Skateboarding is not a crime—yet.
Skateboarders from all over the country know Portland's West Hills; the steep streets around Washington Park promise a fast, twisty descent that's worth trekking up to the park to ride. But an ordinance from Randy Leonard's office heading to city council on June 27th would make skating those Southwest streets a crime. At the behest of some Arlington Heights' neighbors, Leonard's ordinance proposes banning skateboarding on several streets like SW Fairview around Washington Park.

Portland is nationally known as a city with a rare progressive approach to skating. While other cities have outlawed skating in their downtowns, Portland's city council legalized skating on all city streets 11 years ago, even installing "Skate Route" signs around downtown. Now, the city is a destination spot for skaters looking to hit up our parks, hills, and the world cup downhill skating race at Maryhill.

But Arlington Heights neighbors are asking Leonard to crack down on skating on the hilly streets, saying they're worried about the skaters getting hit by cars and causing accidents.

"The city recognizes that skating is a form of transportation but the neighborhood is saying, 'Hey, there's been frequent reports of skate accidents in this neighborhood. One day we're going to here a story of a severe accident,'" says Leonard staffer Stu Oishi. How many crashes have occurred is unclear—Leonard's office is still waiting on hard data. The Oregonian reported this winter that statewide, seven "skateboarders, roller skaters and riders on kick scooters" have died in crashes since 2009.

UPDATE: Here is a PDF map of the 10 streets on which the ordinance would ban skating. END OF UPDATE

Well-known skater and race organizer Billy "Bones" Meiners was upset to hear about the proposed ban—he's been working on a committee with police, city planners, and neighbors to come up with solutions to the neighbors' issues for the past six months. The group was working toward educating skaters, not outlawing them, he says. "Banning it is not going to stop people from skating," says Meiners, who has been skating in Portland since 2005. "Right now we have the chance to create a responsible and respectful skateboard community. It takes time, it's not going to happen overnight. If you ban it, all of a sudden all this work we've been putting in to educate skaters is just out the window."

Meiners says the group has okayed plans to distribute pamphlets of skate laws to local skate shops, film safety videos, and work within the skate community to encourage safer behavior. Legally, skateboards are like bike riders—they must stop at stop signs and wear a reflector or lights at night.

Leonard's office says educating skaters is all well and good, but that the best way to ensure safe streets is to ban skating on the controversial streets. "You can talk directly to the folks that skate there consistently, but there are lot of people who come from out of town—you can't really control it, it's like herding cats," says Oishi. "Hopefully having this on the books will reduce accidents up there." The ban would leave a skate-legal "transportation corridor" through the neighborhood.

Hand in hand with promoting safer skating, Meiners and others are organizing more and more fully permitted, legal skate races, including the upcoming Mt. Tabor Downhill and a race on Washington Park's switchbacks last weekend.

"It was awesome, 100 kids showed up, every one of them had a helmet," says Meiners. "As the community grows, the need for these kind of events grows. Just because there are a few rogue elements, we shouldn't ban skating entirely."