A proposal to lift the ban on street skateboarding hit a big pothole last night at Sackville Town Council when staff recommended looking at ways of improving the existing skatepark instead.
In February, council gave first reading or preliminary approval to a change in the traffic bylaw that would allow skateboarders on streets as long as they wear safety helmets and stay off sidewalks.
But Treasurer Michael Beal told council last night that after consulting the town’s insurance company and its lawyers, staff were recommending against lifting the ban.
“If council wished to proceed with second and third reading and allow it, that would be council’s prerogative to do so,” Beal said.
“If they did so, then council would be assuming the additional liability and a potential for claims and the potential for increased risk,” he added.
He acknowledged, however, that lifting the ban would not have an immediate effect on the cost of the town’s existing insurance coverage, but an increase in claims could trigger higher premiums.
Review of streets & sidewalks
Beal said the town’s insurers recommended that before lifting the ban, the town should undertake a review of traffic patterns and conditions on all roads and sidewalks partly to determine whether additional maintenance would be required to make them safe for skateboarding.
Town Engineer Dwayne Acton said that such an extensive review would probably require extra staff.
“There would have to be a substantial amount of record-keeping and we’d have to literally evaluate streets and document that we have evaluated and checked all the streets out,” Acton added.
“If there was a pothole that maybe got missed, it needs to be patched right away, otherwise if somebody hits it, now it becomes our liability because we knew about it and we didn’t fill it on time.”
Acton also said that potholes can’t be filled in spring because of weather and temperature conditions.
“What do I do for all the skateboarders in April and May who want to use the streets [when] I can’t fill those potholes?” he asked.
Skateboards & bicycles
Beal said the town’s lawyers noted the courts have held that skateboards are distinct from bicycles which are required under the Motor Vehicle Act to have headlamps, reflectors and to operate with one hand always on the handle-bars while skateboarders are viewed as similar to pedestrians.
“Allowing skateboards on roadways would be like allowing pedestrians to travel on roadways,” he added.
Councillor Shawn Mesheau said he would like to see town staff present more options.
“I understand there’s a legal and an insurance obligation,” he said, “but what is being done or has been done in other municipalities?”
Mesheau wondered, for example, if it would be possible to allow skateboarders on less congested streets or require them to travel facing traffic instead of flowing with it.
“I’m curious about that information and I think that’s important information to have before just ultimately saying yes or no,” he added.
Councillor Allison Butcher pointed to positive aspects of skateboarding including the benefits of fresh air, being outside and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
“I’ve heard many times that we are in the business of managing risk, that’s what towns do,” she said.
She wondered, for example, how many insurance claims municipalities like Sackville face because of the risks of open water bodies within their boundaries.
“It’s about balancing risk and I’m still unsure about whether or not we want to just say ‘let’s keep on with the status quo’ because I feel like our ban on skateboards is kind of outdated,” Butcher said.
Councillor Bill Evans agreed.
“I like the idea of finding ways to get along, to celebrate diversity, to find accommodation,” he said.
Evans questioned denying what he called “some small, marginalized group” the ability to enjoy skateboarding on town streets.
“I don’t think we should just abandon this because it’s hard especially at the expense of a group that’s already being penalized,” he said.
Councillor Andrew Black, who initially proposed lifting the ban on street skateboarding, pointed out that the information from the insurance company showed the risk of claims and skyrocketing insurance premiums to be quite low, while Councillor Michael Tower called for further research before council makes a decision.
Councillor Bruce Phinney agreed more research would help, but suggested that in the meantime, the town should pay attention to liability questions raised by the town’s insurance company and its lawyers.
“I know what they (skateboarders) want,” Phinney said, “but sometimes, some people need to be protected from themselves and so, I think in the best interests of everyone, it would be (best) to respect exactly what our solicitor and our insurance company have advised us to do at the present time.”
As last night’s discussion ended, Acting Mayor Ron Aiken said that councillors who want additional information should send their requests to CAO Jamie Burke.
He suggested that council could debate passage of the bylaw lifting the street skateboard ban at its meeting on May 3rd seven days before the municipal election.
“I think it would be unfair to have this hang over to another council,” Aiken added.
“It’s something we probably should clean up.”
To read previous coverage of this issue, click here.