It's not every day that the Portland police and a bunch of skateboarders find themselves political allies. But as Randy Leonard's proposed West Hills skate ban heads to city council this week, police officers and a group of skateboarders trying to promote safer riding are both against the ban.
The proposed ban would outlaw skating, roller skating, or using a scooter on ten streets around Washington Park and also more than quadruple fines for not wearing a helmet while on any of those devices from $25 to $115. Commissioner Leonard is proposing it at the behest of the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association, which is worried about the safety of longboarders zooming down the streets around Washington Park.
Representatives from the Portland police, parks department, office of neighborhood involvement, bureau of transportation, and skaters themselves have been meeting as a group for nearly a year on the issue. And, surprisingly, the cops, bureaucrats, and longboarders at the table all resoundingly agree on one thing: Banning skating in the West Hills is a bad idea.
"Is there anything in this ordinance that could be an improvement?" PBOT planned Greg Raisman asked the group at a meeting last Wednesday, June 20th.
He was met with a very long silence from the representatives of the other three city bureaus. Rip City Skate shop
owner manager JP Rowan had the only reply: Laughter.
"I'd like to try and maintain the laws we have," said Billy "Bones" Meiners, a well-known downhill skater who had never been involved in any city process before this work began. "If we can educate the skaters who are up for listening and crack down on the ones who aren't, that's fine by me."
Officer Hilary Scott agreed: "It's not a lack of laws that's a problem. We have traffic laws. The people who proposed it need to realize that if we're going to step up enforcement, we're not going to discriminate. It's not going to matter if you're a longboarder or 14-year-old Jonny on his Razr scooter, that's a $115 fine."
Officer Scott expressed that banning skating will likely not end skating on the contested hill, but would lead to an increase in calls for service from neighbors who would become incensed by the continued skating. The ordinance doesn't come with funding for extra enforcement. "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.
Over the past year, the group has put together a skate law education campaign including a website, skate law pamphlets for shops, and city signs posted around Washington Park. The campaign was set to unveil but has been stalled since the skate ban ordinance was proposed. Arlington Heights neighbors were originally involved in the planning group but left the process several months ago over disagreements about whether to work on educating skaters or ban skating outright. Recent requests for comments from the neighbors have gone unreturned, but they have blogged their reasons for backing the ordinance and I've reported previously on their concerns.
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 an totally blindsides us."
For now, the skate ban is headed to city council for a hearing on June 27th at 9:30am.
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