Sure signs of spring in Vancouver are the cherry blossoms and the skateboarders. Wheeling along in their long, flowered shorts and Hawaiian shirts, the skaters resemble blooms themselves, turning thoroughfares into skateboarders’ paradise. But to motorists, pedestrians and police, skateboarders are often little more than hell on wheels.
In Vancouver and surrounding municipalities, police are re-
ceiving increasing numbers of complaints. In North Vancouver, RCMP Const. Peter Sharp recalled how one skateboarder recently used the top of a Jaguar automobile as a ramp. Police say a sidewalk collision in Vancouver last fall between a skateboarder and a woman carrying a fourmonth-old infant in a baby pouch sent the child to hospital with a fractured skull. Said Sharp: “Some kids are behaving very dangerously.”
North Vancouver and New Westminster city councils have recently amended traffic bylaws to prohibit skateboarding on streets and sidewalks. And even some skateboarders say that the tougher laws are long overdue. Said Casey McKay, a 13-year-old North Vancouver skateboarder: “Some kids have abused skateboarding on the streets. The new law will stop some, but the diehard skaters will probably stay there.”
In other Canadian cities, existing legislation has little effect. Skateboards are illegal on City of Montreal streets and sidewalks, but the bylaws are poorly enforced. Ron Khanna, co-owner of Footloose Sports, one of the city’s largest skateboard retailers, says that hazards of street skateboarding would go away if cities would build proper skateboarding parks. Said Khanna: “Kids are forced to skateboard on the streets. Then they get tagged as rebels on wheels, but that’s a bad rap. They just have nowhere else to go.”
But in Toronto, officials closed one of the city’s few skateboarding parks last fall after area residents complained about the noise. Although Toronto streets are still wide open to skateboarders—indeed, without specifying skateboards, a bylaw permits all vehicles with wheels measuring less than 20 inches in diameter on city sidewalks— police say that they have had few complaints. Said Staff Sgt. Gary Grant of the Metropolitan Toronto Police traffic unit: “We are taking a wait-and-see attitude.” But he added that through
safety talks at schools, the police encourage skateboarders to use private driveways and parking lots.
For his part, Vancouver’s young McKay offers a safety tip for pedestrians: do not try to get out of the way of a careering skateboarder. Said McKay: “Most people get hit when they start jumping out of the way.” But as the concrete surfers take to the streets in increasing numbers, it remains unclear whether tougher bylaws or safety campaigns will make the sidewalks any safer for pedestrians.
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