The California Highway Patrol is asking Santa Barbara County supervisors to ban skateboards on county roads with steep grades — including Gibraltar Road — after several skateboarders have crashed into vehicles recently.
The Board of Supervisors will consider the request during Tuesday’s meeting.
CHP Capt. M.D. D’Arelli said last year that officers had responded to an injury traffic collision on San Marcos Road where two young men had struck a vehicle while skateboarding. One of the men had his front teeth knocked out in the wreck.
“It was by chance this collision did not end in an even worse tragedy,” D’Arelli wrote in a letter to Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, whose district includes the roads in the proposed ban.
More crashes have occurred since, including a collision in early June when 27-year-old Tara Tate struck a pickup truck head-on while she skateboarded down Gibraltar near East Camino Cielo. She was hospitalized with critical injuries.
Numerous videos are posted online of Santa Barbara’s skateboarding culture, including people riding down local mountain roads at high speeds. (Scroll down the page for one video.)
County staff are recommending a ban on skateboarding for three roads with steep grades, where they say excessive speeds make it inherently dangerous since skateboards don’t have brakes and skateboarders can be traveling at 30 mph or more.
The restrictions would apply to San Marcos Road, 600 feet north of Via Parva, north of the bridge to Highway 154.
Painted Cave Road between East Camino Cielo and Highway 154 also would be off-limits as would Gibraltar Road in the unincorporated section of the county between Santa Barbara city limits and East Camino Cielo.
According to county staff, motorists aren’t expecting skateboarders to come around curves, many of them blind corners, and they may not see the skateboarders at all if riders are in a low or prone position. County officials also noted that skateboarders often will cut the curves in the roadway to maximize their speed, causing them to ride on the wrong side of the roadway into oncoming traffic.
The California Vehicle Code allows local agencies to adopt rules and regulations that could restrict individuals from riding skateboards on highways, roadways and sidewalks. Similar ordinances have been adopted in municipalities across southern California.
“Public Works has studied the issue and determined that skateboarding on open roadways with steep grades is not an intended use of the roadway and can be hazardous to public health and the safety of its user,” D’Arelli’s letter states.
Increasing education about the dangers as well as ramping up enforcement would be key, along with the signs, D’Arelli said.
Under the proposed measure, signs would be posted on each road notifying the public that skateboarding is prohibited. If approved, the signs — which would cost the county $1,200 — would be installed within four months of the vote.
Tom Flinchbaugh, a downhill skater who is friends with Tate, said he’s been skating downhill himself for four years and has never had an accident.
“The same goes for many of the other skaters who ride the above-mentioned roads every day,” he said, adding that accidents happen with bicycles and cars on the three roads and “no one talks of banning them.”
“I think this ban comes not from our sport being unsafe but from a general lack of knowledge about us,” he told Noozhawk. “There is a preconceived notion that we are out of control and have no methods of stopping or braking. This is untrue.”
Flinchbaugh, who owns Santa Gnarbara Skate Media and Events and organizes slide clinics for novices and downhill races for highly skilled performers, said skateboarders can slow down and maneuver as efficiently as any cyclist.
He maintains that more education is needed so everyone will share the road.
“The only time a CHP officer actually observed us, he followed us down San Marcos Road on his motorcycle while we skated,” he said. “At the bottom, he said we were in no way obstructing traffic, breaking traffic laws or seemed out of control.
“He told us to be safe and that we could keep skating. I think if more people would give us a chance like that, this stigma wouldn’t exist.”
If approved Tuesday, the county ordinance would take effect in 30 days.