The Great Skate Debate 

City Weighs Plan to Require Helmets, Ban Night Skating

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PORTLAND BOASTS an international reputation as a skate-friendly city. But city council, the Mercury has learned, is weighing a plan to add some compromises to Portland's progressive pro-skateboarding laws.

Since 2001, Portland's city codes have granted skaters the same rights to the road as cyclists. That could change Wednesday, September 5, when the council votes on a new skating ordinance. A draft of that ordinance would ban skating on specific Southwest Portland streets after 10 pm, increase skate-violation tickets from $25 to $115, and—most controversially—create a citywide all-ages helmet law for anyone on a skateboard, roller skates, or scooter.

Irritation among some residents of Arlington Heights, the ritzy neighborhood around Washington Park whose steep, winding streets have become a favorite route for downhill skaters, is driving the change. Citing noise and fear of running over skaters, a handful of neighbors asked Commissioner Randy Leonard's office to propose a blanket skating ban on 10 streets around Washington Park ["Rogues and Bones," Feature, July 5]. That idea took heat from both police—who said enforcing the ban would likely be impossible—and skaters, who argued that an education campaign would do more to improve safety. City council's June vote on the idea was pushed to September, giving the groups all summer to hash out a new plan.

Since then, a coalition of skaters and city bureau representatives have launched "Skate Friendly PDX," installing skate-etiquette signs in Washington Park and making a skate-law pamphlet and web video. The police also upped traffic law enforcement in SW Portland this summer, handing out 33 citations on the contested streets, including 10 to drivers and 21 to skaters.

Skaters involved in the public policy process actually support the idea of banning skating in the West Hills from 10 pm to 7 am.

"Each side has to give for people to be happy," says downhill skater Billy "Bones" Meiners, who helps run the Skate Friendly PDX campaign. "Skateboarders aren't going to leave, but at the least we can try to be respectful and not noisy. We have to work with the neighbors."

But skaters say they won't support the proposal if it includes a mandatory helmet law—and other elements that spell out how to properly skate (like a requirement that skaters ride single file and cannot sit or kneel on their boards).

Leonard staffer Stu Oishi said the office included those provisions at the request of neighbors, noting that the city already requires people younger than 16 to wear helmets when biking. The draft ordinance's language notes that many skateboarders do not wear helmets and "frequently violate traffic laws" by staging races, veering across lanes.

But Meiners says skating without a helmet isn't always unsafe—pointing out, under the new law, that a quick ride to the coffee shop on quiet streets could snag him a $115 ticket if he doesn't wear a helmet.

"I think helmets are a great idea," Meiners says, "but helmet laws are very foolish."

UPDATE 9/5: City council unanimously passed a revised ordinance that does not include an all-ages helmet law.

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