One of the first pieces of advice experts give skateboarders is this: Know the law.
In Charleston, that isn’t so easy. Even police have a difficult time keeping straight where skateboards are allowed and where they aren’t. Motorists and skateboarders are even more confused.
That dilemma, compounded by the increasing number of people using skateboards for transportation on the peninsula’s already crowded downtown streets, is an appropriate, if spiny, issue for City Councilmember Mike Seekings to take up.
Mr. Seekings lives in Harleston Village near the College of Charleston and sees up close what he calls a “formula for disaster” as skateboarders speed along in the middle of streets, zip past stop signs and ride against traffic. Skateboarders don’t seem to be concerned, but it’s scary for drivers. One second the street ahead is open; the next, a skateboard has scooted out from between parked cars and is inches from the front bumper.
Mr. Seekings initially proposed a ban on skateboarding in most of peninsula Charleston, including the College of Charleston. But instead, he has agreed that a committee of representatives of City Council, police, skateboarders, the College of Charleston and neighborhood groups try to reach a safe compromise.
Police Chief Greg Mullen had suggested such a meeting so that all sides could be aired.
One idea that will be in the mix is establishing a set of rules, including some common-sense basics like requiring boarders to heed stop signs, wear shoes and go with the traffic, not against it.
Mr. Seekings has also talked about putting more emphasis on skateboard etiquette.
Skateboarding has changed from a “punk” hobby to a more mainstream one — and increasingly a form of inexpensive, emission-free transportation similar to biking. It would be a pity to see skateboard commuters crank up their cars, emit exhaust and compete for parking spaces.
But it would be a tragedy if even one skateboarder suffered serious head injury or death because the city failed to find a better solution.
Perhaps skateboarders, when presented with options, will embrace restrictions that would allow them to share the streets safely with cars and bicycles. And perhaps residents and motorists will convince those skateboarders who flout the rules of safety that the stakes are higher than they want to think. Every year, about 50,000 people visit emergency rooms in the United States because of skateboard injuries.
Meanwhile, police should not look the other way when skateboarders are weaving in and out of traffic — even if all they can do is point out their dangerous behavior.
Police have committed to stopping bicyclists who break the law. They could do the same with skateboarders if some clear rules are adopted.
The group considering skateboarding options is expected to bring a recommendation to City Council this year.
Until then, skateboarders who want to steer clear of hospitals and continue to use city streets should put safety first.
It would be a good idea if they wore protective gear, too.