North Vancouver's great skate debate
More than 60 people packed a District of North Vancouver council meeting Monday to hear council debate new laws for downhill skateboarding in the community.
About half were young people from the North Shore's longboarding community, some arriving in their skate leathers and skid lids.
The rest were older concerned residents, arriving presumably in their cars.
Among the youth camp was a 15-year-old longboarder who just last month was injured when he collided with a truck in Canyon Heights. On the other side of the debate there was Chuck Duffy, the man driving the truck.
Since that incident on Feb. 6, Duffy has been trying to outlaw longboarding in the district with a 50-signature petition. That finally brought things to a head at Monday night's council.
But council would vote not to ban longboarding but to approve three readings of a bylaw clarifying new rules of the road for all boarders in the district.
The updated bylaw includes tougher fines of up to $100 for infractions like skating at night, riding on the wrong side of the road or, in a general sense, skating "without due care and attention." Downhill skateboarders are also banned from any roads in the district with speed limits exceeding 50 km/h.
If given final approval in the coming weeks, the new bylaw will also grant enforcement officers the authority to confiscate skateboards and other equipment for 24 hours in addition to issuing fines.
That's a detail that worries Les Robertson, manager of North Vancouver's Rayne Longboards, who complained that cyclists, motorists and pedestrians are rarely punished with similar provisions.
"If you're wearing a helmet and knee pads and gloves, you can still just as easily be fined and confiscated as you would without a helmet, and I think there should be a tiered penalty there," Robertson told The Outlook on the phone Tuesday. "We're setting these kids up to have very early impressions of policing that are negative and in many cases their parents have already empowered them to go out — it's not cheap to own a longboard."
And indeed it wasn't just the predominantly teenage longboarders at the meeting who spoke in favour of the growing sport.
Many parents of those young participants said they were happy to see their kids getting some exercise outside, doing a sport that's true to the spirit of life on the North Shore, they said.
"My son's in Grade 10. He's not in trouble; he is not doing drugs, he's not drinking. He comes home from school and he immediately goes outside," said district resident Cathy Leblanc. "North Van is known for having outdoor sports."
District Mayor Richard Walton compared the popular explosion of longboarding among youth in the district today with that of mountain biking in Lynn Valley ten years ago.
"But this is not a right anymore than it's a right to drive a car," Walton admonished the gathering of young boarders at council. "It's a privilege that this council sounds like it's prepared to grant."
Walton warned the 30 or so skateboarders at the meeting that it's now on them to educate the younger kids about safety and respect for others on the roads in the community — or else.
"We can be back here a year from now, not with a 50-person petition, but with a lot more voices," Walton threatened.
Council voted five to one in support of the bylaw effectively validating safe longboarding in the district, with Coun. Alan Nixon absent from the meeting.
Coun. Robin Hicks cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he was in favour of a more robust ban on the sport or moving it to a designated area away from roads.
Coun. Doug MacKay-Dunn requested that a letter be sent from the district to the City of North Vancouver to see about harmonizing the two municipalities' skateboarding laws.
"If we do one thing and the city does something else, that's a recipe for disaster," MacKay-Dunn said.
Harmonizing skateboarding bylaws across the whole North Shore could soon be a matter for public debate as currently skateboarding is allowed only on roadways in the district, only on sidewalks in the city and is banned everywhere in West Vancouver except the municipality's two skateboard parks.