No skatedot? Back into the street kids!

One thing is for sure, if you threaten to take away a skatespot, the people show up.  Last night the NIMBY showing was strong, and frankly, their testimony was compelling.  One woman who pounded on the podium to make her point about irritating noise coming from the skatedot, was pretty rad (even though she totally misappropriated my words).  Honestly, I don’t begrudge these people thier right to peace and quiet either, I just think they’re looking for water in a desert.  If sound is your issue, frankly, there are bigger fish to fry in that neighborhood.

But Seattle skaters showed up!  Congrats to 35th/Tony, Skate Like a Girl/Nancy, SnoCon/Forrest, Marshall, Steve, and all the other folks who helped to get the word out.  I haven’t seen that many skaters at a meeting in a long time.

It really is a battle of two competing and valid needs though.  The neighbors’ need for less noise, and the local skateboarders’ need for a safe and accessible place to recreate, of which this is the only one in the area.  If I was weighing it out, I would say that the skaters outnumber the immediate neighbors, and the need for access to public spaces outweighs the need for removing only one of many errant sources of noise pollution on that single block.  I may not be totally objective, but I am trying to be, and I think the skatedot wins.

Access to public spaces is a social justice issue.  Noise pollution is an environmental issue.  I care about both of them, but I think these tenants should be talking to their landlords about getting some sound blocking windows.  Seriously.

Two minutes isn’t much time to get a point across, so here are the written versions of testimony from myself and SPAC members Ryan Barth and Scott Shinn.  The Parks Board of Commissioners will be taking written testimony until May 20th, and will make their recommendation shortly after that.

SPAC Testimony from last night:


Greetings Committee members and thank you for this opportunity to speak tonight.

My name is Matthew Lee Johnston and I have been serving as a volunteer skatepark advocate in Seattle since 2004.

In 2004 I authored a concept paper entitled “The Skateable City” which was eventually adopted as a part of the citywide skatepark plan in 2007.  While it took a lot of work from many people to get my concept turned into policy, I guess you could say that I am the “father” of the Seattle Skatedot.

The mission of my proposal was to solve a problem.  That being that there was a sizable user group in the dense urban core of Seattle, that had no safe and accessible way to participate in their sport.  These users have a right to public spaces just like anyone else, and were extremely under-served by Seattle Parks.  This user group, many of whom were kids, were forced to enjoy their sport in the unsafe and busy city streets.  I didn’t feel comfortable with this, so I tried to come up with a solution.  Since then, many other cities have followed Seattle’s lead on skatedots, and pro skater Rob Dyrdek, while standing aside Mayor McGinn and Superintendent Williams, cited the skatedot component as the thing that sets Seattle “lightyears” ahead of every other city he’s visited when it comes to skatepark policy.

The reality is that there simply is not room for a traditional contiguous skatepark facility in Capitol Hill.  Therefore distributed skatedots like this one are crucial to providing safe area for Seattle skaters.

I would like to address the noise issue.  I am a trained sound engineer, and I care about noise pollution, and have previously come out in defense of quiet places.  This location is not now, and has not been a quiet place for a very long time.  In 2004 I performed a sound survey when the Ballard Bowl was under seige in which I documented all of the ambient noise in the environment and recorded the sound pressure levels of each of those sounds.  In every case, the skatepark noise was an equal or lesser offender when it came to volume.

What I believe is happening here is that the complainants are reacting to a disruptive change in their ambient noise environment.  They have unfortunately become used to all of the more obtrusive sources of noise pollution in their environment, and are focusing on this new noise source because it is new, and therefore disruptive.  Which is I believe, is discriminatory.  The one gentleman who came to the SPAC meeting to express his concern told us that he considers the sirens, late night revelers, car alarms, and city busses all acceptable noises, but that the skateboarding noise simply was not acceptable to him.  I believe this proves my point.  These folks are effectively pulling the skateboarding noise out of an interwoven cacophony of urban noise, pointing at the skateboarding sound and saying: “I don’t like this one but these are OK”, which to me, is unacceptable as justification for removing a needed public recreation facility for an underserved user group.

Please listen to their arguments, be objective as you always are, and make your recommendation.  I trust you will be fair.  But please remember that skateboarders deserve access to public spaces too, and they are and will continue to be underserved in the urban core until we get more of these skatedots built.

Thank you.

–  Matthew Lee Johnston (SPAC)


Scott Shinn

Good evening.  My name is Scott Shinn and I’ve been advocating for skateparks in Seattle for seven years.  During that time, I’ve also served as the Secretary for the Skatepark Advisory Committee, and a member of the Citywide Skatepark Plan Task Force.

One of the reasons I keep coming back to this process year after year is the sense that I am witnessing and helping to record an important historical transformation.
On behalf of Skaters for Public Skateparks, I also want to invite you to watch the Freedom of Space DVD you received at the beginning of the meeting.  For five years, this documentary has provided the best glimpse into the lives of real skateboarders for decisionmakers like you, including Mayor Nickels and members of the City Council.
To me, the issue at Summit Slope is not noise or safety, because these are not unique to skateboarding.

The issue is that we are finally starting to make public spaces for skateboarding, and this is an important transformation of our urban landscape, and perhaps of our species itself.
In closing, I’d like to offer the following quote from legendary urban planner and founder of Love Park in Philadelphia, Edmund Bacon, who you’ll see in the documentary.  He said:
“I think skateboarding is a far more profound revolution than people give it credit for.  …  The wonderful thing to me is that these young people discovered that they, themselves would creatively adapt to the environment they already found.  The whole notion of adapting to the environment, it is almost contrary to the basis of our civilization.”



Ryan Barth

My name is Ryan Barth and I am the current Chairperson of the Seattle Parks and Recreation (Parks) Skate Park Advisory Committee (SPAC).  I have been involved in Seattle skateboarding advocacy since 2004.  Since that time I have spent countless volunteer hours working with Parks to attempt to legitimize skateboarding and obtain much needed legal skateboarding terrain for Seattle’s estimated 20,000 skateboarders.

Over many years we have constantly searched for a legal suitable location in Capitol Hill, which is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods with the greatest population of Seattle’s estimated 20,000 skateboarders.  When we learned of Parks Summit Slope Park redevelopment, I attended the first design meeting and listened to the community’s idea for the park.  The meeting was well attended by the community and the input received seemed to mesh well with a small, integrated skateboarding feature so I attended the second design meeting and proposed a skateable element to the community.  The community was inquisitive of this proposal and asked the standard questions we typically receive from the community about skateboarding: what about crime, noise, safety, and density of use.  I provided information that the SPAC has gathered based on years of evidence from skatepark use throughout this region and nationally.  The community listened to my input and no attendees expressed further concern at the meeting.  I then attended the third and final design meeting, where Parks presented the community with a design option including a skateable bench.  Again, the community responded favorably and none of the attendees expressing concern.  Based on this community support and $12,000 dollars of tax payer money, Parks constructed the first legal skatedot in Capitol Hill.  The skateboarding community was very excited to have a single safe, legal location to skateboard in the entire eastern portion of downtown Seattle.

Following construction, Parks approached the SPAC about concerns raised by surrounding neighbors.  The SPAC submitted a Public Disclosure Request to understand these complaints, which primarily consisted of noise and safety concerns by a small group of neighbors who lived directly adjacent to the skatedot.  Due to these complaints, Parks consulted with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to conduct a safety evaluation.  SDOT identified a few measures that could be implemented to increase safety associated with use of the skatedot.  Parks implemented the full list of SDOT-recommended measures to a cost of $7,000.  Still, the small group of neighbors continued to lodge complaints.

With regards to the issue of noise, the SPAC understands that skateboarding creates noise just like any other sport, and this was communicated to the community during the design meetings.  A noise study conducted by Soni-Fi at the Ballard Civic Center Park in February 2004 identified that noise created from skateboarding was compliant with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s noise ordinance (Seattle Municipal Code subchapter 25.08.400) and often of lower decibels than surrounding ambient noises typical of the urban environment.  It is unfortunate that there is a small group of neighbors that are averse to the (new) sound of skateboarding in their environment but it must be recognized that these neighbors personally chose to live in Capitol Hill.  This neighborhood is well known to have the highest urban density and is the gathering place for the younger generations in Seattle.  With these attributes comes noise – traffic noises, car alarms, sirens, construction noise, and yes, skateboard noise.  It is discriminatory to selectively point to one source of that noise spectrum and request it’s removal.

So what could have Parks (or the SPAC) done differently?  Parks conducted four public meetings and notified the public via flyers for each of these meetings.  The meetings were well attended by the community and the attendess unanimously stood behind the integration of a skatedot into the park design, with the understanding that skateboarding would create noise.  Following construction, Parks listened to safety concerns raised by the community and implemented safety measures that satisfied SDOT’s safety team.  The one remaining issue that is difficult to mitigate is noise but this neighborhood has some of the highest ambient noise levels in all of Seattle.  Please do not let a few neighbors who are averse to sharing space with skateboarders (under the guise of safety complaints) and noise common to the environment in which they choose to live shut down this sole legal skatespot in Capitol Hill.


One Response to “Summit Slope (Summit & John) Skatedot hearing wrap-up”
  1. Joel says:

    Great job you guys. Wish I were in town to witness the event. Let’s hope the commitee sees the light!

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