Screengrab of a hot nose manual from neighbor's reference video on YouTube.

Summit and John is still bugging the people living around it.  Cops are getting called daily and the noise is driving people nuts.  There are two personal injury lawyers stationed across the street who have put Seattle Parks “on notice” for possible pedestrian conflicts.  Who wants to bet that they’re hoping someone gets hurt?

First off, I really empathize with the one neighbor that came to the SPAC meeting last week, and the rest of the folks who are being impacted by this change of atmosphere in their neighborhood.  I also think that based on all the letters I’ve seen, and the conversations that I’ve been a part of, these neighbors have all really taken the high road when it comes to communicating their frustration.  Maybe it’s the location, and perhaps I’m just used to the suburban anti-skater lynch mob approach to these issues, but these folks are handling this with class and I commend them for that.

I’ll cut to the issue from my perspective, which is notoriously non-political and usually more straightforward than people prefer.

I was the one who authored the original skatedot concept that inspired the city to build this feature and hopefully others.  There were a few things in that concept paper that didn’t happen with this project and I think we’re seeing some negative end results because of it.

In the paper I stated:  “Skatepark advocates could help design the layout of walkways, assist with bench placement, identify prime locations for skateboarding, and suggest ways to avoid conflicts between skateboarders and other park users.”  This simply didn’t happen.  The problem here is that unlike a full-blown skatepark project, the Parks department and the project designers didn’t employ a skatepark expert or involve the SPAC in the design discussions.  It’s one thing to try and avoid talking to another contractor to control costs, and I believe that Parks felt like they were acting in good faith, but it’s unfortunate that they didn’t involve the SPAC more in the design discussions around feature placement and orientation.  I think we could’ve identified some of the pedestrian conflict issues for them.

Believe me, this is a hot issue for us right now because Seattle Parks is working overtime to hire another unqualified contractor to build the Delridge skatepark.  They consistently overlook the considerable effort that SPAC members have been putting in behind the scenes to help them avoid pitfalls on these projects.  I think John and Summit is a great example of what happens when they think they can go it alone and not get input from skaters and use qualified specialty contractors, even if it’s just for a few hours of consulting.

Another thing that these neighbors need to consider is that there likely would’ve been skateboarding in this location regardless of whether or not there was a sanctioned spot built here.  The fact that it is a sanctioned spot actually gives them much more of a platform and leverage to air their concerns.  You can’t skatestop the planet, and skateboarding is not a crime in itself.  The silver lining here is that this was a deliberate move to integrate skateboarding into a public space, and so the discussion is about that and Seattle Parks is listening.  The unfortunate thing is that this type of integrated feature is new to Seattle Parks and they’re still finding their way.  The neighbors at Summit and John are unfortunately experiencing the pain of being on the bleeding edge.

That said, there are many ways to design skateboarding out of a public space through material selection and directing the flow of park users.  Honestly, I think the comments I’ve read about the park’s design being flawed are right on in this area.  It pits the skateboarders against the pedestrians, which is not good for skateboarders either, believe me when I say that.  We want these features to be successful, and the neighbors need to be a part of that success or these much-needed skate spots won’t fly elsewhere.

The comments some of the neighbors are making about the park being too small aren’t necessarily on point though they hint at something I think makes sense, which is that the feature may be out of scale for the space they put it in.  A smaller feature in that same space would’ve required less speed, which means less run-up and landing area, and perhaps less pedestrian-skater conflict potential.  Again, this is a design consideration that the SPAC could’ve helped with but we weren’t invited to participate.

The noise is definitely a negative side effect that’s close to my heart as someone who has spent a lot of time in nature as a field recordist, and myself have lived across the street from some pretty offensive sources of errant noise pollution.  I empathize.  But here’s the hard truth about that:  this noise is only offensive to these people because it’s a new addition to the already overwhelming amount of noise pollution in their environment.  I’ve done several noise surveys at urban skateparks, and the noise from the skatepark is always equal to or less than other sources like car alarms, overhead air traffic, city busses, and even the human voice.  I think context is everything here.  These people are irritated by the skateboarders, so they’re focused on them and the noise they create.  This noise is new, and it sucks.  There’s no doubt about that.  But these people are living in a very dense area – they say this themselves – and they need to recognize that saddling these park users with the burden of an increasing noise pollution problem in their neighborhood isn’t necessarily fair.

Finally, I realize that these folks may actually prefer this alternative at this point, but skateboarders actively using the space will drive away activities like drug dealing, public drinking, and other types of anti-social behavior.  Things actually could be worse.

In some of the letters I’ve read I have seen some attempts to use skaters as proxies for latent fears about some of these other serious social issues, and I want to state clearly and loudly that we won’t tolerate being painted as criminals in an effort to deal with this issue.  This is about the valid use of public space, integrating the needs of park users in a way that works for everybody, and avoiding injury and conflict.  We are totally engaged in the process to make this work and welcome any and all opinions/discussion around those issues.

Again, I am just one person with an opinion here and I recognize that my opinions may not be super popular with the people being negatively affected by this new skatedot.  I understand why that’s the case.  I just hope that in the same way I can empathize and understand their arguments, they can also see the other side of the argument and at least try to understand the bigger picture here.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Skaters using the park after hours is unacceptable and neighbors need to continue to call the police as soon as they see skaters aren’t respecting the park hours.
  • Skaters behaving like idiots is also not acceptable and neighbors should also call the police immediately if they see anything illegal happening in the park, regardless of who’s doing it.
  • Stay engaged with the Parks Department and continue to reach out to the Skatepark Advisory Committee.  Parks is listening, and seem to be responding to these concerns.
  • Avoid suggesting that this is not the place for skateboarding, but some other place is.  We hear that in every neighborhood, and it’s not a workable approach.  There are skateboarders in every neighborhood, and while this implementation has issues, there is a way to provide something for these park users that works.  We just haven’t gotten there yet.
  • Talk to the skateboarders.  Has anyone actually spoken to them?

Here’s what the SPAC is doing:

  • We are talking with the Parks Department.  They are sharing the complaints with us and we’re aware of the issues.
  • We’re reaching out to the skate community in Seattle and getting the word out that skaters need to respect this spot if they want more of them to be built.
  • Parks has not asked for our input on how to mitigate these issues but they have sent us the list of mitigations that they are putting into place and they seem reasonable to us.  However, I agree with some comments that a sign is probably a waste of time and resources.  Again, the best thing to do is stay on top of the enforcement situation and that will establish a pattern of behavior.

This is going to get worse before it gets better.  Parks is going to skatestop the rest of the park, and put up some signs.  They usually go soft whenever someone starts threatening lawsuits regardless of whether or not they have any foundation for the threat, so it will probably end up being a fight to keep skateboarding as part of this park.  Yay.

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