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Sunday, 25 May 2008

BAN HERE, BAN THERE, BAN EVERYWHERE


Oh how easy it is just to call for a ban instead of finding fair and practical solutions to the problem! Shall we call it the lazy politician’s syndrome? The issue is too difficult to handle? Let’s make it vanish through a ban. The issue only affects a small minority who presents no threat to our reelection? Who cares if we ban it. The issue does not have public sympathy? Let’s make ourselves popular by banning it. It is so easy to call for a ban especially that it is not only the cheapest solution but it also generates funds for the public coffers. How much people are inconvenienced both financially and otherwise by such a ban, seems to be of very little importance to our elected officials.

The city of Fredericton has a by-law forbidding skateboarding in the city streets. One man has been jailed for not paying the fine since he refuses to abide by a by-law that he feels is not reflective of today’s trends and means of transportation. Read the story here. If the city officials’ worries that skateboarding is a real public hazard (or nuisance as some would call it) in Fredericton streets are truly justified, why not limit its use to certain less busy streets, limit it to one side of the street, or forbid its use during heavy rush hours. There must be some way that skateboarding in Fredericton streets can be made safer and city officials should cure their lazy politician’s syndrome and try to find it. Unless of course the word ‘’compromise’’ has been totally banned from our elected officials’ dictionary.

By-law against skateboarding on city streets questioned.

One downside to covering news for a weekly publication is the news is sometimes a little dated by the time we get an opportunity to weigh in on it.

Such is the case with Lee Breen and his stint in jail for refusing to pay a skateboarding fine. Although Breen was released from jail in Saint John and returned to Fredericton under house arrest on Thursday last week, the issue isn't one that should fall silently with the headlines. That said, section 2.05 of Fredericton bylaw S-9 still makes it an offence to skateboard on Fredericton's city streets. Until this bylaw is changed, the problem remains the same.

The issue isn't so much that Breen went to jail for skateboarding, because that's not the case. He went to jail for not paying a fine. How reasonable it is to send someone to jail for five days for not paying a $100 fine is another debate altogether, not the one we should be having right now. The issue is the illegality of skateboarding and the sheer ludicrousness of outlawing it on city streets.

Skateboards, especially longboards, such as the variety Breen chooses to ride, are a form of transportation. Rarely will you find skaters attempting tricks on busy city streets. In parking lots and stairways perhaps, but again, that's another matter. We're talking here about riding a skateboard down a street to get from point A to point B. From home to work, from home to school. Just as scooters, rollerblades and bicycles are allowed on the streets, so to should skateboards. The proper way to address safety concerns is by making certain safety measures mandatory, not banning the skateboard altogether. Skateboarders have less of a desire to get hit by cars than motorists do of hitting skateboarders. Taking measures to enforce safety would go a long way to addressing safety concerns.

Of course, there's also the environmental argument to be made. With the environmental crisis we're repeatedly warned about by the media and the gas prices we're repeatedly reminded about by our banking statements, we should be doing all we can to promote emissions-free and environmentally responsible modes of transportation, of which a skateboard is one.

Not only that, but the City of Fredericton, with its Green Matters policy and desire to become a cutting edge city in environmental responsibility, should be leading the way in promoting such modes of transportation.

It's entirely contradictory to do otherwise.

Of course riding a skateboard can lead to injury. So can any number of activities. The city's position that the primary concern is the safety of skateboarders is silly. After all, bylaw S-9 is properly known as the bylaw to prevent nuisance. It doesn't sound like it was originally perceived as a safety issue, does it?

I urge Fredericton's newly elected city councilors to strongly consider repealing section 2.05 of bylaw S-9. There simply aren't any legitimate reasons not to.

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