Re: “Letting skateboarders on the roads would be reckless.” In this Aug. 20 opinion piece, Jon Pierce argues against allowing longboarders/skateboarders (hereafter referred to as “skateboarders”) on the road.
However, the Longboard Halifax Society has put significant thought into how to integrate skateboarders into the roadways dominated by motorists and cyclists. Members of the society recognize the dangers of skateboarding on heavily trafficked streets and are not asking for the legalization of skateboarding on every road; instead, the society proposes that the municipality legalize the use of skateboards in bike lanes, as well as specific, low-traffic side streets that cater to alternate means of commuting.
Many people see the flips, grinds and other tricks that skateboarders use in the park or video games and assume that the boards are merely toys. They do not realize that skateboards and longboards are also frequently used as a means of transportation. On either board, you move much faster and use significantly less energy than walking to get to the same place.
Designated routes running across Halifax Regional Municipality would allow people to use skateboards as a cost-effective, active, alternative means of transportation. Such potential routes would currently be classified as low-traffic secondary streets and residential areas. These areas are ideal because motorists tend to be more cautious and aware of their surroundings due to the likely presence of children, pedestrians, etc. A skateboarder travelling along these roads would not significantly impact the flow of traffic and would be easily noticed by a cautious motorist.
In return, skateboarders will also be expected to adhere to the same regulations as cyclists. The Longboard Halifax Society believes that a helmet is an essential piece of protection while on the road. The society also recommends slide gloves, large wheels on the boards and knee pads. Longboards are well-suited to commuting, as they have larger wheels (typically about 65mm) that roll over bumps and cracks more efficiently. However, a large skateboard wheel (60-65mm) will do just as well.
Regarding the lack of visibility: it is the motorists’ responsibility to be aware of their surroundings. That is a reason most defensive driving courses emphasize situational awareness as the most effective protection against accidents. The Longboard Halifax Society emphasizes the necessity of its members to also maintain situational awareness and constantly assessing driver intent as a precaution. The best way of ensuring fewer accidents is to develop and reaffirm communication between motorists and skateboarders, just as cyclists have done over the years.
Mr. Pierce also made observations about the potential speed of a skateboarder. A skateboarder can travel at more or less the speed of a bicycle on the roads of Halifax, whether they be flat or steep. Members of the society have even passed cyclists. When the traffic is too heavy or the route too steep for certain skateboarders, they always have the option of picking up their board and walking.
The argument that young people would take to the streets of Halifax can be also applied to cyclists. It is up to the rider, and/or their legal guardian to determine whether or not they feel safe using a skateboard on the road. Young people are often seen with their bikes on the sidewalk because they lack the confidence to be on the road. Young skateboarders should also have the chance to show common sense.
This is a way for the youth of this country to develop responsibility, confidence, and discipline while exercising. Should skateboarding on the roads be legalized, the Longboard Halifax Society plans to hold safety sessions to teach new members different techniques for stopping, speed management, and threat assessment.
Where insurance is concerned, the International Distance Skateboarding Association offers a $25,000 policy upon compliance to the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA regulation 172). Compared to the coverage a motorist may be required to possess, this may seem negligible; but there is a significant difference in the two means of transportation. One is at least a ton; the other is less than 10 pounds.
We understand that accidents happen. This point was driven all too close to home when one of our founders, Wayne Douglas, was struck on his way to work by a car that made an unexpected left turn. In the words of Wayne: “Even if I was on a bicycle, there was nothing I could have done.”
The responding officer ticketed Wayne because he was riding a skateboard. She even said that if Wayne had been on a bicycle, the motorist would have clearly been at fault.
The law is meant to protect people, not restrict them. The reclassification of skateboards and longboards under the same bracket as cyclists would protect those who choose to use them.
Eric Clahane and Zacc Paul are co-directors of the Longboard Halifax Society.