Breaking Bylaws: Are Toronto skateboarders actually criminals?

Breaking Bylaws: Are Toronto skateboarders actually criminals?
By Melissa Wilson
OpenBlog Toronto
May 30, 2012

When you’re walking down the sidewalk minding your own business and a spiky-haired hooligan forces you to jump out of the way, lest you be mowed down by him and his skateboard, it can be hard not to pull an Abe Simpson and shake your fist as he speeds away. But while busy sidewalks aren’t meant for skateboarders, neither are roads or bikeways, so is there anywhere in the city where a skateboarder can ride legally and safely, other than a designated skate park or his own driveway? The answer, it turns out, is no, not really.

According to Chapter 400* of the City of Toronto Municipal Code:

“No person shall play or take part in any game or sport upon a roadway, and, where there are sidewalks, no person upon roller skates or a skateboard, or riding in or by means of any coaster, toy vehicle or similar device, shall go upon a roadway except for the purposes of crossing the road…”

(This is the same bylaw that makes street hockey illegal.)

Similarly, Chapter 886 of the Municipal Code states that, “No person shall park, drive or operate any vehicle, except a bicycle, on a bicycle path.” So that’s out, too.

And while Chapter 400 makes it seem like skaters could ride on the sidewalks, that’s not really the case either, according to Chapter 313:

“Pedestrians shall have the right-of-way on a sidewalk, and no person shall ride upon or operate a bicycle…roller skates, in-line skates, skateboard, coaster, toy vehicle or similar device on a sidewalk without due care and attention and without reasonable consideration for others using the sidewalk.”

Finally, what about a big, open, concrete space like Yonge-Dundas Square that would seem perfect for skateboarding? No again, says Chapter 636, which says that “No person shall, within the limits of a square…ride or stand on any skateboard, roller skate or roller blade.”

So, to sum up, you can’t skateboard on the road, on a bike lane, on a sidewalk (usually), or at Yonge-Dundas Square. Sorry, guys.

Constable Hugh Smith of traffic services communications at Toronto Police Services says the harsh rules for the city’s skateboarders have to do with the iffy classification of the board: It’s a vehicle, but not in the same way a car or bike is, and it’s also a toy, but not in the same way as a Cozy Coupe.

“It’s a vehicle under one definition because it’s got wheels,” says Smith, “But think of it more like a pogo stick. You can move forward and go a distance, but try doing that at Yonge-Dundas. It’s considered more of a recreational device.”

Smith, who was a regular skateboarder as a teen, says the bylaw concerns safety first. “Can you ride a skateboard? Sure. But you can’t skateboard on the road or when it’s reckless, and you can’t ride on private property, like parking lots,” he says. “We recognize that it’s a growing sport, but you can’t start saying, ‘I’m going to take this activity and interact with other road users.’”

Currently the fine for skateboarding in a prohibited area varies from borough to borough, and ranges from $85 in Toronto to $375 in Scarborough. “If someone is on the one side of the street or the other, it could be the difference between $85 and a $375 fine,” says Smith. Currently the city is reviewing the fine structure, and will soon implement a standard fine (likely between $60 and $90) to be in effect across the city.

So will there ever be a time when skateboarding will become a legal means of road commuting, like cycling has? Smith answers the question with an emphatic, “No,” but the reasoning is far more common sense than curmudgeonly: Skateboards don’t have brakes.

It’s the same reason, says Smith, that rollerblades, roller skates and, yes, fixed-gear bikes are also illegal to ride on the road.

“Any devise that doesn’t have separate steering and control to brake and turn, I don’t think you’ll see adopted as a viable means of commuting on the road.”

Recent skateboarder-versus-car collisions make it unlikely things will change anytime soon. Twenty-eight-year-old Ralph Bissonnette was killed May 14 near King St. E. and Jarvis after being struck by a cab. Last year 25-year-old Aaron Beamish died after riding his longboard on the wrong side of the road at King St. W. and Spadina Ave. and being hit by a garbage truck. “A truck was turning, and he couldn’t stop if he wanted to,” says Smith. “He could only fall or get hit.”

“And that kind of tragedy isn’t going to help things.”

* As Chapter 400 is currently under review, it is not available for download online, but it is still in effect.

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