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Skateboarding advocate wants seat at active transportation table

Posted by on April 30th, 2020 at 3:00 pm

Skateboarders and bicycle riders have a lot in common.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

As Portland’s transportation thinkers look to a new post-pandemic mobility paradigm, there’s one type of vehicle that just can’t seem to break into the conversation: skateboards.

Despite sharing many of the same benefits as bicycling and walking, there are no skateboard advocates on the city’s various modal committees. PBOT has advisory committees devoted to bicycle users, walkers, wheelchair users and freight haulers — and none of them include a voice for skateboarding. As vulnerable road users that fight for space on the roadways and often face hostility from other road users (as we saw Wednesday when a skateboarder was killed after being allegedly run over by a driver in a Vancouver, Washington parking lot), a skateboarding advocate thinks it’s time to embrace this form of transportation.

Skateboarding advocate Cory Poole competing at the 2014 Disaster Relief Trials. Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland

Cory Poole is Portland’s most outspoken skateboard and “push scooter” advocate. He launched the NW Skate Coalition in 2013 and has pushed to get several issues on PBOT’s radar in the years since. These days he’s frustrated that despite his best efforts, he’s still on the outside looking in. I caught up with him recently to learn about what issues he’s concerned about and why he sees so many parallels between the needs of people who bike bike and those who skate.

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Poole is well-known among Portland’s transportation advocacy scene because he always shows up to support bicycling and walking. He’s also an eager participant in events where he’s often the only one on a board, like when he made very impressive showings at the Ladds 500 and Disaster Relief Trials (where he pulled a cargo trailer!).

One of the main issues Poole is worried about is the county’s project to replace the Burnside Bridge. “That proposal went through the PAC and BAC [pedestrian and bicycle advisory committees] and issues important to skaters like expansion joints, surface grooves, and most importantly the possible destruction of the famous Burnside skate park weren’t even addressed.”

Expansion joints are a big problem for skateboarders. Photos by Cory Poole

Even bicycle riders can relate to the harsh and sometimes scary feeling of riding over expansion joints and other bumps in our infrastructure. There are big ones gaps on the Tilikum and St. Johns Bridges, and bumps on the floating docks of the Eastbank Esplanade have caused many crashes and lost or damaged equipment over the years.

This rough green thermoplastic is a no-go for skateboarders.
(Photo by Cory Poole)

Another big problem Poole sees as being directly related to bicycling is the green thermoplastic being installed in bikeways around the city. He said he first flagged the issue for PBOT in 2018 when green lanes were installed around the Tilikum Bridge. “The green was applied so rough that it forced skateboarders into the street or pedestrian path,” Poole shared with us recently. Poole claims he was told by PBOT that a new, smoother treatment (like the paint used on SW Oak Street) would be the norm; but he’s seen several implementations of the rough thermoplastic since then. “I’m very concerned that the new green lane being planned for Better Naito will be completely unusable for skateboards and push scooters,” Poole said. 

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Poole has applied to be a member of PBOT’s pedestrian and bicycle committees, but much to his chagrin has never been selected.

“The BAC and PAC are the primary mechanisms that the city of Portland uses to address infrastructure design and implementation,” Poole said. “Given that thousands of Portlanders use skateboarders and scoots to get to work, school and play it seems reasonable that we should have at least one representative in one of the committees with a vote at the table. I don’t want to take anything away from either of these bodies because I’m a passionate supporter of bicycle and pedestrian transportation, we need an opportunity to make our concerns known in a way that we know that we won’t simply be ignored.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a massive shift in thinking when it comes to how we get around. Let’s hope that shift includes more open minds to skateboarding and small but important changes to our infrastructure that will support it.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Shimran George
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Shimran George

I support this! It’s really cool seeing users on all sort of non-motorized transport using the greenways. I wish I skateboarded as a kid–the health benefits seem amazing.

And (pardon my ignorance if otherwise) my guess is that any surface that needs to be skateboard friendly will certainly benefit cyclists !

David Hampsten
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The BAC [Bicycle Advisory Committee] is I think limited to 20 members appointed by the transportation commissioner based upon input from city staff and the committee itself. Inner Portland tends to be vastly over-represented on that committee, so he’ll have a bit of competition getting on it. The BBAC [Bureau Budget Advisory Committee] is selected sort-of by the commissioner, but by selecting organizations rather than by selecting individuals to serve, so periodically they’ll get a member like myself (2009-15) that they clearly don’t want, but they have to accommodate anyway. I assume the PAC [Pedestrian Advisory Committee] is a bit like the BAC. Not sure how FAC [Freight Advisory Committee] members are selected.

**Note from comment moderator: I spelled out acronyms to help folks understand. Hope you don’t mind the intrusion David. – Jonathan**

Jason
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Jason

The only thing bad that I can say about skating is, you need a three of shoes. Not a pair.

Brad
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Brad

Those grooves and joints are necessary for outdoor concrete and for structures to be seismically sound. They are especially significant on bridges and decks because of the amount of expansion and contraction due to temperature variation in those structures. Not ideal for skateboards and scooters with small wheels.

David
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David

A lot of people want that same seat at the table for a variety of reasons and also applied when there were openings posted in January. This is not as simple as adding him to the table, as David Hampsten noted there are only 20 seats on the BAC. Who would you have sidelined in favor of having Cory at the proverbial table during this last cycle?

pruss2ny
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pruss2ny

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a massive shift in thinking when it comes to how we get around. Let’s hope that shift includes more open minds to skateboarding and small but important changes to our infrastructure that will support it.”

national gas prices at $1.77 is forcing a “massive shift in thinking” about how to get around?
i don’t see it.

Scott Kocher
Guest

Awesome. Thank you Cory! Various light electrics, and people who jog or run (with or without strollers and other cargo) are similar—and similarly unserved. The future is based on speed, size and mass not shape or mechanism.

Granpa
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Granpa

I see expensive damage in public spaces, everyplace there is an edge, caused by “grinder” skateboarders. This inconsiderate and costly behavior can be filed among “that’s why we can’t have nice things” With that out of the way, I acknowledge transportation skateboarding is a different beast and a benign “last mile” option.
It is worth noting the rough texture on the green thermoplastic is for traction when the surface is wet, and smooth surfaces when wet provide little traction, compromising safety for cyclists. I suspect detectable dots at curb ramps for the sight impaired similarly annoy skate boarders. Conveyance serves many masters and I expect little sympathy by railroads, bridge designers, or pavement engineers who need to design to a price point to cater to skateboarders. However even in this article, where the wheel is nested in a bridge deck gap, the expansion joint on the sidewalk is diminished and would provide safer passage. Transportation skateboarding is a mode of transportation with 2″diameter wheels and as little as one inch of ground clearance that is used a by a fraction of one percent of the population, and those users are not just able bodied, but athletic. I appreciate that Cory is a stud and a true-believer, but even in Portland, he is the outer edge of a small demographic whose wish list will not likely be affordable and not something I would recommend over other safety measures such as pedestrian crossing enhancements. OK, start the flame fest

Pete
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Pete

Granpa
I see expensive damage in public spaces, everyplace there is an edge, caused by “grinder” skateboarders. This inconsiderate and costly behavior can be filed among “that’s why we can’t have nice things” With that out of the way, I acknowledge transportation skateboarding is a different beast and a benign “last mile” option. It is worth noting the rough texture on the green thermoplastic is for traction when the surface is wet, and smooth surfaces when wet provide little traction, compromising safety for cyclists. I suspect detectable dots at curb ramps for the sight impaired similarly annoy skate boarders. Conveyance serves many masters and I expect little sympathy by railroads, bridge designers, or pavement engineers who need to design to a price point to cater to skateboarders. However even in this article, where the wheel is nested in a bridge deck gap, the expansion joint on the sidewalk is diminished and would provide safer passage. Transportation skateboarding is a mode of transportation with 2″diameter wheels and as little as one inch of ground clearance that is used a by a fraction of one percent of the population, and those users are not just able bodied, but athletic. I appreciate that Cory is a stud and a true-believer, but even in Portland, he is the outer edge of a small demographic whose wish list will not likely be affordable and not something I would recommend over other safety measures such as pedestrian crossing enhancements. OK, start the flame festRecommended 4

Firstly, BMX and other bike riders (fixed gear freestyle, urban mountain bikers etc.) cause similar damage. Generally speaking skateboarders and BMXers are only ‘grinding’ curbs, rails ledges and walls (rarely on private property). Yes, it causes minor damage but in comparison to the damage of car culture, people reinterpreting public space in a healthy creative manner should be encouraged and celebrated.

todd.boulanger
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todd.boulanger

I guess my first question (to catch up on current): are skateboards identified as an “approved” design vehicle in the relevant city and state (ODoT) design manuals and guidance…like, wheel diameter, etc…so that new facilities can take their design and operational needs/ short comings in consideration when materials and design are chosen? [Technically…skateboard design has radically evolved since I was a skateboarder using new 1970s boards and 1960s hand-me-down boards…especially now those powered units that streak past me at 20 to 30 mph on the road.]

Arthur Lindsey
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Arthur Lindsey

Hi Cory Poole, here is a very simple solution to your issues with expansion joints and sidewalk cracks… wikihow.com/Ollie – A

X
Guest
X

Fan of Cory P. here. Take my hypothetical seat on the BAC or whatever Cory!

I used to have some fellow feeling for motorcycle riders (similarly exposed vs. car users) but then the other day a motorcycle rider clipped a friend of mine, cracking one of their vertebra, while making a needless fast pass In A Neighborhood. Stopped and took responsibility OK, but I’m switching that fellow feeling to skaters.

People using skateboards on the street have a lot in common with bike riders. They are really similar in mass, speed, width, turning radius, etc. Skaters are hyper self- and situationally aware and their distinctive sound lets you know they are coming. It seems to me that the e-board users may be just a little over brave but anybody who is kicking a board all over town has my total respect.

Ruthie
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Ruthie

Corey’s doing good work! Skaters and bikers gotta stick together!!!