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New ‘NW Skate Coalition’ wants skateboarding to follow biking’s path

Posted by on June 28th, 2013 at 8:46 am

NWSC co-founders Billy “Bones” Meiners and Cory Poole.
(Photo © M. Andersen/BikePortland)

Forty years after Oregon started taking bicycle transportation seriously, a new group for people who get around by skateboard says it’s another vehicle’s turn.

The NW Skate Coalition, organized last fall in the wake of public controversy over downhill skating in the West Hills, is looking for new ways to persuade Portlanders that four polyurethane wheels and a maple board add up to a pretty good idea.

And anyone who’s watched the growth of biking in Portland will recognize their agenda.

There’s skate fun: The third annual Skate Critical Mass is tonight at 6 p.m. in Tom McCall Park. There’s government recognition: they recently met to talk skateboarding with Mayor Charlie Hales’ policy advisor. There’s in-school education: they’re hoping to take part in the local Safe Routes to School program.

NWSC co-founder Cory Poole is even participating in next month’s Disaster Relief Trials on his longboard … and thinking about joining an upcoming move by bike, too.

It’s an urban transportation movement that seems well-suited to Portland, which in 2000 decriminalized skateboarding on city streets after an uphill campaign by then-Transportation Commissioner Hales.

“Riders of such devices are subject to the provisions applicable to, and have the same rights and duties provided any driver of a vehicle … except when otherwise specifically provided.”
— from the Portland City Code regulation of skateboards

“No one’s looking at this as a viable transportation solution for urban areas,” said Poole, 36, in an interview Thursday. “They kind of put up with it. They deal with it. [But] I don’t think many cities other than Portland have said, ‘This is not just something we should deal with but something we can use.'”

Billy Meiners, another NWSC co-founder (and also a founder of popular skateboarding website PDX Downhill), said that after years of successful short-term civic activism projects, Portland’s skating community deserves more sustained, strategic effort on its behalf.

“There’s plenty of groups that are like, ‘We need a skate park,'” said Meiners, 27. “The skate park’s built and it’s like, ‘We’re done.'”

Though Poole and Meiners say they don’t aspire to create a large professional organization like the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, they’ve looked to Oregon’s 23-year-old bike advocacy group as a model of effectiveness and professionalism. They also look at Portland’s increasingly diverse bike culture and see the future of the skateboard scene.

“I don’t see there being a 25 percent mode share for skateboards ever,” Poole said. “But [on an errand] I’ll see two, three skateboards and maybe eight, nine bicycles. That’s a lot of skateboards.”

By almost any measure, skateboarding and longboarding are cheap. A decent board costs $100, plus less than $100 per year in replacement wheels and ball bearings.

Last month, Portland State University scholar Tessa Walker presented work from a master’s thesis about skateboard transportation in Portland as part of the school’s transportation seminar series. Walker found that although “skating is still primarily, at least in terms of this sample, young white men … I got a lot more diversity than I was expecting in terms of age.”

Poole and Meiners say that gradually improving skateboard technology, such as more complicated trucks and softer wheels, is making boards more comfortable and luring older people to see them as practical.

“There’s no reason to age out of longboarding,” said Poole, who lives in Portland and commutes to Salem as a property manager. “I literally go years between falls. If you’re just using it as transportation, you don’t need to fall ever. It’s a freak incident if you fall.”

Walker’s research also found that an entire generation of skaters, Poole included, like to ride with their children. Nineteen percent of her survey respondents reported doing so.

“It’s something I can do to remain connected with my teen boys,” one man told Walker. “I reward them for Bs or above with predawn sessions.”

Another finding Walker drew on in her research: a 1979 study found that one-third of all skateboard-related ER visits in Toronto came from people who’ve been skateboarding for less than a week.

Poole and Meiners hope that’s one statistic the NW Skate Coalition will be able to change, by making skateboard education more common. They’re currently focused on organizing occasional events, building relationships in the local skating community and getting to know police, schools and other local government institutions.

“Most of the policy people I talk to, after I talk to them and a couple months pass, I talk to them again, and they’re like, I’ve been noticing so many skateboards!” Poole said. He laughed. “No, they were there all along.”

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    Steve Scarich June 28, 2013 at 8:54 am

    I have no particular opinion one way or the other about skateboards. in fact, I skateboarded when I was little on a board with metal wheels back in the 50’s in L.A. My two observations are; (1) it would be great if the wheels on some were not so loud (2) there is a portion, maybe 15 or 20% of boarders who just have a real anti-social attitude. They will practically run me down when I am a pedestrian or flick there riderless board in front of me when I am riding my bike. It is these guys (yes, always guys) who need to be brought on board (pun intended) to lessen the public sentiment against boarders. Reading this article actually gave me some insight as to boards being a means of transportation, as opposed to just a form of recreation.

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      longgone June 28, 2013 at 9:17 am

      As a person who is also old enough to have experienced the horror of skating on steel wheels..I have to say that I agree little with your cloaked statement of accepting skateboards on personal terms.
      These are the same type of over simplifications thrown out at any genre of people ( cyclist’s i.e.) seeking inroads towards self expression and freedom.
      Yes, the world will be SO much better with quieter skateboard wheels!
      We cant have that. nope.

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    Granpa June 28, 2013 at 9:27 am

    If mountain bikers think they have a bad reputation, they should take comfort that they don’t have the rep of skateboarders. With tongue somewhat in cheek I am known to say “Skateboarding is not a crime, but skateboarders are criminals”. The vandalism caused by skateboarders grinding in public (and private) places damages brick, marble, concrete and destroys paint leaving metal subject to rust. Repair of these features is not cheap. Like mountain bikers who will do what they will do, claiming their right to practice their pass time is inalienable, skateboarders perform their property damaging stunts with arrogance and unconcern. Designers are forced to employ ugly anti-skate knobs on rails and seats raising the cost of public facilities. All of this is true.

    That being said, in skate parks these same people may be remarkably skilled.

    Granted the long board riders, carrying their boards on buses and rolling to their destination are benign, they are in league with a group who has earned a bad reputation.

    What is next for BIKE portland? rollerblade users group? Kayak transportation alliance, zipline riders of Oregon? Lets dump every human powered motion into the BikePortland blog.

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      Uncle Muscles June 28, 2013 at 10:35 am

      Well, at least your moniker is appropriate… Out of touch and angry is no way to go through life amigo.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm


      I think your analysis would benefit from seeing people as individuals first and not painting them with a broad brushed based solely on their chosen mode of transport or activity.

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        Granpa June 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm

        As a designer who tries to impart beauty into the built environment I am frequently frustrated by the damage caused by individuals who ride skateboards. The damage is nothing less than vandalism, and the individuals responsible who use skateboards to cause damage, care about their pass time more than public spaces or private property. Combine grinding damage with the bombing down the west hills or sidewalks and the source of the common negative reputation of skateboarders is evident. I am sure that Billy and Cory are fine human beings. I hope they can bring a change of opinion to persons who are not skateboarders.

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          dan June 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm

          Is it crazy to suggest that more public outdoor structures should incorporate copings so they can be skated without being damaged or destroyed? I would much rather have a bunch of skaters hanging around the Salmon / Eastbank Esplanade intersection when I pass through at night than have it be deserted.

          Why have we decided that it’s a public ill for people to have fun in/on our built environment?

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            ws June 30, 2013 at 9:13 pm

            Allowing for skating in “general” public spaces would mean the materials able to withstand skateboards would be limited, not to mention nobody would want to sit next to a skateboard grinding right next to them.

            For good reason, skateboarding should never commingle with other uses, beyond the silliness of having every wall and seat look like a concrete blob so it could withstand a skaters’ use.

            The anger against skating and skate culture is definitely warranted, there’s legitimate damage and costs they cause our city and every other city in the US.

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          lazyofay June 28, 2013 at 3:42 pm

          Grandpa…..Here’s my favorite ode to the perception of “beauty” as commonly held by society..

          Dinosauria, We

          Born like this
          Into this
          As the chalk faces smile
          As Mrs. Death laughs
          As the elevators break
          As political landscapes dissolve
          As the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree
          As the oily fish spit out their oily prey
          As the sun is masked
          We are
          Born like this
          Into this
          Into these carefully mad wars
          Into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
          Into bars where people no longer speak to each other
          Into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings
          Born into this
          Into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die
          Into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty
          Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
          Into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes
          Born into this
          Walking and living through this
          Dying because of this
          Muted because of this
          Because of this
          Fooled by this
          Used by this
          Pissed on by this
          Made crazy and sick by this
          Made violent
          Made inhuman
          By this
          The heart is blackened
          The fingers reach for the throat
          The gun
          The knife
          The bomb
          The fingers reach toward an unresponsive god
          The fingers reach for the bottle
          The pill
          The powder
          We are born into this sorrowful deadliness
          We are born into a government 60 years in debt
          That soon will be unable to even pay the interest on that debt
          And the banks will burn
          Money will be useless
          There will be open and unpunished murder in the streets
          It will be guns and roving mobs
          Land will be useless
          Food will become a diminishing return
          Nuclear power will be taken over by the many
          Explosions will continually shake the earth
          Radiated robot men will stalk each other
          The rich and the chosen will watch from space platforms
          Dante’s Inferno will be made to look like a children’s playground
          The sun will not be seen and it will always be night
          Trees will die
          All vegetation will die
          Radiated men will eat the flesh of radiated men
          The sea will be poisoned
          The lakes and rivers will vanish
          Rain will be the new gold
          The rotting bodies of men and animals will stink in the dark wind
          The last few survivors will be overtaken by new and hideous diseases
          And the space platforms will be destroyed by attrition
          The petering out of supplies
          The natural effect of general decay
          And there will be the most beautiful silence never heard
          Born out of that.
          The sun still hidden there
          Awaiting the next chapter.

          C. Bukowski

          Skateboarding is not a crime.

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            granpa June 29, 2013 at 9:33 am

            @ lazofay I disagree that public spaces that are not skateboard parks are part of our culture’s war on the environment and humanistic values. To the contrary actually.

            @ Dan Fun does belong in public spaces. Skate parks are commonly built into public parks. I was involved in the construction of a park, recently opened in Beaverton, that has a wonderful skate park. The skate park is not shunted off into the back 40, but it is separated from tranquil areas, ball sport areas, and kiddie play areas. Skate parks engender raucus, dynamic play that is not compatible with other uses. Your notion that all public spaces be built to accommodate skaters would involve armoring every rail, wall, bench and step. This would include concrete, (cut) stone, metal and even wood. Paint could not be used, and only non rusting materials could be used. this would be an expensive proposition, and public funds are scarce. Still it public spaces were built thus, the resulting skater behavior would alienate or at least disrespect non skating users of that public space. The damage caused by skaters is not new. It is not isolated to just Portland or the Pacific Northwest, but it is everywhere. The culture of skaters condones this damage and enables its continuance.

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      erik June 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      I’m a Skater from california and i can understand what your saying but you should also be aware that your talking about a portion of skateboarding not all skaters grind rails and do tricks on sidewalks there are those of us who downhill, something called freeriding, and another form called dancing or boardwalking. please dont lump everyone of us into one group just because we all ride on a skateboard

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    Ed June 28, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Great article. I don’t personally skateboard but I can see its value in terms of transportation. It is faster than walking and like the article mentioned very accessible in terms of cost. I would love to see our neighborhood greenways populated with bikes, boards, and people on feet.

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    dennis June 28, 2013 at 9:36 am

    personally, I’m welcoming of any group that wishes to challenge the automobile. Together we can tame the streets for human-scaled movement. This could be a valuable potential partner in our goals.

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    Saul T. Scrapper June 28, 2013 at 10:11 am

    I use skateboard for all neighborhood trips under 1.5 miles both downtown and around my home. Skateboards are also great for combining trips with transit.

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    Erinne June 28, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Agree with Ed and dennis. Great to see people talking seriously about even more options besides the car. Down with active transportation in-fighting. Up with all types of active transportation!

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    Dan June 28, 2013 at 10:49 am

    As part of my ‘turning-40-midlife-crisis’, I just bought a mini cruiser board with big soft wheels. They are surprisingly quiet compared to the wheels needed for tricks.

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    Craig Harlow June 28, 2013 at 11:05 am

    If you’re doing bike counts for the city right now, please note skateboard traffic separately and specifically! It can’t hurt :^) And I think that the more that PBOT sees of data being turned in on skateboard trips (with the bike traffic counts), the sooner they’ll start intentionally including separate skateboard data in their annual reports.

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    Craig Harlow June 28, 2013 at 11:08 am

    SHOUT-OUT #1:
    …for the only production skateboard with traffic compliant lights built into the board itself (no wires), from LIGHTBOHRD:

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    Craig Harlow June 28, 2013 at 11:09 am

    SHOUT-OUT #2:
    …for Skate the Willamette on July 13, to raise money for breast cancer (B4BC):

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    Garlynn June 28, 2013 at 11:35 am

    I think skateboards represent just about the best way to access transit in an urban area… you can easily skate for a mile or so to get to a bus/MAX/streetcar/etc stop, then taking the skateboard on board the transit vehicle with you is super-easy and doesn’t intrude on anybody else’s space, even if there is a crush load… for this reason alone, I think skateboarding should be encouraged more, especially by transit operators.

    No, I don’t ride a skateboard, but when I’m making the long trek to a distant transit stop on foot… I often sure wish that I had one to hop on!

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      Craig Harlow June 28, 2013 at 11:54 am

      Ditto multi-modal. I typically ride a longboard to my Zipcar/Car2Go reservations.

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    ITG June 28, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    No. Just no. Go away.

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      are July 2, 2013 at 12:04 pm

      be specific

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    dan June 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Yep, I have an MLY longboard (two thumbs up if you know the history of that obscure local company), and it is usually faster / more convenient to take to Fred Meyer’s (about 3/4 mile) than my bike. I don’t have to lock up the longboard, just take it inside with me. They are awesome for short trips, up to a mile or so — maybe better than a bike.

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    Dave June 28, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I was a skater in 1970s Los Angeles–it’s not impossible that I am in some background shot of “Dogtown and Z-Boys.” I skated a LOT from @1975-1979. As an actual transportation choice, skateboards have some serious deficiencies such as dubious wet weather traction, no real braking, and, if they have lights, the lights are too low (if attached to the board) to be easily visible to other vehicle users in traffic. To me, skateboards have enough mechanical deficiencies to not take seriously as a roadgoing vehicle. But that’s just me–I wouldn’t try to ride my Fuji or my Cervelo in an empty swimming pool, either.

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      dan June 28, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      A Fuji or Cervelo in a pool actually sounds pretty fun to me – it would be like a tiny velodrome.

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      Cory Poole June 28, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      Let me know when you want to try a longboard with modern wheels. I can stop as fast as I can when riding my street bike with 100 psi tires.

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      Cory Poole June 28, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      Also I wear lights on my helmet and in my hands which are free on a longboard.

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    Psyfalcon June 29, 2013 at 1:13 am

    We’re mostly talking about longboards with soft wheels here, very few people go grinding rails and statues with them. They do have their deficiencies (bearings are still a problem with my inline skates too in the wet) but they have some promise for trips shorter than a bike is needed for.

    For trips up to a mile I sometimes think its too much of a pain to ride and then lock a bike, but walking takes just a bit too long.

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    Chainwhipped June 29, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Your grandmother will never be able to ride any type of skateboard safely from a to b, hence the skateboard will never have the mass appeal as a utility that the bicycle has.

    Like brake-less fixies, we definitely need places to ride skateboards, but using them for transportation is pretty dangerous for all but the very skilled. Trying to ride a skateboard everywhere was the one times I think I truly should’ve been killed as a kid.

    And – like a brakeless fixie – it takes a skill set that few users actually poses, regardless of any self-delusions.

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      longgone June 30, 2013 at 7:50 am

      Total amount of people able to ride skateboard over coping and out of pool into air….1975. 3
      2013. your guess… maybe hundreds of thousands
      Total number of people able to “flat out” or mildly invert a Motocross bike 60 feet in the air ( NOT complete or multiple 360 loops mind you, just a flat horizontal cross-up, ok?)…1988. 1
      2013 Every “b” rider across the nation.
      You see, what we have in the modern realm is an explosion of people testing the limits of what can be done with skateboards, bicycles, motorcycles .
      If agile fixed gear bikes that were engineered like they are today, were the rage in 1972 when I was stuck riding a 48 lbs Apple Krate, who knows what we would have been doing by now.
      Lots of people are building their mad skills, as we sit commenting on a blog.

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      Cory Poole June 30, 2013 at 1:56 pm

      I would like to point out that foot braking is not a difficult trick. Most people can pick it up in an afternoon. I is an effective way to stop comparable to older style caliper brakes on a bike. Also I think there is real disconnect between the notion that people will be using trick decks and wheels to go to the store. While it is possible I don’t think it will happen much. Most serious skate commuters use longboards and soft wheels. It’s a completely different machine. Anyone who would like a demonstration or wish to try riding a bit can contact me

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    RWS July 1, 2013 at 12:47 am

    Car2Go + skateboard = efficient transportation.

    I’ve tried many modes of travel in Rose City and none beat the Car2Go-skateboard combination.

    I disagree foot-braking is a one afternoon learning curve.

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      longgone July 1, 2013 at 11:18 am

      Mass x force, / diameter of calf muscle,- size of shoe…

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    Steve B July 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    This is really encouraging, Viva NW Skate Coalition!

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    guero choyero July 13, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Bikes and boards are the mentality. we roll! I was just reading an article about skateboarder Chris Cole (who is competing on july 14th at the rose quarter for street league), and he is an avid BMX rider/ co-owner of Cult Bikes as well. Point made.

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    Matt December 11, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    This thread is old, but I want to chime in. Im a lifelong skater, the kind who destroys property, it seems that the idea of having skatable obstacles in public spaces that are not sectioned off skateparks is a really good idea. It would not mean having every bench or sculpture be skateable. In fact, if planners designed it the right way they could easily herd skaters like cattle. The Esplanade mentioned above is a great example- there are knobs/blockers on all the ledges except for one area and skaters stick to the one spot 80% of the time. I would never skate on someones house and with age am not likely to skate on an obstacle outside a skyscraper but in a public park I feel totally OK with jumping on a bench or down some stairs (which can be very safe for skilled people.) If there are a good number of people who want to skate in public places why try to hide them in fenced off areas? Part of what makes living in a city so amazing is the vibrant street life and skateboarders can be a part of that. 90% of the bad interactions between skaters and other people I have seen began with condesending negativity from someone compelled to confront the skater. Think of us like people practicing tai chi rather than vandals. If given respect most will just leave if asked. Given a sweet spot (even just one bench or embankment) in a place that has the attractive elements of a street spot we would be as “benign” as longboarders.

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