People on both sides of the debate about skateboarding in the neighborhoods around Washington Park don't disagree on the problem: It's obvious that downhill skating has exploded in the past 10 years and some skaters ride the West Hills' windy streets dangerously, skipping stop signs and swerving around cars. But is a ban the best way to make the streets safer?
The neighbors pushing the ban say they want the city to take a stand against unsafe skating before someone dies. "This has become a problem at all times of the day. We're very afraid someone is going to be killed," said neighbor Eric Nagle, who showed council a presentation titled TEMPTING FATE that included a montage of crazy behaviors culled from Portland skate videos on YouTube. He noted that the police have not given a single citation to a skateboarder in the neighborhood in the past year.
34-year-old skater Cory Poole, who commutes to work on a longboard, cited a different stat: That there has been only one skate crash reported to police in the area since 2009 (though neighbors report several more anecdotally).
"Has there ever been a law to exclude an entire class of vehicle from public roads based on a single recorded event?" asked Poole.
Commissioner Nick Fish noted that if council bans skating in the Arlington Heights neighborhood, it might create a domino effect of neighborhoods all over the city asking the council to ban specific road users they view as problematic. "I suspect that if we adopt this, we'll be hearing from our friends in Mount Tabor where there are also skating concerns," said Fish.
In pushing back the skate ban vote until September, Portland police say they are "very committed" to running a couple stings in the area that would ticket people who are breaking existing laws on the road. A group of skaters and city officials are also launching an education campaign that will encourage skaters to wear safety gear and follow the law.
After the hearing, I ran into 11-year-old Emmet White, a Laurelhurst student who was in city hall with his dad for his very first time to listen to the debate. He says he has been skating the contested West Hills' roads for a couple months after taking a Portland Community College longboarding class and says he follows the example of older downhill skaters in always wearing a helmet. "It's a lot better than getting brain damage," said White. "In the longboarding community, if you don't wear a helmet, you're shunned." What's his take on the rogue skaters riding the Arlington Heights' roads dangerously? "I think they're making a bad representation of our community."