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Request for skateboarding ban could mean tough rules citywide

Out of control skateboards. Damaged property. Endangered pedestrians. They're common complaints against skateboarders in Canal Park. But sweeping changes proposed for Duluth's skating ordinance focus not only on Canal Park but the entire city. Th...

Skateboarding at Wheeler Field
James Ylinen, 23, flies through the air as he does a trick in the new skateboard park at Wheeler Field. (Bob King /
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Out of control skateboards. Damaged property. Endangered pedestrians. They're common complaints against skateboarders in Canal Park.

But sweeping changes proposed for Duluth's skating ordinance focus not only on Canal Park but the entire city.

The changes -- amendments to the city's skating ordinance -- would prohibit skateboarders on public sculptures, fountains and benches and prohibit unreasonable speeds, reckless use around pedestrians and use that causes damage and injury to others. The ordinance also applies to in-line skates and roller skates.

That's just the beginning of the skate-versus-safe debate that probably lies ahead.

Eleven years after Duluth city councilors rejected a 24-hour skateboarding ban downtown, they probably will consider a similar ban for Canal Park.


"It's basically a safety issue," said Councilor Sharla Gardner, who crafted the ordinance changes with Assistant City Attorney Cary Schmies. Changes also would allow the city's business districts to seek total bans.

If the ordinance -- which gets the first of two required readings Monday -- is approved, a proposed total ban in Canal Park will go before councilors for a vote. Other business districts that could follow suit include downtown and Lincoln Park, though police say few complaints come from Lincoln Park.

Main problem: Stunt skateboarding

The proposed changes were prompted by the Canal Park Business Association's recent request for a 24-hour ban because of the dangers that stunt skateboarding poses to pedestrians and the property damage it causes.

"It's not about skateboarders," association president Tony Boen said. "It's about skateboards on sidewalks with pedestrians. It just doesn't mix. Too many accidents, too many close calls."

Similar bans have been considered in other cities, especially where there is heavy pedestrian traffic. In San Francisco, which is among the most restrictive, skateboarding only is allowed on residential sidewalks from dawn to dusk.

"There's been a number of incidents [in Canal Park] where people were hurt," Gardner said. "We don't want that to happen. We don't want our tourists to be run over. We want them to stay healthy."

Boen and others stress that while most skateboarders act responsibly, a minority cause problems.


"We're not against the kids," Boen said. "We want them down there. But people need to be safe. We need a safe area for everybody."

Currently skateboarding is prohibited in Canal Park, downtown and other business districts from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It's never allowed on the streets, the Civic Center, Skywalks and public library grounds, though skateboarders are often seen there. Skateboarding is allowed on the Lakewalk, skate parks and residential sidewalks.

Changes would extend the ban on sidewalk skateboarding in business districts to 9 p.m. daily and include Sundays.

The ban on street skateboarding throughout the city would be lifted.

"It's not very enforceable," Gardner said.

Are new laws the answer?

Councilor Jeff Anderson, who has worked in Canal Park since 1997, has seen the safety concerns escalate during that time.

"We need to address this for our visitors, business owners and citizens alike," he said.


Longtime skateboarder Eric Butche, a teacher at Morgan Park Middle School, opposes the ban.

"If the city wants to create laws where people can't skate downtown or in Canal Park, they need a solution, something better," he said.

He said the pocket skate park by the Depot and Midtown Park skate park in Lincoln Park are too small. Even the new Wheeler skate park gets too crowded to be safe, he said.

"Maybe they should enforce the laws they have," Butche said. "Why not put police down there and enforce existing laws?"

Police officials aren't taking a stand on a Canal Park skateboarding ban.

But Officer Michael Tinsley said skateboarding violations are "not a priority call." With all the problems that police deal with, skateboarding enforcement is mostly complaint-driven, he said.

"I'm a community officer, so I go by areas where I get the most complaints," said Tinsley, whose beat is Canal Park and Park Point.

When he gets numerous complaints in a particular area, as police got in Canal Park last summer, he spends more time on the problem.

"There's a handful of people causing a volume of the calls," Tinsley said. "It's the trick boarding that's causing the complaints."

As an ordinance violation, illegal skateboarders can be ticketed and fined. Skateboards can be collected for evidence. But first, police must witness the infraction.

In 2008, 18 reported skateboarding incidents resulted in citations to 19 adults and five juveniles, according to police records. That doesn't include the number of incidents police responded to without issuing citations. Enforcement is handled on a case-by-case basis. Warnings often suffice to gain the goal of compliance, especially for first-time offenders.

In Canal Park, skateboarding problems escalate when school is out, said Boen, who hopes a ban is in place this summer.

Skateboarding rules

Related Topics: CANAL PARK
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