America’s Public Skateparks-How do municipalities’ parks, rules, and laws measure up?

With the number of public skateparks steadily increasing in the United States, the legislation and laws that go along with the building and management of these parks is quite varied from state to state.

In the seemingly more “skate-liberal” city of Portland, Oregon for example, no one will harass you about wearing a helmet in the public skateparks, but go to San Diego or New York, and you can be sure you’ll be buckling your helmet and strapping on those kneepads.

In America’s lawsuit-phobic culture, it seems the pad-free park is becoming a rarity. Most states require a great deal of gear to ride their parks. Whether or not these rules are enforced and that parks are truly “full pads” is a somewhat hush-hush situation. No one wants to rock the boat, especially while they’re in it.

Louisville, Kentucky

In April of 2002, Louisville, Kentucky unveiled its first and only pubic skateboarding park-the Louisville Extreme Park, boasting 40,000 square feet of concrete skating surface, a 24-foot fullpipe, and wooden vert ramp.

Under Kentucky state law, because Louisville isn’t charging patrons to use the park, the city has recreational immunity-meaning liability for the park is fairly low. The facility has a “skate at your own risk” policy, recommending but not requiring that full pads be worn. A local ordinance only requires skaters to wear a helmet, and because this is an ordinance, it is the responsibility of the local police to enforce the helmet rule. The park is unstaffed and open 24 hours a day, and no waiver needs to be filled out.

Skateboarding is illegal (citations issued to the guilty parties) in the central business district of Louisville. After a failed attempt at a small skateboard facility (insufficient ramps and obstacles) in one of the local parks, the city decided it was time to meet the demands of the skateboarders.

According to Jason Cissell, the spokesman for metro parks in Louisville, the city realized they would only have one chance to build a park like this. So the scope of the project changed from “Let’s build a park to satisfy the needs of the elementary users,” to “Let’s do this right.” As a result, the Louisville Extreme Park has quickly gained national attention and attracted skateboarders from all over the world. The success of the park has Louisville working on “Phase 2,” which includes bike and pedestrian pathways being built around the park, as well as the addition of permanent restrooms.

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon has worked with the local skateboarders, parents, and neighborhoods to implement a “skateboarders police themselves” policy at the city’s two public skateparks, Burnside (originally started without permission from the city) and Pier Park. Because of this team effort, it was agreed that the parks would be free of charge, no waiver or membership is required, and the skaters make their own rules and govern themselves while at the parks. As the result of this agreement, the city of Portland cannot be liable for any injury that occurs at Pier Park or Burnside. Safety gear is always encouraged by the city but not required. Neither of the parks are staffed or lit at night, however, the city does provide garbage removal and portable bathrooms.

Burnside, one of the most famous skate spots in the world, has a reputation of being a park for advanced skaters, so Pier Park was designed by the city, parents, and younger skaters after realizing less-experienced skateboarders needed a place to go. It is the city’s newest public skateboard park and was a youth-generated project built by the National Guard.

According to Michelle Harper, spokesperson for Portland Parks and Recreation, “Skateboarding has surfaced as a significant interest for the future of the parks in the city, and we have nowhere near the amount of parks we need. It’s definitely on our radar screen. We have more on the drawing board because the public has told us they wanted more.” The “police yourself” policy, although rare in the United States, seems to be working out due to the city’s willingness to move forward with more skateparks.

Harper also added that although skateboarding was restricted in many areas of the city in the past, the council has relaxed many of those restrictions, realizing skateboarding is a form of transportation and exercise that many people depend on and enjoy.

New York, New York

Technically, skateboarding isn’t illegal in New York City as a form of transportation, but it’s getting harder and harder for a skater to enjoy more than a few minutes at a spot. Skate on the sidewalk or get caught grinding a ledge, and you’re looking at a citation.

Although having stricter rules and more liability than Louisville or Portland, the five boroughs of New York City have their fair share of skateboard parks, with plenty more on the way in the very near future to alleviate the problem of skaters damaging public and private property.

For the New York parks, full safety gear is required, including wrist guards for those under eighteen years of age. Waivers are required, and parents must sign them for any child under eighteen. The parks are free and open to all. These regulations are, for the most part, citywide for every public park.

Queens has a skatepark in Forest Park that is only open when staffing is available (Monday and Thursday afternoons). The staffing is funded by the Forest Park trust, and the obstacles are prefabricated, as opposed to having been built specifically for Forest Park.

Funding has already been allocated for another public park in Queens at Rockaway Beach. The park will not be made from prefab ramps and obstacles and is currently is under construction.

Millenium Skatepark (also known as “Owl’s Head”) in Brooklyn has quickly become one of the more well-known parks on the East Coast. The borough has also approved design funding for a skatepark in Squibb Park, Brooklyn as well.

The city also has Riverside Skatepark in Manhattan, Mullaly Park in the Bronx, and 800,000 dollars secured for a park at Soundview (also in the Bronx), with the promise of more funds in the future. Staten Island also has a small skateboard area consisting of premade skateboard equipment for use in an existing park.

“This administration has really tried to take an active role in bringing in skate opportunities for kids,” says New York City’s parks Department Spokesperson Eric Adolfsen. “We are trying to show that no one is being forgotten by building parks in all boroughs. The city has also been trying to take a lot of initiative to promote youth fitness, and skateboarding is a valid sport for that fitness.”

San Diego, California

The city of San Diego has one public skatepark-Robb Field-and two other parks in the works, Memorial Park skatepark and Washington Street skatepark. Located in Ocean Beach, Robb Field is a fully staffed park that was built three years ago. The city of San Diego requires a waiver be signed and that full pads must be worn. This frees the city and the park of any liability, should injury occur.

Damian Smart, a Robb Field employee, cited the city’s budget cuts (even decreasing the hours that Robb Field is open) as a reason not to keep your fingers crossed for too many more public parks in San Diego.

In 1999, following in the tradition of Burnside, many local skaters took it upon themselves to begin building the Washington Street skatepark. When the city discovered the park, efforts were made to eliminate it. The skater’s fought the good fight for a few years, and today Washington Street park is almost a reality. The city has allowed the building to commence and has even allocated funds toward the construction of the park. Many skate companies and citizens are donating time, money, and materials to the cause.

Upon completion (estimated for January 2004), in accordance with San Diego law, pads and waivers will most likely be required at Washington Street. Skateboarders can expect the same for Memorial Park. “People are going to want to wea
r their pads at this (Washington Street) park,” says volunteer Tom Claypool. “And if the park is finished and the police want to enforce the pad rules that’s their right because the park is on city property.” Unlike Robb Field, which charges a small fee of five dollars a day or 30 dollars a year to skate, Washington Street will be free of charge.

Skateparks Skate Citations

Perhaps skateparks aren’t ideal substitutes for your favorite local street spot, but when citations are written for skating downtown, a day of skating can cost way more than a few bottles of water and lunch. Here are some average costs for skating in the wrong place at the wrong time. Keep in mind that some cities will take your board or just flat out arrest you.

San Diego: $50

Philadelphia: $25

Los Angeles: $100-150

San Francisco: $55-100

New York: $35-100

Carlsbad: $130

Chicago: $35

Washington D.C.: $50