Juneau proposes expanding limits on skating downtown

The Celebrity Eclipse is moored to one of two, city-owned, visitor funded floating docks in downtown Juneau on Aug. 15, 2019. A proposal before the Docks and Harbors board could restrict skateboarding and other activities along the seawalk. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

City staff say skateboarders are causing problems on Juneau’s downtown docks. They want to restrict skateboarding and some other activities along the seawalk.

Dozens of skaters showed up to push back against that idea during a committee meeting on Wednesday.

City Harbormaster Matthew Creswell says the issue is about safety. And, a small group of people damaging public property.

“We really don’t know how many people are down there doing it the right way and being safe and polite and not causing problems in that area, but it’s very obvious when someone isn’t doing it right,” Creswell said.

Cresswell says over the last few years, he and his staff have noticed skateboarders weaving among crowds of tourists in the summer.

Cement benches along the seawalk have been damaged too.

He said most of the time, it’s the same people. That’s why they’re asking the Docks and Harbors board to consider updating a 2014 ordinance that restricts skating, to include the seawalk and bus staging areas.

Board member Chris Dimond suggested that rather than punishing all skateboarders, the city could create areas nearby where they’re encouraged to skate safely.

“It would not be a skateboard facility, but it would still allow that if someone’s passing through or someone’s down skateboarding on an evening when there’s no tourists in town, that if they’re in that area then they’re not going to be damaging our facilities,” Dimond said.

Dimond, whose 11-year-old stepson also wrote to the board to oppose a skating ban, proposed the city meet with skateboarders to talk about the possibilities.

Years ago, when a similar conversation was happening in the community, skateboarders worked together with the city to build a skatepark in the Mendenhall Valley.

On Wednesday, skaters of all ages testified against restricting their access downtown.

Ryan Cortes pointed out that unlike other sports that require expensive equipment and facilities, skateboarding is accessible for people of all ages and backgrounds. He said restricting not just skateboards but scooters, longboard and rollerblades, is unfair.

“I’ll be honest. I’m one of those people that actually grind that ledge,” Cortes said. “But I don’t think that because of five of us that are actually able to do those activities on those ledges, that literally everyone else should be punished for that.”

Several people said the Valley skatepark can be crowded or too dark.

Wayne Smallwood said the docks are one of the last legal places for skateboarders to go downtown. He said healthy activities are already limited because of the pandemic.

“I think it would be nice to actually have the skatepark upgraded and maybe put some money into that, because there are a lot of kids that are in quarantine now,” Smallwood said. “There’s nothing to do.”

Jennifer Gross teaches roller skating and likes to skate along the seawalk on summer evenings.

“That area of downtown is just a really smooth area,” Gross said. “There’s not a lot of nice, smooth places for roller skaters to learn and begin on their roller skates.”

The board ultimately asked Harbors staff to meet with other departments to talk about alternatives. They plan to create a committee chaired by Dimond to work with skateboarders.

Any decision to restrict or ban skating along the waterfront would have to be made by the Juneau Assembly.