Skateboarding and helmets make for a complicated relationship

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Skateboarding downtown is the focus of bylaws under consideration by Victoria City Council. Photo by Cayden Johnson

Skateboarding downtown is the focus of bylaw amendments that are under consideration of the City of Victoria. Photo by Cayden Johnson

The Victoria city council is pushing to add a helmet and light policy to the currently pending skateboard bylaw. Last March, council decided to begin the process of amending a decade-old bylaw in order to allow skateboarders to use downtown streets.

Despite the number of skaters already riding downtown, it’s technically still illegal to skateboard on city streets until the bylaw has been passed. Speaking with the Martlet, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps explained that street skateboarders are not a priority for bylaw officers while the proposal is being processed, and that helmet and light laws cannot be lawfully enforced without a province-wide implementation.

Transportation issues are ultimately governed on a provincial level under the Motor Vehicle Act — which is silent on the subject of skateboarders. “If the province wants to put skateboarding [protective gear] and licences in the Motor Vehicle Act, then that’s their prerogative,” said Helps. “I think it’s something that I would support but I’m not a provincial MLA that has to make that decision.”

Helps suggested that the most concerning issue with skateboarders downtown is not their lack of helmets or lights, but their tendency to ride on sidewalks. Sidewalk skateboarding is not allowed and will remain illegal once the bylaw is passed. Helps said bylaw officers “don’t have time to chase skateboarders around,” but are responsible for keeping the sidewalks safe, particularly for pedestrians.

The municipality is taking alternative steps toward adapting the city for increased transportation safety. “It’s an infrastructure change that’s actually going to make everybody safer,” said Helps. The city plans to build 30 kilometres of separated bike lanes in the next three years, beginning with a stretch from Cook Street to the Johnson Street Bridge. She said construction will begin in the new year at the latest.

Local downtown skateboarder Lee Hilborn said, “I’m of the opinion that there is very little sense in driving through the city core. I would love to see that area opened up more to bicycles and skateboards and all other light vehicles.”

Mayor Helps expressed the city’s desire to keep Victoria citizens motivated and active. She considers skateboarding a “legitimate form of transportation” and wants to approve a bylaw that not only suits pedestrians, cars, and cyclists, but the younger people who typically choose to skateboard.

According to Helps, the city’s skate-board bylaw has undergone many modifications since the proposal was put in place a year ago. Another large change is underway because the bylaw’s current penalties are considered too severe by city staff. “I can’t give you a date [when it will be approved] because we want to make sure we pass the right bylaw that doesn’t have unintended consequences,” said Helps.

For now, the Victoria mayor hopes skateboarders will exercise common sense while riding on the road. She plans to depend on the responsibility of individual skateboarders to decide whether they require a helmet or not. “Whenever levels of government try to get into the business of regulating common sense, [that’s when] we’re all going to fail,” said Helps, after admitting she only recently began wearing a helmet while skateboarding.

In a separate interview, Hilborn agreed, “If I feel like wearing a helmet I will, if it’s dark I’ll put on [a] light, but when it comes to decisions of my own safety I have and will always make those decisions for myself.”

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