15
    Donald Burl Yarbour, Jr., 53, killed 6/13
    Ronald Bruce Moser, 57, killed 6/13

    That’s four people killed by cars in Portland since BikePortland first reported the proposed skateboard ban. Have the police have ever had a case of vehicular homicide in which the vehicle was a skateboard?

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  • dwainedibbly June 25, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Divide & conquer at work?

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  • On The Road June 25, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    It will be a bright day when Randy Leonard is no longer a city council member.

    Normally I think that term limits are counter-productive but in Leonard’s case, hallelujah.

    But be sure to keep your eyes open for the next venue where Leonard will try to practice his brand of authoritarian politics.

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  • wsbob June 25, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    From this bikeportland story:

    “…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 doesn’t jive with feelings expressed by Eric Nagle in a previous bikeportland story about skateboarding in Arlington Heights:


    Excerpt from that story, Nagles comment in inside quotes:”…Nagle claims that he worked in good faith with the skateboarding community but once they learned unpermitted events were being organized, they broke off talks. “After months of negotiating with skaters and the city for this exceedingly modest program, we learned that the skaters were continuing to organize and promote illegal skate races in the neighborhood, and we decided we’d had enough. They just weren’t acting in good faith.” …”.

    It would be nice to be certain whether, when Nagle says ‘we’, he went to Leonard on behalf of the neighbors as a member of the neighborhood association, or whether the ‘we’ he’s referring to was just him and his wife, or maybe his cat.

    If the people Nagle refers to in his comment, that he felt weren’t acting in ‘good faith’, were people both on the committee and also organizing and promoting illegal skate races in the neighborhood, that might be a reason why, if going to Leonard was an association decision, the association didn’t feel obliged to share it with the Longboarding/Skateboarding community.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 25, 2012 at 8:31 pm


      Nagle went behind the back of the working group because he claimed that the skateboarders were hosting “illegal” and unpermitted events and that by doing such, it was a “slap in the face” to the neighborhood.

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      • wsbob June 26, 2012 at 12:17 am

        maus…your response doesn’t answer the question of whether Nagle went to Leonard on behalf of the neighborhood in his role as member of the neighborhood association, with the associations’ direction for him to do so.

        It also doesn’t address the question of what conditions for talks the working group might have agreed to; whether or not a moratorium on scheduling of skateboard events until resolution of issues associated with skateboarding in the neighborhood was accomplished, was among conditions of the talks.

        A clearer picture of what happened would be helpful. You say Nagle went behind the working group’s back. Nagle and some unidentified ‘we’ seem to feel that skateboarder’s went behind their back and organized skating events in the neighborhood. Which was it? On facts, from this story, it’s impossible to tell.

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      • davemess June 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm

        This sounds almost exactly like the Forrest Park mountain biking situation last year. Local neighborhood association complains, and wham, years of hard cooperative work down the drain.
        Will we ever learn?

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    • Rol June 26, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Since we’re clarifying identities (“we” etc.) it’s also pertinent to ask, who are “the skateboarders?” All one group, answering to one central representative authority who communicates on their behalf and is responsible for their actions?

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      • Rol June 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm

        That is what would have to be true in order to substantiate Nagle’s claim that “the skateboarders” were at the meetings but then “the skateboarders” organized events.

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      • wsbob June 26, 2012 at 3:43 pm

        Rol…that’s a good point. The ‘skateboarders’ in question, rather than particular individuals, seem to be people of certain types of skateboarding interested in the Arlington Heights neighborhood specifically for steep hills the neighborhood exists on and the potential the hilly streets provide for fast gravity propelled skateboarding. Except for yours, there doesn’t seem to have been questions raised about whether this type of skateboarder was represented amongst members of the working group.

        As to the other point you raised, I’d tend to consider that downhill skaters might want to have some kind of formal association or organization to promote the type of skating they want to do on neighborhood streets. Like ORBA for bike racing, SCCA for car racing. With something like that, the organization could possibly arrange for sanctioned events the neighborhood may agree to in exchange for limitations on the activity outside of scheduled, sanctioned events.

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  • Cycling small business owner June 25, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Nagle gave up dealing with people who were not acting in good faith. It’s not a claim that they were holding illegal and unpermitted events, Jonathan, it’s a fact. Jonathan conveniently takes the attitude that nothing is true unless he personally witnesses it. I personally went to the police with the printouts of the invitations to illegal events. The traffic division said they knew about the illegal events, but that there was not the political will to stop them due to the nature of the relationship of Sam Adams and the zoo-bomb crowd. The skateboarders that are claiming to want to be heard and make people aware and to skate legally now are playing the politicians. This same group has threatened to burn down competitors of Rip City Skate and participated in vandalism to neighboring businesses including the smearing of human feces on a wall.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 25, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      cycling small business owner,

      there are a lot of illegal things that happen all over the city every day but we rely on the discretion of our elected leaders and law enforcement professionals to enforce them.

      The fact remains that there is some disagreement as to what constitutes an illegal event and what types of events require permits.

      It sounds like you had some bad experiences with people who skate. That’s a bummer; but I don’t see how that has anything to do with what should be a respectful conversation about how to solve this problem of dangerous skateboarding.

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  • esther c June 26, 2012 at 10:26 am

    If Nagle or other citizens witnessed an unlicensed skateboarding event being held on a public street in their neighborhood wouldn’t the solution be to call the police at the time of the event and have the actual event stopped?

    If these events are actually occurring there should be some documentation, tickets that were given out etc.

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  • Skid June 26, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I would just like to point out that Eric Nagle is a Federal Attorney and that is likely the only reason that he has Randy Leonard’s ear or any sort of pull at City Hall. This is clearly an abuse of local political connections and power. If he was just an average Joe (even an average affluent Joe on that hill) his complaints would not be getting the attention they have gotten, and they never would have made it to the point where City Council is voting on an ordinance.

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    • BURR June 26, 2012 at 11:46 am

      I would add that Nagle didn’t even move to the neighborhood until 2004, and zoobombing and skateboarding were already occurring in the neighborhood prior to that time, and I believe Caveat Emptor applies.

      Plenty of people in Portland live in neighborhoods impacted by traffic, railroad, airplane and other noise and activities, and there is nothing special about Eric Nagle’s situation that warrants this type of legal action.

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    • wsbob June 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      “…I would just like to point out that Eric Nagle is a Federal Attorney ….” Skid

      So what? Big deal, and who cares? Except maybe you. If you’ve got one shred of evidence to indicate Nagles position as Federal Attorney (taking your word for it he is…I see no documentation for the claim.) represents a hold on Leonard to respond to Nagle about this neighborhood issue…back it up.

      There’s certainly no ‘clear’ abuse of power here on the part of Nagle, the neighborhood association, or the neighborhood. If there is an abuse of power existing in the neighborhood, related to skateboarding, those exerting it would seem to be skateboarders and zoobombers.

      Burr seems to believe speedway skateboarding has some kind of ‘grandfathered’ right over Nagles’ date of residence in the neighborhood, and that Nagle is the only person in the neighborhood that has an issue with speedway skateboarding. Most likely wrong in both cases.

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      • BURR June 26, 2012 at 12:46 pm

        The point is that lawyers and attorneys have access to and an understanding of our legal system, and the ways to manipulate it, that your average every day citizen does not.

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  • Rol June 26, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    “In my opinion, this issue is not about whether or not some people are skating dangerously. Everyone agrees that problem needs attention.”

    I do not agree that that problem needs attention.

    “We will still have a million things to do that are a higher priority than skateboarding.”


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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 26, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      I disagree. Some of the skating that happens in this neighborhood is a problem… in the same way I feel that people cutting illegal trails through a forest to jump their downhill mtbs is a problem and street racing of souped-up cars is a problem. The solution isn’t to ban stuff, instead we need to make sure we are aware of the problem and do the best we can to mitigate it.

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  • esther c June 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I would think that skate boarding dangerously down steep hills would be a pretty self limiting activity. If people are really careening into cars they won’t be doing it many times or for long.

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