There’s an immediate loss of innocence one experiences when you contemplate Mr. Ed hitting a pipe. We found this altered sign in the Lakes Basin (Photo: Geisel)
Last month an 18-year-old visitor to Mammoth Lakes died on West Bear Lake Drive after hitting a manhole and falling off his skateboard. The young man was not wearing a helmet.
Since then, Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Dan Watson has heard more discussion regarding the practice of people riding skateboards on various roads. On Wednesday evening, Watson brought the idea of prohibiting skateboarders on town streets to Mammoth’s Town Council.
“I don’t have a recommendation,” Watson said. “I just wanted to encourage public discussion.”
Currently, the California Vehicle Code does not prohibit skateboards on streets, it simply lumps them together with pedestrians. The code does, however, leave the door open to allow a local authority to create its own rules and regulations. Some cities also prohibit skateboards from being ridden on sidewalks, but currently the Town of Mammoth does not have this restriction.
A group of approximately 10 local skateboarders attended the meeting to urge Council not to ban skateboarding from the streets of Mammoth.
“A lot of people use it as a primary means of transportation,” said owner of Anything Goes Catering, Cory Rice. “The death was a tragic incident, but he could have just as easily been on a bike. People getting hurt aren’t a reason to outlaw it [skateboarding].”
John Mueller (not be confused with the owner of John’s Pizza Works who bears the same name), a supervisor at zpizza agreed. “The 18-year-old visitor didn’t know the town roads and didn’t know his skill level. He thought he would be cool and bomb down a hill.” He added that local skateboarders know the roads and how to handle them. “Why wouldn’t you ban snowboarding when people die?” he questioned. Mueller concluded with a vow that he would continue to skate even if the Council prohibited it.
Other speakers pointed out that a lot of youth in the town don’t have the means for a vehicle. When trying to get to work in a hurry, skateboards are a faster mode of transportation than walking. Others pointed out the “green” aspect of skateboarding, and wished that society would look at skateboarders as doing the right thing for the environment.
“When I moved to Mammoth in 1989, snowboarding was illegal and so was marijuana, but skateboarding was legal” said Mammoth business owner Steve Klassen. “Now snowboarding is legal and marijuana is kind of legal, but you’re looking at banning skateboarding.”
Klassen commended the Chief for bringing the topic up for discussion, but felt it didn’t make sense to take away recreation opportunities. Instead, he asked that skate features be added to bike paths.
Councilmember Skip Harvey surprised the public and his fellow council members when he pointed out that not only had he started skating back in the days of Cadillac wheels, but he had also run a skate shop.
“I can relate to the fun and sense of freedom you feel,” Harvey said to the group. “Plus, it’s a great physical workout, which is what we’re all about up here. But you need to police yourselves and set examples for other riders. Don’t just go blowing through stop signs.”
Mayor Jo Bacon pointed out to the skateboarders, “Just be aware that cars don’t know what to do with you.”
The skaters urged cars to go around them, claiming it was scary to skate in front of a moving vehicle, but Council pointed out that if the skaters are weaving in two lanes of traffic, cars couldn’t pass. Watson returned to the vehicle code, again pointing out that skateboarders are subject to the same rules as pedestrians.
“Skating in a lane and blocking traffic is equivalent to jaywalking and can be cited,” Watson explained. But if someone wants to skate down both lanes of Main Street and there are no cars around, there’s nothing wrong with that, Watson explained further to The Sheet.
Council was comfortable continuing to use California Vehicle Code to manage skateboarding in town and made no change to policy.
“It’s good to have this discussion,” Councilman John Eastman concluded. “It’s a reminder of the danger of the sport, but shit happens. There’s going to be accidents, especially in sports like this one, but I’m not interested in taking it away.”