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SKATEBOARDERS AND ROLLERBLADERS GRANTED SAME LEGAL STATUS AS BICYCLISTS IN PORTLAND

by Ray Thomas

Ray Thomas is a Portland bike lawyer.

In third world countries, roadways are frequently a vital artery, a link filled
with people on foot, weighted down by loads, pushing wagons and carts, and generally
sharing the roadway with all manner of motorized vehicles including tractors
(sometimes pulling loaded wagons), motorcycles, trucks, and buses. Such
conditions lead to mutual tolerance by motorized and non-motorized users, created
by the necessity of sharing the few existing roadways.

It is ironic
that when countries “prosper,” adding more and more motorized vehicles
to the roadways, drivers tend to exhibit less tolerance for their non-motorized
brethren. Perhaps the ultimate irony unfolds in first world countries,
when cultural leaders realize the great cost imposed upon the environment and
the deterioration of physical vitality caused by dependence upon motorized transportation.

As
a historic matter, tiny pockets of resistance to motorized dominance of the roadway
survived in the US through the ‘50s & ‘60s, represented in large
part by bicycle racers, club riders, walking groups, forward thinking urban planners,
equestrian groups, runners/joggers, and other “contrarians.” The
relative prosperity of the last decades of the twentieth century (‘70s-‘90s),
and revelations from medical science about exercise, life style, and longevity
combined to place focus on human powered alternatives to motor vehicle transportation,
particularly in urban areas across the US.

As with most
things, change has not been uniform or consistent. While on the one hand
more adults commute to work than ever before, fewer elementary school kids ride
their bikes to school than in the ‘50s and ‘60s and current technology
allows development of high performance low-cost roller blades and scooters, but
some cities make it illegal to use the devices on urban core sidewalks out of
fear of collisions with pedestrians. Unfortunately, urban policy makers
face conflicting pressures, often resulting in increased restriction and regulation
of new transportation forms. A recent example of the dialectical effect
of attempts to provide for human power is found in Portland’s recent experiments.

The
Portland, Oregon Experience

In 1999 Bicycling magazine
named Portland, Oregon the most bike friendly city in the US. City officials
and bicycle advocates had collaborated to create one of the nation’s most
advanced systems of bike lanes and pedestrian facilities. Aggressively
pursuing “traffic calming” techniques, city traffic engineers utilized
landscaped islands, speed bumps, pedestrian overpasses, and a pedestrian/bicycle
consciousness raising campaign that attracted considerable national attention.

However, the other side of the coin was revealed by the city’s shabby treatment
of other non-motorized roadway users. Buried within the Portland City Code was
a provision which prohibited skaters (roller skaters or in-line bladers), and
scooter riders from riding upon any streets or sidewalks in the downtown core
of the city. The same law also prohibited skaters, bladers, boarders, and
scooter riders from using any street within the city between sunset and sunrise,
a virtual dusk to dawn martial law.

A
Legal No-Man’s Land

In the absence
of regulation by city ordinances or county codes, the Oregon Vehicle Code takes
little notice of boarders, skaters, bladers, and scooters. Under the law
these modes of transportation exist in a legal no-man’s land, exempted
from the provisions of the Oregon Vehicle Code:

“Devices that are powered
exclusively by human power are not subject to those provisions of the vehicle
code that relate to vehicles. Notwithstanding this subsection, bicycles are generally
subject to the vehicle code . . .” ORS
801.026(6)

They do not conform to the definition of “pedestrian:” “[A]ny
person afoot or confined in a wheelchair.” ORS 801.385.

Nor do they fit
within the Oregon Vehicle Code definition of “bicycle:”

“’Bicycle’ means
a vehicle that:

(1) Is
designed to be operated on the ground on wheels;

(2) Has
a seat or saddle for use of the rider;

(3) Is
designed to travel with not more than three wheels in contact with the ground;

(4) Is
propelled exclusively by human power; and

(5) Has
every wheel more than 14 inches in diameter or two tandem wheels either of which
is more than 14 inches in diameter.” ORS 801.150.

If these small human powered contraptions are not bicycles or motor vehicles
and the users are not pedestrians, then what are they under the law? Good
question; they have a legal nonexistence under the Oregon Vehicle Code.

Portland Makes
A Change

In December
of 2000, Portland City Commissioner Charlie Hales decided to lead Portland away
from the restricted status imposed upon skates and boards by the Portland city
ordinance. Following examples previously set by New York, Minneapolis,
and The Dalles, Oregon, Hales asked for legislation premised upon the vision
that non-motorized vehicles can co-exist with motorized vehicles in the streets.
Preliminary response to a proposed special law was mixed, such as a newspaper
editorial entitled “Hales’ Plan
for New and Better Road-kill” suggesting that placing skaters on the streets
with trucks and cars at night would “boost the number of young organ donors.” Portland’s
mayor, Vera Katz, usually a leader on forward looking urban planning issues,
stated that she felt spending time on a skateboard ordinance in the City Council
was “utterly foolish.” However,
legitimizing the presence of boarders and bladers on city streets and sidewalks
had considerable grass roots support, and after some amendment and modification
the final draft was passed after hearings by the City Council on December 27,
2000.

Portland’s
Brave New World

The new law
went into effect on January 26, 2001. It amends and replaces Portland City
Code Section 16.70.410 with five major provisions.

1. Area
of Coverage

The new law
allows roller skates, in-line skates, skateboards, scooters, and other similar
devices powered exclusively by human power upon any sidewalk in the City of Portland
except in the downtown core area [between SW Jefferson, Naito Parkway, NW Hoyt,
and 13th Avenue]. This human powered vehicle group may also use any city
street, roadway, or sidewalk except on Portland’s Tri-Met bus mall which
is a prohibited area.

2. Helmets

All persons
16 years of age and younger must wear helmets on streets, sidewalks, and bridges.

3. Lights/Reflector

Between sunset
and sunrise a white light and rear red light or reflector is required.

4. Same
Laws As Bicycles

The new law
incorporates Oregon Vehicle Code provisions relating to bicycles. This
means that skaters and boarders must follow the main rules for bike riders: yield
to pedestrians but be yielded to in marked or unmarked crosswalks by motor vehicles,
not pass motor vehicles on the right (in the absence of a special bike or skate/board/scooter
lane), and ride as far to the right on two lane roadways as practicable.

5. Violations
and Studies

Violation
of the provisions of the new municipal ordinance by skaters and boarders results
in up to a $25.00 fine, levied against the parents in the case of minors. Finally,
the Portland Police Bureau is charged with collecting and reporting annual findings
to the City Council regarding injuries and deaths of non-motorized roadway users,
and the Portland Department of Transportation (PDOT) must designate “preferred
skating routes” in the downtown core area and outlying areas of the city
for distribution by April 1, 2001.

Conclusion

Portland’s
change in legal status for boarders and skaters has elevated their legal status
from legal no-man’s land to the legal equivalent of bicyclists on city
streets and sidewalks. With their new legal status comes certain responsibilities
such as lights or reflectors at night, yielding to pedestrians on sidewalks,
using bicycle lanes when available, and riding as far to the right as practicable
in the roadway. Oregon Vehicle Code laws prohibiting bicyclists from passing
on the right, and traveling at faster than 3 mph in crosswalks are potential
traps for the unwary. However, Portland’s step is a good move in
the direction of legitimizing non-motorized users in the roadway, and creating
a more receptive legal environment for alternative transportation within the
city. The proposed system of “preferred skating routes” could
lead to positive encouragement for young people in making their claim to a share
of the streets, and bicyclists will likely embrace additional non-motorized company
in the city’s bicycle lanes. A more receptive legal atmosphere will
result in more young people using the city’s streets and sidewalks to get
to school, run errands, and ultimately create the potential for independence
from the motor vehicle that lasts into adulthood. Our bodies, our species,
and our city will all be the better for it.

16.70.410 Roller Skates
and Skateboards.

A. No person
may use roller skates, including in-line skates, a skateboard,

or other similar
device upon any street (roadway and/or sidewalk) within the

area bounded
by and including SW Jefferson, Front Avenue, NW Hoyt and 13th

Avenue, except
where specifically designated as allowed by the City Traffic

Engineer.

B. No person
may use roller skates, including in-line skates, skateboard, or

other similar
device upon any street within the City between the hours of

sunset and
sunrise.

David Reinhard editorial, The
Oregonian (December 17, 2000)

“Hales Charts
Course Amid Political Storms” by Scott Learn of The Oregonian

(February
25, 2001)

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