Good Luck Searching for San Francisco Skateboarding Laws

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 agency’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 rider’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.”

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35 thoughts on “Good Luck Searching for San Francisco Skateboarding Laws”

  1. “non-motorized user-propelled vehicle” Wow. Sound like the authors of the regulation were trying to obscure the true meaning of the law.

    As far as where the “business districts” are, I’m sure that’s up to the police officers to decide ;)

  2. Hi Dena,

    It’s much more likely that the lawmakers didn’t even think about people trying to find the law online through a search engine, or through an online search of the Municipal Code.

    They likely thought they were covering a wide range of activities, such as skateboarding, roller skating, roller blading, and possibly even riding bicycles. Laws aren’t always written as thoughtfully and clearly as they should be, and using the phrase “non-motorized user-propelled vehicle” wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, though it would have been much better if the section of the Code actually included the kinds of vehicles that were covered under the section.

    I do think there are defined “business districts” in the City/County of San Francisco, but I had some serious difficulties finding anything within the Code that defined them. It’s possible that they are well known enough that the legislature didn’t think they needed to include a definition.

  3. I remember a historian once writing if you wish to discover what people are doing, look at what the laws forbid them from doing. Currently, I am closely watching the process behind a committee trying to determine if a certain set of codes need to be revised or not. At this time, they are developing a set of commentaries to help clarify the code. It is an interesting balancing act. They want to deter certain behavior, while encouraging another one. It really is a hard task. Bill, did they define what an NUV is? My experience with codes is that they always attempt to have a section, not always conveniently placed, which defines the term. That disconnect between term definition and the code regarding that term makes it hard to search.

  4. Hi Frank,

    Thank you. I do think that is an interesting perspective and approach to exploring the culture of a place.

    When I worked for Superior Court of Delaware, one of the challenges that I faced was finding ways to implement changes to the laws, and how they might impact Court Rules and processes and technology. That meant looking at the bills, executive orders, and judicial mandates that would change how the Court worked, and interpreting and understanding them. It often meant meetings with people in other state agencies, such as the Attorney General’s office, the Public Defenders, the State Police, the Department of Corrections, Probation and Parole, and other courts. Understanding and fulfilling the intent behind those legal changes was very important.

    The kinds of definitions that you describe were very helpful when they were available.

    I did search for a definitions section that told us exactly what an NUV is, and found one in the Transportation section of the Municipal Code:

    Non-motorized User-propelled Vehicle. NUV

    Any device of two or more wheels lacking a belt, chain. or gears that is powered by the rider through pedals or by pushing off of or kicking at the ground. including. but not limited to, in-line skates, roller-skates, kick or push scooters, skateboards, and toy vehicles.

    Somehow I missed that definition in my original search. The next step should have been to then search for “Non-motorized User-propelled Vehicle,” which would have lead me to the section of the code that I cited above. So, we can be pretty sure that this section of the code does apply to skateboards.

    Thanks.

  5. This is a great case study on the need for some basic SEO within government websites! Great job! I’ll be interested to see if anyone elucidates what “business districts” are defined as. My best guess is it might be found in the parking laws, as parking regulations often change dramatically from business districts to non-business districts. Who knows?

  6. Hi Kim,

    Thank you. I’ve had my share of problems finding the right government site when searching for information. What stood out here for me was how easy it was to find a summary of the old version of the law from 2003, and how difficult it was to find the 2008 amendments. I’ll have to try to see if I can find where “business districts” are defined.

  7. Couldn’t you find “business district” boundaries within or related to zoning laws?

  8. quote; “I remember a historian once writing if you wish to discover what people are doing, look at what the laws forbid them from doing.”

    That’s a good one!

    Anyway, good point, William, that some of the more important information is indeed hard to find on the internet – but … well, thanks to your post it’s now actually showing!

    Whenever I’m doing rank checks I also include Yahoo, not that I really care about my rankings in Yahoo, but they tend to get the url I’m supposed to rank for more accurate as google.

    so, I just searched in yahoo as well, and the same page as google is now showing; the one you link to … makes me wonder if it’s because they actually got it right, or because of your post as well …

    cheers,

    Michiel

  9. Hi Jim,

    I looked through the zoning laws section of the San Francisco Municipal Code, and I did find names for different districts, but none listed specifically as “business districts.” The ones I see are:

    Public Use Districts
    Residential Districts
    Neighborhood Commercial Districts
    Mixed Use Districts
    Commercial Districts
    Industrial Districts

    A couple of those have smaller districts within them that include the word business:

    Chinatown – Community Business Mixed Use District (MUD)
    Community Business District

    But, it’s hard to tell if those are the areas that the laws apply to. There are also a lot of “special use” districts that are centered around specific neighborhoods and locations, and most of those include the name of the neighborhood or location. But I don’t know if any of those are “business districts” either.

    I don’t see any definition of “Business District” in the transporation code itself.

  10. Hi Michiel,

    Thanks. I’m still seeing the 2003 memo on San Francisco skateboarding laws at the top of the search results rather than the 2008 Municipal Code section. As a section contained within the Municipal Code, using the phrase “Non-motorized User-propelled Vehicle”, I don’t expect it to rank well in search results. That leads me to wonder if codes like these should not only be written in a way so that they are easier to find by search engines (using the right words, like “skateboard” or “skateboarding,” but also displayed in a way so that it’s more likely that they will show up in those results.

    I think we’re all better off if laws and regulations are easier to actually find.

  11. I think this is quite interesting since obviously both bicycles and wheelchairs should both fall under the category of “non-motorized user-propelled vehicle”. Most city businesses need deliveries to be made and in big cities like NY, bicycles are used. Courier services rely on bicycles as well to quickly cut through traffic. I’ve also seen couriers using skates (not often, but a few have shown up in the downstairs lobbies of offices I’ve worked at or was visiting).

  12. Hi Suthnautr,

    The definition that I finally found in the San Francisco Municipal Code excluded vehicles with belts, chains or gears, so I think bicycles aren’t included under that category. I couldn’t see wheelchairs being prohibited under this law either. Skates seem like a pretty reasonable way to navigate quickly through a city, too.

  13. I’m not quite sure how strictly this is enforced, and as a skateboarder it is hard for me to be unbiased in this situation, but I really can’t see how they could even outlaw skateboarding as a means of transportation.
    I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and even skating any sort of business of street spot, the cops will roll right on by. This is of course, unless you are being disruptive, vandalizing, or committing any noticeable violation of the law. As long as it’s after hours, or the business owner has not asked you to leave, street skateboarding is not a crime as far as the GRPD is concerned.
    Can’t every city just adopt this policy?

  14. Hi Jay,

    I think most police officers have a certain amount of discretion when it comes to laws like this. If someone is skating down the street looking like they have a clear destination in mind, I’m tempted to think most police officers are going to just watch you go. I agree with you.

  15. There a real problem in my home town of WilkesBarre PA wear skateboarder have started playing chicken with pedestrians. I think I am just being a teen hater?
    Well see my town dose not have any regulations and as result I saw a 20 year old Man about 200 pounds 380 about 1 inch from hitting a old lady in her late 80 who was using a walker in front of the independent Living apartments. Later I saw a 6 year old kid nearly get hit by a young Skateboarder. Now I had a shop nearly 15 years an and only saw 1 colition before involving a Skateboarder and I saw about 5 near hit in 4 days!

    I asked one the teens she told me her boy friend and other skateboarders were playing a new game were they use people as flags!!!!Like in Skying!!!!See how bad scare and how close they could come to hitting some one without hitting them, No harm right?
    If the 20 year old creep had hit that old woman at 35 mph with his 200 pounds behind Apiece of steel reinforced fiber glass. Well I dout she be doing any more walking not to mention the real possibility of giving her a Heart Attack!
    Sorry the skateboard might look like a toy but it is a piece of extreme sport equipment invented by surfers as substitute surfing. It is not a toy nor was it designed to be alternative transport for every day use. Take to a park people.
    In San Francisco there hundreds of skateboard parks and that’s were they belong.

  16. Hi Jonathan,

    I’m sorry to hear about the problems you’re experiencing. It sounds more like you have a disorderly conduct problem than a skateboarding problem.

    It does look like there are some limited regulations about skateboarding in Wilks-Barre. See:

    Sec. 20-5. Skateboarding on or around Public Square, on the following page:

    http://library4.municode.com/default-test/template.htm?view=document&doc_action=setHitDoc&doc_hit=2

    Sec. 20-5. Skateboarding on or around Public Square.

    (a) Terms defined. The following defined terms shall apply in the interpretation and enforcement of this section:

    Designated area shall mean the central business district, bounded by North Street on the north, Ross Street on the south, River Street on the west and Pennsylvania Avenue on the east, their roadways, berms and adjacent sidewalks.

    Skate boarding is that practice of one (1) or more persons riding, pedaling or otherwise propelling themselves on a single board mounted upon two (2) wheels without benefit of handlebars or other manual control device.

    (b) Skateboarding prohibited. No person shall skateboard within the areas above designated as prohibited.

    (c) Penalties. Any person violating any of the provisions of this section shall, upon summary conviction thereof in a summary proceeding before a district justice of the City of Wilkes-Barre, be sentenced, for a first offense, to pay a fine of not more than twenty-five dollars ($25.00) and costs and/or to be imprisoned in the county jail for a period not exceeding ninety (90) days. Upon conviction of a second offense, such persons shall be sentenced to pay a fine of not more than fifty dollars ($50.00) and costs and/or to be imprisoned in the county jail for a period not exceeding ninety (90) days. Upon conviction of a third and any subsequent offense, such person shall be sentenced to pay a fine of not more than three hundred dollars ($300.00) and costs and/or to be imprisoned in the county jail for a period not exceeding ninety (90) days. Each and every day upon which any person shall violate or continue to violate the provisions of this section shall constitute a separate offense.

    (Ord. No. 59-87, §§ 1–3, 8-11-87; Ord. No. 26-90, § 1, 8-9-90)

    I’m not sure how large an area that might be, but it may not cover much of the City.

    Regardless of whether there are skateboarding regulations or not, people shouldn’t be playing games of chicken with young children and elderly people.

  17. I want to know why there are so many skateboarding laws out there. San Fransisco especially, it’s almost like they single us out because we wear different close and have a different kind of fun. Some of the skateboarding laws are ok like skateboarding on sidewalks and stuff, but why can’t we skateboard at a school after hours. skateboard in san fran!

  18. Let’s get this right…

    My 86 year old grandmother gets hit by a skate boarder on a sidewalk in San Francisco and has to undergo painful & extensive surgery and skateboarders are looking for prohibition laws for skateboards?

    Ok, gottit

  19. Hi Jim,

    Sorry to hear about your grandmother. I hope that she will recover fully.

    I have seen many skateboarders who are only using their boards for transportation or who skate without any malicious intent. There’s a difference, I think, between people just skateboarding, and people being malicious while they have skateboards. I don’t condone the later in any way.

  20. It is not the equipment that is causing the damage, but the person. The same thing could have happened if a person was simply running down the sidewalk not paying attention or being reckless, and ran into someone and severely injured them. The skateboards are not to blame, but rather the mindset of the reckless person involved. Don’t attach wrong/biased stigmas to objects when the people are at fault, and on the same topic don’t create a sterotype of skaters, everyone is different.

  21. IT is funny, a car ran over me a couple of weeks ago on Mission District while I was goint work with my longboard. All this situation applies right now for my insurance claim because the may not pay the 100% all my Medical Bills and my pain and suffer for being with a cast in my foot for 6 weeks….. so I would like any advise or help in this situation. I have already a layer but you know how are their interest. Fothermore I got a ticket last year for $100 for ride my skateboard in the sidewalk (by that time I just have two moth in CA, I am from Venezuela).

  22. Hi Bruno,

    Sorry to hear about your accident, and your problems with insurance. Your best source of help and information should be your lawyer, and if you aren’t satisfied with what you are hearing from him or her, you should consider talking to a different lawyer. If the driver of the car is responsible for the accident, then you may have a personal injury claim against them, and it should be their insurance company paying your bills. I’m not giving you legal advice here; you should really be getting that from an attorney.

  23. I wonder if Len Tillum would be able to figure this one out. I bet he would say suggest that when the Police inform you of a law, you should probably take their word for it..whether it’s true or not. They have badges and guns, all you have is your mouth!

  24. Hi Bob,

    The point of my post was about how difficult it can be to find information on the Web, rather than figuring out the legality of the statute itself. If you’re going to pass laws about skateboarding, you should make it easy for skateboarders to find those laws.

    It’s usually always a good idea not to get confrontational with a police officer, even if you disagree with them.

  25. I’ve lived in SF for years now and have seen how strict anti-skateboarding laws have affected skateboarding in SF.

    It was a world destination for skateboarding and now it is rare to see skateboarders in SF, what a shame.

    Melissa

  26. I can’t believe any of this. I used to skate all the time in S.F. but now I feel if I do I’m going to get a ticket. Thats why I drive to marin, just to be sure. I also feel like most skaters are a target for police anyways just because we get a bad rap for skating on private property. L.A. is way laxed on skaters, I’ve never been stopped down there. Long live skaters!

  27. Hi I recently bought a Go-Ped pushscooter, and was surprised to discover that in most jurisdictions foot propelled vehicles like pushscooters, skateboards, etc. are illegal to ride on the sidewalk? This just comes across as extremely baffling. I don’t see how you can be expected to ride a pushscooter or skateboard on the street without endangering themselves and drivers due to their instability on the street pavement. Potholes, gutters, speedbumps, and other obstructions are everywhere. Scooters and skateboards aren’t designed to handle those kinds of surface deviations like a car or a bicycle. They are also designed to operate slower than cars and bicycles, typically travelling at merely two times the standard speed of a pedestrian of average gate or about the same speed as a jogger. Not to mention, scooters and skateboards don’t have any built-in safety features such as reflectors and headlights that are necessary for street travel. Wheelchairs are certainly not expected to travel on the street, merely because they have four wheels. We are becoming a more environmentally conscious society, so it is time to enact laws that allow and encourage a diversity of safe alternative forms of transportation. Pushscooters and skateboards and inline skates should be legally classified as a “pedestrian with a manual operated mobility device equivalent to a wheelchair”.

    –Randall

  28. Hi Randall,

    It’s surprising sometimes the laws that different towns and cities pass about sidewalks and pedestrian safety. Unfortunately, some of the safety features that scooters and skateboards lack, that make using them unsafe for their riders also make them somewhat unsafe for pedestrians when those types of vehicles share a sidewalk.

    I wish more places would consider creating bicycle lanes that push scooters and skateboards could use to help keep their riders safer when it comes to automotive traffic and keep pedestrians safer as well. The town I live in isn’t that large, but it’s extremely bicycle unfriendly, and that’s a real problem. I’d probably bike around town a lot more if it were safer.

    If you want to make change to the way things are now, you may need to get involved in town/city meetings or organizations that strive to promote alternative modes of transportation. There are a good number of them out there, and I think support for them is growing.

  29. I was just told by a police officer, who stopped me from making a u-turn in an intersection, that although it is legal generally, it is not legal in a business district, and she showed me the code that defined business district as any location within 20 feet of a business that is open to the public. There was a liquor store on the corner where I made the turn, so it was defined as a business district.

  30. Ok, first off all, the officer was in the wrong, but that goes without saying the kid was too. Yes the kid called the officer a “f*cking d*ck”. The officer, regardless the skaters insults, had no right to threaten to snap his arm like a twig, then when the officer did arrest the skater, he did not read him his rights.

  31. San Fransisco Is World Renowned Regarding Sk8boarding!! Thrasher Magazine, Blah, Blah, Blah! Harsh, Fast, Tolerant, Grime, Crime, Hilly As F#*k! Fall Down Go Boom, Often! You, Yes, You!!(?) Can Sk8 All Day & Night For Years & Years, Almost Anywhere In On & Around, SF ~ Just Don’t Be A Dick To… Hmmm, A Cop, Cops!! 10 Out Of 10 Times Acknowledging Their Presence &/Or Their Vehicles Presence &/Or Others In Your Presence ~ Cars, Folks, Pets, Plants, Stuff That Costs More Than You Care To Believe ~ While In The Presence Of The Police, Is More Than Enough To Continue Having “A Nice Day!!”

    Dissect This If You Want To, Go Right Ahead! But, This Is How It Is, Really!! Thanks.

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