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Clearwater beach skateboard ban unfair to responsible skaters

If there is one thing that is incompatible with pedestrian use of sidewalks, it is concurrent use of those sidewalks by inconsiderate or overly aggressive skateboarders who don't care about the dangers they present to walkers. After 11 merchants on Clearwater Beach's Mandalay Avenue complained that skateboarders were creating hazards for pedestrians, the city had a rather measured response: It put up signs banning skateboard use on limited sections of sidewalks where skateboarding had become a problem. The question is, was an outright ban the city's only alternative?

While casting the net to catch unsafe skateboarders, the city has caught two groups that created no problem: responsible skateboarders who are careful about their behavior around pedestrians, and a subset of skateboarders called "longboarders" who use their special boards designed for long-distance transport to travel from beach parking lots to their jobs in beach hotels and restaurants. Mandalay Avenue has no bike lanes, so the sidewalks are the only place for longboarders to travel safely.

After the city quietly posted the signs a week ago, angry longboarders and regular skateboarders started signing petitions against the ban.

Skateboarding is not the first athletic pursuit to get the attention of city enforcers. In recent months, city officials have disagreed over the appropriateness of a city ordinance that bans the tossing of balls or Frisbees in city parks and on Clearwater Beach. City Council member George Cretekos was so offended by the ordinance after finding it in the city code book that he hounded his council colleagues until they agreed recently to consider changing it.

Cretekos argued that the city, out of concern that some careless folks might be too aggressive and hurt someone by tossing a ball or throwing a Frisbee, had banned activities that were normal and usually harmless. He said what should be banned was dangerous behavior.

The same could hold true for skateboarding. Rather than banning all skateboarding on Mandalay sidewalks, the city could ban behavior that is dangerous to pedestrians.

In fact, the city already has such an ordinance banning dangerous skateboarding. City ordinance 28.11 (2) reads, "It is unlawful for operators or riders of skateboards, roller skates or in-line skates to fail to yield the right-of-way to any other pedestrians or to otherwise endanger or interfere with pedestrian traffic on any street or sidewalk within the city."

That ordinance seems to provide sufficient direction for a police officer to make a judgment about whether a skateboarder is endangering pedestrians. However, the city instead chose to use a different section of the same ordinance, 28.11 (1), which provides for a ban and states that it is illegal to ride a skateboard "on any public or private property where prohibited by conspicuously located signs having lettering at least two inches high and containing as a minimum the words 'No Skating,' 'No Skateboarding,' or a substantially similar message." Hence, City Manager Bill Horne had the signs erected along Mandalay.

The city also has banned skateboarding on the Beach Walk promenade, a $30 million city amenity that was designed to provide for a variety of pedestrian uses such as walking, jogging, bicycling and in-line skating. There, the reason for the ban is that skateboarders are damaging the Beach Walk sundial plaza and low bench walls by performing stunts on their boards. Skateboarders also have done substantial damage to sand walls at Pier 60 Park. That damage to public property runs up the cost of maintaining the facilities — something the city government can little afford these days.

Athletic skateboarders who want to practice their sport without the limitations of dealing with pedestrians and city rules have an alternative. The city's Ross Norton Recreation Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue south of downtown has an expansive skateboard park overlooking Lake Belleview. There, skateboarders can jump and grind all they want, and they won't risk getting an $88 ticket for a city ordinance violation.

Clearwater beach skateboard ban unfair to responsible skaters 07/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 27, 2009 6:29pm]
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