A prominent developmental psychologist, who conducts research on child injury prevention, says Sackville Town Council appears to be on the right track in exploring ways to allow skateboarding on at least some municipal streets.
“Children and youth need to be able to take risks in their play, to connect with their friends, to have the ability to engage in physical activity, to move around independently and so on,” Mariana Brussoni writes in an e-mail to Warktimes.
Brussoni, who teaches in the Department of Pediatrics and the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, says that municipal planners need to balance children’s need for physical activity with their right to be safe.
“Historically, municipal planning has really focussed on moving cars and adults’ use of public streets,” Brussoni said in a recent telephone interview.
“We see the needs of children and youth being ignored making it harder and harder for them to engage with their communities, to be able to move around independently, to meet up with their friends, to go out and play and those sorts of things,” she adds.
“Skateboarding can be an important way for kids to be able to get around and to cover more distances than they would if they were walking,” Brussoni says, “but one of the challenges, of course, is that children and youth want to feel safe on their skateboards, they want to feel safe where they’re going.”
She suggests that Sackville could permit skateboarding on less-congested residential streets and that the town could set up special lanes for skateboarding and cycling.
Most of all, though, she says the town should consult young people themselves so their voices can be heard on town planning issues.
Councillors move ahead to permit street skateboards
At their meeting on April 12th, a majority of Sackville councillors voted to direct staff to work with the town lawyer to find ways of permitting skateboards on streets while considering safety, liability and enforcement concerns.
“This is not a personal issue for me,” said Councillor Bill Evans. “I am not a skateboarder, but this is a huge fairness issue for me,” he added.
“I don’t think it’s fair to exclude one mode of transportation.”
Evans said he understood that council will not likely be ready to lift the skateboard ban before the municipal election on May 10th and that a new council would have to deal with the issue.
CAO Jamie Burke said staff have already sought help from LAC Group, a research firm that has worked with neighbouring municipalities.
When Councillor Bruce Phinney wondered why the town is disregarding advice from the town’s lawyer and insurance company on liability issues, Burke said it would be a matter of managing risk.
“We know by doing this, we’re increasing the risk, but there are ways to manage the risk,” he said. “So, that’s what we would be looking to explore with our insurance provider and solicitor.”
Phinney, who voted against exploring ways of lifting the skateboard ban, wondered whether skateboards were originally intended for transportation or just recreation.
“Skateboards are intimately connected to surfboards,” said Councillor Andrew Black, who’s an avid skateboarder himself.
“When you’re on a surfboard, you can surf whatever water’s in front of you. When you’re on a skateboard, you can skate whatever’s in front of you.”
Black added that skateboards were made for travel.
“If there happened to be a ramp in front of you, you go up it or down it. If there was a curb in front of you, you jump it.
“They were made for street traffic travel,” Black concluded.