Skateboarders would have to obey all the rules of the road, wouldn’t be able to use cellphones while rolling and couldn’t skate barefoot under a proposal Charleston City Council is considering as a six-month pilot project downtown.
Also, the area where skateboarding is allowed on the peninsula would be greatly expanded and better defined, although boarding would be prohibited outright on most of the city’s major thoroughfares, including highly traveled King, Meeting, Broad, East Bay and Calhoun streets.
Anyone caught violating any of the 15 or so new regulations would face a minimum fine of $50.
After months of study, the city’s skateboard review committee has unveiled its package of reforms that it said would allow skateboarding to safely exist, or even coexist, with other forms of traffic on Charleston streets.
Advocates say the issue is one of safety and of better-defining the current — and what many consider unwieldy — skateboarding map.
“The whole idea is to give some rhyme or reason to the streets of Charleston,” said City Councilman Mike Seekings, who helped draft the proposal as part of a committee that included skateboarders, neighborhood leaders, police, students and others.
Stricter regulation was needed, advocates also said, because some Charleston street boarders have shown a habit of sometimes dangerous behavior on streets crowded by cars, bikes, pedestrians and out-of-town visitors.
“Skateboarding sticks out because it’s so obvious when it’s done wrong,” Seekings said.
The new set of regulations, if adopted by council, would replace the current skateboard laws downtown that are widely seen as vague, complicated and unenforceable.
As written, the current law says skateboarders may not travel on streets posted at more than 25 mph. They may ride on streets posted at 25 mph or less — except for downtown areas in a school overlay zone or with commercial zoning. The stipulation means a special city zoning map would be needed to understand exactly where those areas are, confounding police, locals and skateboard riders equally.
“What we have now,” Mayor Joe Riley said, “you have to be very good to memorize. This is delineated and clean.”
The new map eliminates the need for zoning considerations, and instead defines streets where skateboarding is allowed or not allowed.
The busiest vehicular streets in the city would be prohibited (Market, Spring and Cannon in addition to the ones listed above), as well as most of the streets around the Medical University of South Carolina.
For College of Charleston students, most of the streets in that area and surrounding neighborhoods would be freed up.
When riders come to a road where skateboarding is banned, such as crossing King and George street, skateboarders would be expected to pick up their rollers and walk across. “Worst case, you have to pick up your skateboard and walk a block,” Riley said.
While the package has its supporters, some council members said it creates a new set of laws that potentially could be quickly ignored or become too much of a burden for police in the face of bigger-priority crimes.
“These young people have no regard for the law when it comes to skateboarding,” said Councilman James Lewis. “I just don’t see how we can enforce it.”
“Too draconian; too prohibitionist,” added Councilman Aubry Alexander.
One question raised about the cellphone-while-riding ban is that such a prohibition would prevent riders from looking at a possible city “app” that accurately shows the legal riding paths.
City officials plan to put the map to a public hearing, probably late next month. The hope is to have the new rules in place before the downtown colleges finish for the summer.