It is not news that skateboarders attract trouble wherever they choose to get up on the board. They instantly become targets for harassment from law enforcement officials upholding an ever-growing list of regulations aimed at stamping out skateboarding in more and more public places.
I have lived in cities that know how to deal with skateboarders reasonably and considerately, especially when it comes to students trying to get to class. However, in San Luis Obispo, the anti-skateboarding lobby has clearly won the fight.
Just what is it exactly about a four-wheeled plank of wood that threatens so many people, compelling them to enact laws prohibiting it, even if it’s someone’s only form of transportation? Is it the noise they make passing over the cracks in the sidewalk? The occasional jerk who wants to show off and ends up eating it at a stop sign?
Whatever the psychological reasoning or forced logic behind these “No Skateboarding” rules may be, let us stop, take a deep breath and try to take a fresh look at this.
Skateboarding restrictions in downtown San Luis Obispo make sense: narrow sidewalks, uneven pavement, a lack of bike lanes and the rectangular grid-like nature of the roads are not skate-friendly. And let’s face it: it freaks out the straights who go there to shop and pour badly-needed money into our local economy.
However, when it comes to skateboarding on the Cal Poly campus, a blanket ban is taking this trend too far.
Currently, skateboarding is prohibited across the Cal Poly campus, regardless of walk zones or time of day and amount of pedestrian traffic. While a first offense only gets a person a verbal warning, the second includes a citation costing the offender a fine of $138 or hours of their time at a diversion seminar, which simply reiterates the laws prohibiting skateboarding on campus. A third offense brings with it a mandatory fine, which increases to $180, and then $360, for each additional offense.
Bottom line: if you have to use a skateboard to get around, be prepared to get off when you reach campus or pay dearly in your scarce time and money.
According to University Police Department Commander Lori Hashim, the blanket ban has its roots in the latet ’70s and early ’80s when skateboarding on campus became more prevalent. During that time, skateboarders allegedly caused thousands of dollars in damage to university property and Cal Poly would get sued after accidents.
Hashim also pointed out that skateboarding on campus remains a significant source of complaints from both faculty and students.
Reasoning for the ban includes safety as well as preservation of sidewalks, curbs and rails. Given the hilly campus environment and the fact that skateboards have no brakes, a full-out ban addresses the problem at the surface. However, given the state of some students’ bikes and some of the students who bike, this argument could apply to bicyclists too. Why stop at skateboards? In terms of liability, it is hard to believe that skateboarders are better lawyered-up and sue-happy than bicyclists.
One would have to be purposely turning a blind eye to argue that skateboarders cause no trouble whatsoever and they should be allowed to skate anywhere they want. I see hotspot locations on campus where I think, ‘God, I hope a skateboarder isn’t coming around the corner.’ However, the conventional logic that accepts bicycling while rejecting skateboarding — and also rollerblading, if people still do that — seems like a quick fix that requires little consideration.
There are benefits to skateboarding rather than bicycling. First, skateboards are cheaper and require less time and money to maintain. Second, they are smaller and easy to carry with you to class, thereby less likely to be stolen or damaged by drunk passer-bys than a lone bike chained to a bike rack. On the safety issue, would you rather be slammed into by a person and a bike, or just a person on a board? Finally, skateboards are typically slower than bicycles and you can hear them coming from blocks away.
They are also just as easy to get off and walk in walk zones. Think the UPD officers are going to get off and walk their new motorized scooters in all of these zones?
It must be pointed out that this is not the fault of the UPD; they’re doing their job, enforcing rules set forth by the university. It must be frustrating for UPD officers to have to waste their time issuing citations to skateboarders while real campus problems, like theft, go unaddressed. It is up to the administration to take a step back and be fair while encouraging responsibility and common sense.
A reasonable compromise in this situation would be heftier fines for reckless and destructive skateboarding on campus, especially in walk zones, in exchange for the allowance of skating in the same areas where students are currently permitted to bike, such as straight-aways like Via Carta. Those caught grinding rails should be issued vandalism tickets painful enough to deter them from repeating the offense. A few idiots from the ’80s should not be able to ruin it for everyone else.
More often than not, blanket bans of this nature serve a self-fulfilling prophecy where, yes, less people skate on campus, but now many who do are those who obviously care little for rules, and in showing off how rebellious they are, pose more of a risk to the safety of others. It seems that when problems like these allegedly caused by skateboarders arise, the pendulum swings too far the other way; there are no micro changes in policy that would address the problem while being mindful to the entire population. I guess it just takes too much work.
Matt Fountain is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily reporter and photographer.