Skateboarders face legal roadblocks
Grace Beahm // The Post and Courier
Max Ruotsi, a sophomore at the College of Charleston, travels Wednesday down Calhoun Street on his skateboard. ďItís the most convenient way to get around,Ē said Ruotsi, who rides his board daily except when itís raining.
Jacob Hinton never used his skateboard to get around his hometown of Florence, but when he started classes at the College of Charleston last fall, he found it was the best bet for quick trips downtown.
"It's safer, more fun and easier to control," he said of his longboard, a type of skateboard designed more for transit than tricks.
"If you're going to class, you don't have to chain it up," he added. "You can just bring it in with you. You don't have to worry about it getting stolen."
William McFadden, 22, a graphic design student at Trident Technical College downtown, has been skateboarding since he was 8 and still uses it to get between his East Side home and class, restaurants and shops.
"It's a way of transportation for me because I don't have a car," he said. "It's a workout plan for me, too. I can eat anything I want and won't gain any weight. It's my everyday exercise."
Across downtown streets, particularly near colleges, the use of skateboards has risen sharply, much like bicycle use. There's only one problem: Skateboarding is illegal -- at least much of it is -- and enforcement is expected to pick up soon.
Until now, skateboard enforcement has been mild.
Both Hinton and McFadden said they have been lectured or warned by police -- but not ticketed.
"Once I was skating on the sidewalk, and a cop came up and said, 'Get off the sidewalk,' so I'd go in the street," McFadden said. "One time I was skating in the street, and a cop pulls up and said, 'Hey, get on the sidewalk.' "
However, Charleston City Council soon is expected to give the College of Charleston Public Safety the authority to write municipal tickets so college officers will be able to enforce skateboarding and other city laws.
College of Charleston Public Safety Chief Paul Verrecchia said the change will give his officers another option.
"There's no state law that covers skateboards," he said. "To my knowledge, there's no county ordinance."
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said the change stemmed from his conversations with Verrecchia, and Mullen said he hopes enforcement will increase because he is concerned about skateboarders' safety.
"We want to prevent a tragedy," Mullen said, adding that if a skateboarder were seriously injured, even killed, then, "Some would ask, 'Why weren't you doing enforcement? Why weren't you taking steps to keep this from happening?' "
Verrecchia said: "If I were speaking to students, I would give them a friendly warning that the campus police now have another option at their disposal to enforce the law. ... It won't be just warnings coming from us. It could be summonses -- citations to appear in court."
Jack Abbott's Continuum Skateshop on Spring Street does a mix of business, serving those who skateboard just for fun and those who use the boards to get around.
"More and more people are using skateboards to get to class," he said. "It's a safe, green healthy form of transportation. It needs to be encouraged, especially the way gas prices are."
Others are beginning to agree.
Charleston Moves, a nonprofit that advocates human-powered transportation, soon will discuss skateboarding in more depth, as the rise in skateboarding here has mirrored the rise in bicycle use, director Tom Bradford said.
"Personally, I just wonder how it can be outlawed," Bradford said of skateboarding. "It's clearly an idea whose time has come."
Not everyone thinks so. Marvin Katzen drives his "Doin' the Charleston" tour bus around city streets near the college and has had some ugly brushes with skateboarders, including some who have banged on his bus' windows and made obscene gestures
"These skateboarders go whipping in and out of traffic, most of the time going the wrong way, particularly on St. Philip Street between Calhoun and Wentworth," Katzen said. "It's not a mode of transportation. It's a toy. The skateboard doesn't belong on the street."
But McFadden said he tries to look out for his own safety -- and that of others.
"The only type of accident I've had on the skateboard is when I hit a rock or didn't know a curb was coming up," he said. "I'm constantly looking behind me and in front of me to make sure I'm not hitting any cracks or any pedestrian walking toward me. I try to be conscious of that and respectable."