Back in the mid-1980s when I was a little skate grommet I remember t-shirts and stickers declaring that "Skateboarding Is Not A Crime!" being pretty ubiquitous. The slogan was a declaration of what we felt was a sort of comic truth. Unfortunately, often it was not legally accurate. It was around that time that small towns and big cities nationwide where passing ordinances outlawing skating, particularly on sidewalks in downtown areas. In those days, skate parks did not exist. Stairs, loading docks and public benches were our skate parks. Trying to avoid the police was, well, part of the fun.
Nowadays I see lots of skaters and longboarders riding around Chicago. Longboards in particular, with their bigger, softer wheels are a particularly quick, easy and fun way to get around the City. They are not mere toys, but a means of transportation. Shorter boards are generally better for tricks and Chicago has invested quite a bit constructing several skate parks to accommodate people who like to grind. I have not heard of anyone being ticketed by police for skating in Chicago, at least not on public property. I continue to skate and had never really considered my legal right to do so. Recently, I wondered what ever happened to Chicago's anti-skating ordinance so I looked it up. To my surprise I found that it is still on the books. It states:
No person shall ride a skateboard upon any roadway or sidewalk in a business district.
No person upon roller skates, or riding in or by means of any coaster, skateboard, toy vehicle, or similar device, shall go upon any roadway except while crossing a street on a crosswalk.
Skating is not allowed on the sidewalk in a "business district" and is prohibited in the street everywhere. This means that while you can skate in Chicago's gorgeous $2.65 million Grant Park skate park, the law prohibits you from riding your skateboard through downtown to get there. Starting Saturday, June 6th, you may kick and push your way along The 606, Chicago's newest path. But skating through Wicker Park to get there would be a legal no-no. Soon you will be able to shop in the big new Zumiez skate shop under construction in the heart of the Loop at State and Madison. Step outside the store and try to board your new ride and you could get a ticket.
Isn't it time to take this section of the Code off the books?
Skateboards are fun, but than isn't a sin. They also happen to be a relatively cheap (even compared to bikes) means of transportation. Our City is presently undergoing an infrastructure renaissance, building bike lanes, skate parks and innovative trails that are meant to encourage people powered transportation. Skateboards should be a part of that mix. Skateboarding also means business in Chicago. Small businesses like Uprise, Windward Boardshop, Zumiez, Character, Bluetown and Caravan should be encouraged and supported in their efforts. One way to do that would be to decriminalize the products they make and sell.
Yes, there are times where skating on a sidewalk crowded with pedestrians is a bad idea. Part of Section 9-80-200 states, "Any person upon a sidewalk on roller skates or riding in or by means of any coaster, skateboard, or similar device shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give audible signals before overtaking and passing such pedestrian." This is perfectly reasonable and should remain in force. But let's get rid of the rest of it and allow people to shred respectfully.