Last week, a confrontation between a San Francisco Police Officer, and a group of skateboarders was filmed and uploaded to YouTube, where it garnered a lot of page views, and had a lot of people on Twitter, in Friendfeed, and in Blog comments asking what the skateboarding laws in San Francisco actually were. I’ve included the video in this post, mainly because it appears to show how much confusion there is over the skateboarding laws. The police officer in the video tells his teen-aged audience that it is illegal to skateboard on any streets or sidewalks within the City and County of San Francisco.
Unfortunately, the scene escalated from what could have been a simple warning, to less than civil language on both sides and an arrest of one of the skateboarders. And it left many wondering exactly what the laws about skateboarding are in the City.
A few blog posts written about the video cited and quoted a 2003 memo that described the San Francisco Skateboarding Laws, and if you searched at Google, Yahoo, or Bing for “san francisco skateboarding laws” (without the quotation marks), that page is the top result in all three search engines. If you looked further down those search results, you wouldn’t actually find the section of the San Francisco Municipal Code that contains the most recently published version of the City law covering skateboards.
If you visited the searchable version of the Transportation section of the San Francisco Municipal Code, and searched for Skateboard or Skateboarding, you wouldn’t find anything about the 2008 amended version of the law either. It isn’t until you get to the plain text version of Article 7 Violations of the Transportation Section of the Municipal Code and you go through it line-by-line that you run across SEC. 7.2.13. Non-Motorized User-Propelled Vehicles (NUV), which appears to apply to Skateboards.
Now it’s hard to tell if that is the most recent Municipal Code section regarding skateboarding, but it appears to be the most recent, with an amendment date from 2008.
Even worse, the searchable version of the Municipal code leaves out a pertinent section of the law, which acts as a preface for the section on Non-Motorized User-Propelled Vehicles. That section is the following:
SEC. 7.2. Infractions
In addition to public offenses created by the Vehicle Code, the actions listed in this Section 7.2 are prohibited, and each and every violation of a prohibition listed below shall be an infraction, except as otherwise provided in:
(a) this Code; or
(b) the Vehicle Code; or
(c) as necessary to comply with the direction of a Police Officer or Parking Control Officer; or
(d) with respect to a Municipal Parking Facility, upon the direction of an authorized parking attendant; or
(e) with respect to any other Public Property, except with the permission of, and subject to such conditions and regulations as are imposed by the agency that owns the property that are available for public inspection at the agencyâ€™s offices.
The section which appears to apply to skateboards is as follows (each of the following are prohibited according to sec. 7.2 above):
Sec. 7.2.13. Non-Motorized User-Propelled Vehicles (NUV)
(a) Riding on Sidewalks.
(1) To ride a NUV upon any sidewalk in any business district within the City;
(2) To ride a NUV upon any sidewalk within the City between the period commencing 1/2-hour after sunset and 1/2-hour before sunrise; or
(b) Riding in the Roadway. While riding a NUV in the roadway:
(1) To ride a NUV upon any street in any business district within the City;
(2) To fail to yield the right-of-way to any person on foot crossing the street;
(3) To fail to yield the right-of-way to any person on foot approaching from any sidewalk, within any marked or unmarked crosswalk, or to fail to yield to any bicyclist or motor vehicle approaching on the street;
(4) To travel against the direction of traffic;
(c) General Prohibitions. While operating a NUV:
(1) To carry any object that obstructs or impairs the riderâ€™s vision in any direction.
(2) To wear any type of audio headphones, headsets or earplugs.
(3) To operate an NUV in a reckless manner that endangers the safety of people or property.
(Amended by Ord. 287-08, File No. 081340, App. 12/5/2008)
So, it appears that it might not be illegal to ride a skateboard in some areas of the City, though the laws prohibit riding on the sidewalk and streets in a Business District at any time, and on any sidewalks in any disctrict more than a half hour after dusk and more than half an hour before dawn.
But if you wanted to know what the law was, and went to the San Francisco Municipal Code to find out, you couldn’t unless you knew that a skateboard was a “non-motorized user-propelled vehicle.” I’ve read the section more than a couple of times now, and I’m not even sure. I looked at the Municiple codes for Boston and New York City to see what they contained about Skateboards, just to see how a couple of other large cities referred to skateboards in their codes. Searching through both for skateboard or skateboarding showed some information about skateboarding laws.
Then again, I tried to find out what was considered a “Business District” in San Francisco, but gave up after searching for a while.
One of the fundamentals of search engine optimization is to make sure that you use words on your web site that people looking for what you offer will expect to see, and will use to find your site.
The same is true with laws, which should be written for people using language that people can find, and can understand. One of San Francisco’s District Supervisors made a statement on Tuesday, after watching the video above, that he wants to have legislative analysts study the laws of other cities in California and the nation to see what they are doing regarding skateboarding laws. He’s concerned that his own children may be breaking the law, since they are skateboarding in the City.
He could have the analysts start by looking up San Francisco’s laws on Skateboarding. All they have to do to find them is to go to the San Francisco Municipal Code, and search for “Non-Motorized User-Propelled Vehicles”. I’m guessing they might know which areas of the City are considered “Business Districts.”