At the home of the University of Oregon Ducks, skateboarders are committing a crime by riding the streets and sidewalks around campus and the downtown area.
By Emily Carino
A Blast from the Past
July 3rd, 1985, a classic film is released. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson star “Back to The Future.”
It was this particular summer, at the tender age of 11, skating obtained some significant importance in David Villalobos life, a Eugene skateboarder and University of Oregon Outdoor Program Operations Manager.
“I have been a skater most of my life. I was into from an early age but it really took off when “Back to The Future” came out,” says Villalobos.
At this time, there were no laws prohibiting skateboarding in the city of Eugene. Fast-forward four years and this is no longer true.
Before the days of June 26th, 1989, skateboarders could legally ride where they pleased in Eugene. No streets could be left untouched.
However, any day following that Monday in ’89 would portray a different picture.
5.450, Not One of Your Mother’s Rules
According to the City of Eugene webpage, Jeffrey R. Miller, the Eugene City Major at the time, signed a document that added section 5.450 to the city of Eugene Code, 1971.
The document stated, and is still upheld to this day, the city of Eugene would, and does, legislate as follows:
5. 450 Skateboards.
(1) As used in this section, a “skateboard” means a board of any material natural or synthetic with wheels affixed to the underside, designed to be ridden by a person and propelled by human power.
(2) No person shall ride a skateboard:
(a) On any sidewalk within the area bounded western sidewalk along Charnelton Street, the northern sidewalk along 8th Avenue, from Oak Street to Willamette Street, Willamette Street between 8th and 7th Avenues, the area between the Eugene Conference Center and the Hult Center, the northern sidewalk along 8th Avenue between Willamette Streets and Charnelton, the eastern sidewalk along Oak Street, and the southern sidewalk along 11th Avenue.
(b) In any multi-level parking facility within the city.
(c) Within ten feet of any major bus transfer station.
(d) In the portion of a street designated for automobile traffic, except when crossing a street in a crosswalk or at a right angle.
(e) On Alder Street, including the sidewalks thereof, between and including the southern sidewalk of East 12th Avenue and the northern sidewalk of East 14th Avenue, nor on East 13th Avenue, including the sidewalks thereof, between and including the eastern sidewalk of Pearl Street and the eastern sidewalk of Kincaid Street.
(3) A person commits the offense to unsafe operation of a skateboard on the sidewalk if the person does any of the following:
(a) Rides a skateboard upon a sidewalk where prohibited;
(b) Rides a skateboard upon a sidewalk where not otherwise prohibited and does not yield the right of way to all pedestrians on the sidewalk; or
(c) Rides a skateboard on a sidewalk in a careless manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.
(Section 5.450 added by Ordinance No. 19623, enacted June 26, 1989; amended by Ordinance No. 19693, enacted June 11, 1990; amended by Ordinance No. 20057, enacted August 12, 1996; and Ordinance No. 20071, enacted November 4, 1996, effective December 4, 1996.)
It was not until June 11th, 1990, that section 2 (d), which prohibits skateboarding in the street, was added to the code by City Council President, Emily Schue.
According to the webpage Sk8 Laws, the area claimed for automobile traffic in Oregon is only defined as the area between the curbs. Bike lanes included.
Sk8 Laws could be talking about Eugene City Code 4.830, which states the streets between the curbs are “reserved for vehicular traffic,” according to the Eugene Weekly.
Bicycles can be ridden on the streets because they are defined as a vehicle by the Oregon Revised Statues, unlike skateboards.
In 2002, an Oregon Court of Appeals determined, as defined by ORS 801.590, a skateboard is not a vehicle. As a result, skateboards are exempt from all laws pertaining to vehicles in the Oregon Revised Statues.
In that same summer on August 12th, Ruth F. Bascom, Eugene City Major at the time, approved of and added section 2 (e) to the code 5.450.
A Balancing Act
The sidewalks of the downtown area and near the University of Oregon campus have been prohibited “due to a higher level of foot traffic and congestion present in these specific locations,” says Sk8 Laws.
In 2010, Tyee Kyvelos, A Eugene skateboarder, told the EW he had been given a warning by a local police officer for using his skateboard on a downtown street and had been told if he did it again he would lose his board.
In the last ten years, Villalobos has seen skateboarding explode in popularity.
Jennifer Smith, a member of the Eugene Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, has also seen an increasing amount of residents using skateboards more of a means of conveyance rather than just a cultural choice.
As it states above in code 5.450, skateboarders run the risk of getting ticketed if they ride where prohibited, such as Alder and 13th. These two streets are routes students, including those on skateboards, take to get to class on campus.
“You can’t give tickets to people who are trying to get to school,” said Smith.
“Police officers are warning skateboarders about the law before issuing citations,” says Sgt. Terry Fitzpatrick in a 2010 Register-Guard article, written by Edward Russo.
There seems to be, however, little noise from the skateboarding community.
Despite the little amount of complaints, Syrett isn’t completely in agreement with the city’s code and has not been since before she joined the city council.
“I didn’t support the skateboard ban on 13th because I viewed it as unfairly targeting a legal activity,” says Syrett.
Smith shares similar views, seeing the Eugene skateboarding community as a marginalized group that only continues to expand.
Villalobos can understand the need to skate in the areas prohibited but also understands why the rules are in place.
“I support riding bicycles through town but I don’t support riding a bike down a handrail of a private business,” says Villalobos.
Smith also points out skateboarding on sidewalks is uncomfortable for walking pedestrians because of the different traveling speeds of the individuals.
“Skating is Art!”
Eugene, as Villalobos describes it, is “the greatest city of the art and outdoors.” Not only is skateboarding an active mode of transportation but also a personal experience for some.
“It is a form of expression, an outlet of energy. It gave me a group to belong to (by choice) rather than something I was born into,” says Villalobos.
Kitty Piercy, Eugene’s current City Major, is aware of the skateboarding community and its growing participants through her involvement in the discussion and support of a large skate park in Eugene.
“We know this is a positive option for youth for physical activity. We have a growing sense of the mobility it offers many,” says Piercy.
A Look Ahead
Part of a city’s responsibility is to recognize and balance the needs and wishes of all residents. For city council members to fairly identify or acknowledge these concerns, as Syrett points out, residents must participate in the process.
“It is up to those who wish to have their issues considered to approach city council and the city staff to make that effort,” says Syrett.
One solution has been the use of skate parks in Eugene.
Villalobos currently holds a position on the non-profit board representing “Skaters for Eugene Skateparks.” The board’s goal is to support active transportation and recreation in general.
“Skateparks have been an appropriate outlet for skateboarders,” says Villalobos.
Skateboarding allowed Stephen Oppenheimer, a 20-year-old product design student at the University of Oregon, the opportunity to use his videography skills to highlight a recent skateboarding adventure around the UO campus.
Even though 5.450 exists, Oppenheimer views it as indifferent. Back home, Oppenheimer says the police take illegal skateboarding much more serious than from what he has seen here in Eugene.
According to Oppenheimer, his hometown impounds your board to which you must pay a fine to pick it up “from the cop shop.”
“I’ve never once been troubled here,” says Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer doesn’t see a problem with code 5.450, even though he was not aware it existed.
Skating on sidewalks in commercial areas is a “threat to the safety of [business] customers and pedestrians alike,” says Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer believes the residents of Eugene appreciate “the art of skatebarding when done in a respectful manner.”