Tacoma’s new commuters.
Often shunned by officialdom as an urban nuisance for their property-punishing tricks, skateboards – and their longer, cruisin’ cousins, longboards – are increasingly being viewed as viable modes of alternative transportation.
So, it’s time to embrace – not castigate – the kick-push commuter, some City of Tacoma officials now say. And to do it like, pronto.
“All you have to do is sit outside and have a cup of coffee downtown for any length of time, and you’ll see students commuting to and from classes on longboards,” City Councilman Marty Campbell said last week.
“It’s an inexpensive, green form of transportation that is currently being used in the city of Tacoma, so I wanted to make sure our code reflected that.”
To that end, the City Council will consider encouraging the use of skateboards and other alternative transportation modes as part of the latest round of revisions to the city’s comprehensive plan.
The proposed amendment spearheaded by Campbell seeks to add language that “encourages the use of a variety of vehicles and devices of transportation that are free of emissions.”
The amendment specifically identifies “Low Speed Electric Vehicles, bicycles, skateboards and other forms of active transportation” that will “not negatively impact the quality of the environment and contribute to the city’s overall efforts in addressing issues associated with global warming and climate change.”
AMONG MANY CHANGES
The proposed revision is one in a slew of additions, updates and other amendments offered this year for the comp plan and land-use regulatory code – Tacoma’s frameworks for future growth that include guiding policies for transportation, land use, utilities, recreation and other issues.
The council is set to formally consider all of the changes beginning today, with a final vote on the issue scheduled for June 14.
“On the comp plan side, we’re adding a brand new chapter on historic preservation,” said Donna Stenger, the primary city staff member assigned to the issue. “We already have maybe a dozen policies on historic preservation and culture in place, but this calls for a new 200-page significant document. That’s probably the biggest change.”
While most of this year’s proposed changes are relatively minor, “even a minor amendment is significant if it affects you,” Stenger noted.
And that goes for the new skateboard language, which is garnering some national attention in skater circles.
“We see this as a very progressive policy,” said Peter Whitley, programs director for the Southern California-based Tony Hawk Foundation, a youth empowerment charity founded by its famous pro-skateboarder namesake.
“It’s sending a clear message to youths that (skateboarding) is recognized by the City of Tacoma as being an important and meaningful activity that’s used as a way to recreate and to move around the city.”
Hawk’s foundation has sent a letter to Campbell supporting the proposal, said Whitley, a lifelong skater who owns a home in Tacoma. He added that it’s his understanding the proposal will essentially allow board-bound commuters to travel through a part of downtown that has long banned skateboards.
“This would allow somebody to skate from their apartment near Stadium to downtown or to the UW campus on a longboard and not be subject to a ticket,” Whitley said.
LAW STILL AN OBSTACLE
Technically, Whitley is correct that the proposed new language encourages such transportation, Stenger said. But while city staff members researched removing the skateboard ban, the recommended amendment under consideration doesn’t go that far.
“There is a small area of downtown where the ban will still exist,” Stenger said, noting that some property owners are still resistant to certain skateboard activities.
“There was discussion as to whether that (ban) would be removed, but the Planning Commission does not recommend that.”
Still, in general, the skateboard ban “is not enforced unless someone is misbehaving,” Stenger added.
Longtime Tacoma skater Ben Warner sees the city’s proposal as an overdue official endorsement of an activity that Tacoma has for too long ostracized.
“The skateboard ban itself causes a lot of negative behavior in the culture,” said Warner, a 27-year-old master’s program student at the University of Washington Tacoma. “If you treat someone like a criminal, they’re going to act like one.”
Warner, an event coordinator of “Go Skate Tacoma” – a celebration of skateboarding set for June 21 in Tollefson Plaza – views the comp plan changes as “a huge step for finally empowering the skateboard culture in Tacoma in a postive way.”
And it may just be the first step.
While researching Campbell’s initial idea – to allow boarders to use city bike lanes for commuting – city staff members determined that state law won’t allow it, Stenger said.
Washington defines skateboarders as pedestrians rather than vehicle operators, such as motorists or bicyclists, she said. That means skateboards can’t use roadways or designated street bicycle lanes like vehicles can, she said.
“So, that restricted what we could do” with Campbell’s initial suggestion, Stenger said.
As they stand now, the proposed comp plan revisions leave room for more changes – what Campbell describes as the start of a conversation that could lead to repealing the city’s skateboard ban or changing state law.
“If someone was to ask me, ‘Are we going to solve all our transportation and parking problems by this?’ I’ll frankly tell them, ‘No,’” Campbell said.
“But if people are going to be using skateboards and longboards responsibly as a form of transportation, we as a city should recognize and encourage that.”