Victoria's Skate City Rolls On With Legislation On Board

A controversial ruling in the city of Victoria, BC, has seen the decades-old ban on skateboarding in the downtown precinct removed.

Picture this. A downtown core of a typical Canadian city, population 350,000 people, businesses of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions doing their thing. Buses, taxis, hordes of cars and bicycles stopping and starting at traffic lights, sometimes darting in and out of the limited parking spaces. Commuters, pedestrians, shoppers on sidewalks. Now stop. Add skateboarders to this city scene, legally allowed, as of one year ago, to ride on the streets in a landmark decision that had/has many people cheering and others raising their eyebrows and screaming foul.

A controversial ruling in the city of Victoria, BC, has seen the decades-old ban on skateboarding in the downtown precinct removed. Councillors decided in a unanimous decision to allow skateboarders to use downtown streets - but not sidewalks - provided they follow the same rules of the road as cyclists. The ruling required skateboarders to have some form of lighting after dark but stopped short of making helmet use mandatory.

In 1991, Victoria banned skateboarders from the city core after store owners complained they were annoying and frightening customers. Some skateboarders took their boards to skateparks, erected soon thereafter, and to other more discrete areas while some boarders dodged the law and rode downtown. Numerous riders were pinged for disobeying the law. But the local council began to revisit the idea three years ago when long-time skateboarder and boarding advocate, Jake Warren, organized a petition after having his skateboard seized by bylaw officers.

“We really have to get past this idea of the road sort of belonging to just cars,” said Warren. “The future of downtown kind of depends on it. I think it’s just going to be a different look. People want to skateboard. They love it. They do it by the hundreds when the weather is good and we need to provide for that. There’s no way you can ban it.”

Warren added, “Rollerblades and rollerskates have been part of the ban but nobody ever bothered the people who ride them...nobody has ever ticketed them or confiscated them either. This is one of many reasons the skateboarding community was so upset about the bylaw. We were part of it yet the only ones being policed. This is why we changed it. I personally think we should all be able to ride through town freely, safely.”

Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt commented at the time, “I think it’s turning the page on an unfortunate chapter in the city’s history when there was, I think you could say, a war on the youth culture.” Another Councillor, Jeremy Loveday, who is an active skateboarder, said “As it stands, it’s antiquated, it’s discriminatory and it’s time that we move into this century.”

Under the initiative, skateboarding on downtown sidewalks is still prohibited. Councillor Chris Coleman said, “The test will be: ‘Boarders, use the roadways. Get off when you hit the sidewalks. Don’t scare other people by coming up behind them.’ That’s going to be the test of whether it works.”

In the case of Victoria, common concerns included:
  • Concern from private property owners 
  • Issues of liability (will parents sue property owners if their child gets hurt doing stunts on private or public property?)
  • Issues of property damage - some skateboarding stunts can damage public and private property
  • Potential Criminal activity - some people associate skateboarding with things like drugs, vandalism, etc. 
  • Worries about pedestrian/skateboarder conflicts - what if a skateboarder hits an elderly citizen on the sidewalk
  • Concerns about maneuverability - bikes have brakes and can stop quickly if maintained. Skateboards don't have brakes.
  • Lack of protective gear - people generally think that unlike most bikers and rollerbladers, the majority of skateboarders don't wear protective gear. 
  • Issues of illegal trespassing.

While some of these concerns appeared to smack of profiling and stereotype, others were generally conceded as having genuine substance.

The move sparked heated debate. On a Victoria Times Columnist web post from almost a year ago, the comments section was buzzing. Of those cheering: “Finally! Yay to skateboarders! Always such a bad reputation for no reason! It's a form of transportation, exercise and entertainment. Ignore all the grumpy losers...they would complain about anything. I've never been nearly run over by a skateboarder but I sure as heck have by a cyclist.”

And then this. “When these boys (few girls skateboard) ride in the middle of the street, and as we pass by having to go around them and they give you the finger...council is expecting "courtesy"? Good luck with that! That's what teenager boys are good with.....courtesy.....and when, not if, they come up against some pretty ruthless road ragers? Hold on to your seats for some real violent street performances folks.”

As one person commented on the website, “Stay tuned, this isn't over.” Victoria council are scheduled to meet any day now to discuss the impacts of this rule change.

I wonder which, if any, Canadian cities have this type of ruling in place, and how it seems to be working.



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