COLUMBIA — Matthew VanDeZande, 21, has been riding his skateboard downtown because he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to.
“Thankfully, no one’s caught me yet,” he said while cruising down Ninth Street on Thursday. “It’s easier to get places on a skateboard because I can go faster, and if I’m going downhill, I can go really fast.”
A recommendation passed by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission on Wednesday night would make VanDeZande’s preferred mode of transportation legal on more city streets.
The commission voted to recommend to the Columbia City Council that skateboarders, people using human-powered scooters, and roller and inline skaters be permitted to use the streets in the downtown business district.
The commission also voted to give skaters and those on scooters the use of major streets outside of the business district — those designated as arterial or collector streets, and they would have the same rights as cyclists.
City ordinance states that a person roller skating, skateboarding, using another coasting device or driving a toy vehicle can’t use the road, alleys or sidewalks in the business district.
The ordinance also prohibits using these devices on any arterial or collector streets in the city. When use is permitted, skateboarders and roller skaters are required to follow rules that pertain to pedestrians.
First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt asked the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission to change the language of the existing ordinance. When he served on the commission, Schmidt said, there was an incident where a roller skater was trying to skate to and from work but couldn’t get through downtown because it was illegal, “which is some old antiquated rule from the '60s where a stuffy business man got knocked over by a teenager on roller skates, so they made a rule.”
Christopher Bailey, owner of Parkside Skateshop and the commission member who reworked the language of the ordinance, said the changes being proposed are important because many people in Columbia use skateboarding or roller skating as an alternative mode of transportation.
“In this day and age, with fuel prices what they are now and obesity running high in this country, I mean, it only makes sense to use skateboarding and other alternative modes of transportation because it provides the same benefits as a bicyclist, health-wise and environmentally-wise,” he said.
Sue Davis, who serves as the Parks and Recreation Commission representative for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, was the lone dissenting vote. She said she didn’t see the need for skateboarders to have more access to streets in town because they already have a skate park.
The council will make the final decision once a report and recommendation is prepared. Bailey said he thinks this could happen in time for the next meeting.
Schmidt said he will support the language change.
“This is the kind of expressive, cool behavior we should be encouraging instead of ruling against,” he said.
And while Bailey said he thinks this is a “good” council that is health-conscious and eco-conscious, he also said he thinks perceptions of skateboarders might be a barrier to getting the ordinance changed.
“I think there’s a lot of old stereotypes and misconceptions about skateboarders, that they’re hellions,” Bailey said. “There are bad eggs out there, just like there a couple reckless bicycles out there.”
Shara Meyer, Municipal Court clerk, couldn’t find hard data on the number of summons served for illegal skating this year, but she said she couldn’t recall the last time someone came in for a skating violation.