City seeking skateboarding balance

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City officials say they were seeking a balance when they met with athletes to discuss a proposed ordinance.

The ordinance, which is up for a second reading by the City Council on Tuesday, proposes an increased fine schedule for people caught riding skateboards where they aren't allowed. The ordinance will become regulation if the council approves it.

The initial purpose of the ordinance was to set up a graduated fine schedule for people caught riding skateboards and other vehicles in prohibited areas. The fee schedule, if adopted, would replace a $10 fine. The fines would become $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense and $75 for the third and subsequent offenses.

The change is intended to discourage repeat offenders, said Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae. A few violators have been caught downtown more than once, he said.

"People paid the ticket and didn't think it was a big deal," Rae said. "We thought it was necessary to create an increased fine schedule to create more of an impact to help out the problem downtown."

That problem, he said, is people riding skateboards and other vehicles downtown, especially on sidewalks. Business owners and some pedestrians have complained to officials.

"It just wasn't a safe situation," Rae said.

Reviewing the fee schedule led officials to take a second look at other aspects of transportation law. The city had on its books a traffic code that restricted the use of nonmotorized vehicles on roads or sidewalks.

That aspect of the traffic code came up during discussions among a group of stakeholders who met as a committee to discuss the proposed ordinance. Their discussions about alternate forms of transportation led to a look at the traffic code, according to a city memo.

"It appears that there is a desire on the part of the public and City Council to facilitate appropriate and safe use of such alternate forms of transportation on certain public roadways and sidewalks within the city," the memo reads.

Because of that desire, the City Council also will read an ordinance that modifies the traffic code and allows the city to set standards in the original ordinance.

The ordinance proposes that people cannot ride skateboards, bicycles, roller skates, in-line skates, toy vehicles, kamikaze boards, go-peds, stand-up scooters or ski skates on sidewalks within the following boundaries: Oak Street on the north, Yampa Avenue on the south, 3rd Street on the east and 13th Street on the west. People can, however, carry or walk with any of these vehicles in the area.

The ordinance also addresses which vehicles are allowed on city streets. No toy vehicles, kamikaze boards, go-peds, or stand-up scooters are allowed on any public road in the city. However, people can ride skateboards, roller skates, in-line skates and ski skates on city roads. Because of state law, only bicycles are allowed on Lincoln Avenue, U.S. Highway 40 and Elk River Road.

Rae said he thought the additional changes would help athletes and complainants reach a compromise.

City Council member Paul Strong attended the committee meeting. He said Friday that he thought the proposed ordinance struck a balance between safety and transportation needs. If allowing skateboarders and others on streets becomes a problem, he said, the council could address it.

"I'd like to give users the benefit of the doubt," Strong said. "If it becomes an issue later, then we'll deal with it."

Gwen Power, whose 13-year-old son is a skateboarder, said the ordinance initially caused her outrage, and that her son, Nick, felt like he was being picked on.

But allowing skateboarders on some city streets and not on sidewalks is a good balance, Power said.

"They should not be on the sidewalks or on Lincoln, but there should not be penalties if they're on other city streets," Power said.

Jon Casson, director of the Steamboat Skate Park Alliance, disagrees. He thinks that people should be allowed to use sidewalks for alternate transportation.

"I have no issues with increasing fines if people are causing a disturbance," Casson said. "But I don't think it's fair if you're just skateboarding down the sidewalk."

But Casson said he understood it would be hard for police officers to be objective when determining if someone is transporting himself or just playing around.

"Where do you draw that line?" he said.

If the ordinance is approved, Rae said, it might be a while before officials can measure its effectiveness.

"There's a lot of ice and snow now," he said, which prevents people from riding. "We'll find out when it melts."

Jon Casson, director of the Steamboat Skate Park Alliance, says there wouldn't be so many issues with skateboarders on the sidewalks if they had a good place to go.

The city has a 6,000-square-foot skatepark, but Casson said it is too small to accommodate all users.

The alliance is working to build an in-ground, concrete skatepark. It would be about 17,000 to 20,000 square feet, which would accommodate a wider range of ability groups and allow learners to progress quicker, Casson said.

"Steamboat's a ski town, so athletic. We've got to get this facility," Casson said. Casson is working to form a skatepark design group. Casson is looking for skateboarders of all ages and especially for people with experience who want to help with the project. Those who are selected for the group will serve until a designer is selected and final plans are submitted. Meetings will be about twice a month.

For information, e-mail Casson at skateboat@comcast.net.

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