Chicago should bail on its unclear, unfair skateboarding ban

Chicago cyclists pedaled their way to a free breakfast in Daley Plaza on June 19, as they rang in the culmination of Chicago Bike Week, a “week-long celebration of cycling” organized by city government.

But if Chicagoans were to roll up to the breakfast – or anywhere else in the Loop – on four smaller wheels and a piece of plywood, they’d risk ticketing from city police.

What gives?

Chicago’s municipal code states: “No person shall ride a skateboard upon any road or sidewalk in a business district.” Fines for violating this ordinance range from $25 to $200.

While cyclists are increasingly influential in Chicago transportation policy, and currently reside in the nation’s second-best cycling city, according to Cycling Magazine, skateboarders’ relationship with city government has been rocky at best.

Chicago has ponied up for huge skating investments, such as a world-class, $2.7 million skate park in Grant Park, but skaters can still find themselves ticketed on their way there. The same goes for the brand-new 606 trail, which skateboarders are welcome to use.

Jess Bell, owner of Lakeview’s Windward Boardshop, itself located in a business district on Clark Street, expressed concern about the clarity of the city’s skateboarding rules.

“It’s hard to figure out [the law],” she said. “Parents of little kids who want to get them into skating are unsure where it’s allowed or not.”

Bell doesn’t have a good answer for those parents.

“Enforcement can depend on the place, the time of day or the police officer; it’s really inconsistent.”

There’s no good reason why cyclists and skateboarders should be given different legal protection under the city’s municipal code when safely using Chicago streets.

And whether you see it as a nuisance or an art form, there’s no denying a healthy skateboarding culture means business.

From Windward, to Wicker Park’s Uprise, to Uptown’s Wilson Yards, to Little Village’s Prosper, not to mention all the sporting-goods stores that sell skate gear, skateboarding provides jobs and a sense of community for Chicagoans across the city. Tweaking language in city code to allow skateboarders at least the same freedoms cyclists enjoy would ensure those business owners that their patrons won’t be criminalized for using their products safely.

Restrictions on skateboarding don’t just pose a threat to green transportation, but can discourage skateboarding culture and business in a city that could use more of both. And without this change, Chicago will have made multimillion-dollar investments to encourage an activity that is illegal in large swaths of the city.

Chicago lawmakers should wise up, tweak the restrictions and let responsible skaters share the streets.

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