WENATCHEE — Pat Palmer was just closing up his downtown shoe store last Thursday evening when he says he was nearly run down by a skateboarder riding on the sidewalk.
“He was coming down (the sidewalk) about 100 mph,” Palmer said. “Sometimes they slow down a little, but a lot of time pedestrians just have to get out of their way. … You tell them not to ride on the sidewalk and they could care less.”
The near-miss was timely as Palmer had already planned to speak with the Wenatchee City Council that night about what he said is an increased number of skateboarders and bicyclists riding on downtown sidewalks. He would like the city to do something, either through more signs or police patrols.
“They are fast, they are dangerous and they are endangering our customers,” Palmer told the City Council.
They are also illegal to ride downtown. A city code adopted in 1993 prohibits riding boards on streets or sidewalks anywhere in the central business district. The district is between Chelan Street and Columbia Street, and between Fifth Street to the north and Kittitas Street to the south.
Elsewhere in the city, skateboarding is not allowed on roads that have sidewalks, and boarders must always yield to pedestrians when riding on sidewalks. They are allowed on the shoulder of roads with no sidewalks. The code also states that skateboarders are not allowed to ride in such a manner that endangers anyone else.
The penalty for violating the city’s skateboarding code is $103.
Police Chief Tom Robbins told the council that he almost got hit by a skateboarder downtown recently, and Councilwoman Karen Rutherford said she had a close call, too.
Mayor Frank Kuntz suggested that Wenatchee police do some emphasis patrols for a couple of weekends.
“Once they’ve gotten some tickets and had some boards taken away … that should help,” Kuntz said.
Rutherford also asked city staff to check into the cost of adding new sidewalk signs.
Linda Haglund, executive director of the Wenatchee Downtown Association, said she does believe that bikes and boards on sidewalks are a problem. But she doesn’t know if more signs is the solution.
“It is a serious issue because the skateboards are bigger now, the kids on them are bigger and stronger, and they don’t listen to anybody asking them to get off,” she said.
She added that she’s been told of “tons of close calls” but hasn’t heard of a pedestrian actually getting hit by someone on a skateboard or bicycle.
Haglund said the problem of bikes on sidewalks is complicated because it is dangerous for people to ride bikes on downtown streets. She said downtown businesses and city officials will work to address that as they develop a new streetscape plan for downtown.
But, she said, the city should continue to ban skateboards and longboards downtown, and police should enforce the rules by confiscating the boards of lawbreakers.
“If a couple of kids get their skateboards taken away and their parents have to come get them, that might send a message,” she said. “There’s nothing like that kind of message.”
Avid skateboarder Derrik Kinzebach, a sales clerk at Revolution Snow & Skate in downtown Wenatchee, said Monday that he used to ride on downtown sidewalks. He said most people who ride their skateboards downtown know its not allowed, “but they just don’t care.”
But he said many of the skateboarders he knows are good enough riders to maneuver away from pedestrians.
Kinzebach said the downtown area is attractive to boarders because it has a lot of urban features that are nice to ride on, such as ledges.
“A few of the banks have some good stuff,” he said. “When you’re filming and recording, it’s always better to get urban features.”
He said he usually goes elsewhere in the city to ride, “but every now and then I’ll catch myself downtown.”
“I’ve been told to leave, and you just leave,” he said. “You don’t give people grief. You just go. … I think there are good reasons you shouldn’t skateboard downtown.”
Last week was the second time Palmer has asked the council to address what he sees as a problem of skateboards and bikes on downtown sidewalks. After the first time, he met with city employees but nothing was done. He’s hoping this time will be different.”
So far, it appears to be working.
The Wenatchee Police Department sent out a news release on Friday stating the skateboarders and longboards are in danger of getting them boards confiscated and getting fined if they ride downtown.
“Our concern is our customers,” Palmer said.
Haglund added, “We all care about the customers that come down. We want it to be a great experience for them.”