Decades-old skateboard street ban reversed by Annapolis city council many still displeased; Issue of safety remains; skateboard park pondered


When the issue is skateboards, the Annapolis city council is finding a new twist on an old axiom: You can't please anyone.

In what was labeled a victory for skateboarders, the council last week reversed a decades-old law that banned riding on downtown streets.

Critics of the new law say it doesn't go far enough. And merchants and residents say the law does not ensure streets that are safe from speeding skateboarders, skaters and bicyclists.

The new law forbids a person to "ride on or use any nonmotorized wheeled vehicle in a negligent manner on any public street, alley, sidewalk or way in the city of Annapolis." It also defines the word "negligent": "in a careless or imprudent manner that endangers any property or the life, safety or person of any individual."

Aldermen set a $50 fine for violators, but gave police officers the latitude to determine negligence.

'Need one step further'

"I'm not saying I'm not happy about what they've done," Paul G. Coe, co-owner of Evolve skate shop in downtown Annapolis, said yesterday. "At least the law is fair now. I'm just saying we need to take this one step further.

"What the law says now is that 'Sure, you can use your skateboard as a mode of transportation, but just don't do anything fun with it,' " said Coe, whose business sponsors a skateboarding team of area youngsters. "To perform skateboarding as a sport in Annapolis, there is still no place to go."

Dozens of outraged city youths and their parents showed up at a public safety committee hearing in April to protest the original bill sponsored by Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins that would have maintained the old skateboard ban and imposed a $50 fine.

The skateboarders offered amendments, some of which were incorporated into the new law.

Concern for downtown

Business owners and residents are complaining that the weakened law hurts the downtown area, where skateboarders congregate every weekend to perform their feats. Calling the youngsters dangerous and reckless, residents point out that on a recent weekend, a young skateboarder was struck by a vehicle on a crowded Dock Street near the water.

"I've gotten a lot of complaints from downtown merchants, neighbors and people who visit the area because skateboarding has been such a problem in the City Dock area," said Alderman Louise Hammond, a Ward 1 Democrat who voted against the amended bill. "It was a problem for years when it was illegal for them to skate down here and now we've said it's OK. This ordinance does nothing to solve an already bad situation."

Possible solution

A solution may be on the horizon. Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, the Ward 7 Republican who chairs the safety committee, says a panel is studying the idea of a skate park for youths who need a place to practice their sport.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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