By COLLIN GALLANT on May 17, 2022.
Skateboarding downtown, which is technically not legal until this morning, was greeted with a punk rock concert and freestyle skate show Monday night across from city hall after city council rescinded an 18-year-old blanket ban on skateboarding in the city centre.
The move – partly required to allow an e-scooter rental pilot this spring – follows two weeks of discussions in city council meetings. On May 2, council postponed a vote for further consultations with business owners after a presentation by the Medicine Hat Skateboard Association.
This week, councillors said they had heard concerns about the potential noise, vandalism and loitering, but skateboarders deserved an opportunity and warned the bylaw can be brought back.
“It’s been 18 years in the making and now we have a chance to prove that we do care about the community,” said Davie James of the MHSA, as about 60 members of the group gathered in Riverside Veterans Memorial Park after the vote.
“If they include us, we’re gonna show up and be a part of all the growth that’s happening downtown.”
Skateboards – which were and still are barred from roadways – were also not allowed on sidewalks in the centre of the city in 2004, after a “concerted effort” by merchants and their patrons, according to Coun. Robert Dumanowski, a rookie council member at the time.
“They were very worried about pedestrian interactions and noise,” he said Monday, noting he felt the legislation persisted like a “sleeping dog” since then and he supported loosening rules.
Public services committee chair Coun. Ramona Robins called the bylaw “outdated and unnecessary, and we can revisit this if it’s not working,” she said.
Public services division head Brian Mastel called the feedback he’d received “split.”
“I’d think there was a mix of views and certainly some issues raised,” said
In the event of problems, the city could bring in signs to trouble areas, which would allow for localized bylaw enforcement, but general safety issues are enforceable at anytime by police.
“We think we have some opportunity to deal with the unforeseen,” he said.
In late January a city committee heard that administrators and an e-scooter company were in advanced discussions to bring a pilot to the city this spring.
That would involve renting the vehicles in the city centre and allowing them in various areas of the city via the trail system.
That however, could be at odds with the Skateboard Bylaw, which also banned the mode of transportation anywhere throughout the city where “No Skateboarding” signs are present, including the city’s trail systems where e-scooters would be allowed.
An e-scooter is defined in the bylaw as a motorized electric vehicle with two wheels, handlebars and is designed to be stood on while riding.
New rules, included in amendments to the city’s Parks and Transportation Bylaws, would see skateboarding allowed expect when it is forbidden by signs, or when it interferes with other pedestrians.
Coun. Andy McGrogan said he had heard a lot of “trepidation” among business owners, and initially supported a phased approach.
“The problem becomes not allowing skateboarding downtown, which I support, but it’s tricks and jumping off rails, and noise,” he said.
“We’ve thrown out most of the provisions, and with a small downtown, that’s quite concentrated, I hope we’ve thought deeply about how to make pedestrians – who we want downtown – interact with skateboarders.”
Coun. Allison Knodel said she thinks a “grass roots” effort by the skateboarders could help set a level of public behaviour.
“Let’s put the power in the hands of the people,” she said.
Mayor Linnsie Clark also said she hoped the process would be iterative, but the MHSA can’t be made responsible for the behaviour of all skateboarders in the city, and problems may arise.