Want To Improve Mobility? Bring The Skateboard.

Long considered recreational, skateboarding could become as common as cycling, starting on college campuses.
By Scott Beyer | Jun 29, 2020 |
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By Scott Beyer | Jun 29, 2020 |
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File:Skateboarding at Mexico City - Flip - 024.JPG
Image Credit: Jarek Tuszynsski, Wikimedia Commons (license)

[This article was originally published by Independent Institute]

Arizona State University holds a special place in the micro-mobility world. The urban campus, which abuts downtown Tempe, has America’s best mix of small transport options. Thousands of students shift in and around on bikes, scooters, rollerblades and Segways. Above all, it is America’s de facto skateboard capital—if you were to stand for 15 minutes on any one busy campus walkway, you might see hundreds of skateboarders pass, performing nollies, kickflips, or just going to class.

A mix of market forces and sound planning fostered this at ASU. As J.C. Porter, Assistant Director for Commuter Services, told me in a 2018 interview, it began due to student demand. Tempe is flat and the weather nice for almost all the months that school is in session. Skateboarding is already a West Coast hipster thing, and ASU has a large enrollment of California kids. It has lots of student housing within a mile, but scarce and expensive parking on campus. All this makes it a micro-mobility hub, especially for skateboards.

The ASU administration could have responded by booting the skateboards from campus—a common reaction to micro-mobility nationwide. But it welcomed them. 250 racks were built (along with many vertical bike racks) to hold a total of 3,000 skateboards. ASU also set up designated paths to separate pedestrians from bicyclists and skateboarders, so different users can get around easily on the beautiful palm-tree-lined campus. As a result, ASU has thousands of students who use this space-efficient, environmentally-friendly transport option.

How can other college campuses—and maybe even cities—adopt this approach to skateboards? It’s a question that consumes Greg Bauer, president of Ground Control Systems. His company is one of America’s largest builders of micro-mobility racks, and installed the skateboard racks on ASU’s campus. He says select campuses—such as California Baptist University or UC-Santa Barbara—are open to skateboards. But most universities don’t make room for them, and sometimes there are outright bans.

One complaint is “safety”, which echoes the modern mindset that calls to ban things if they’re slightly dangerous. But often, says Bauer, it’s just insular thinking from large institutions—and their donors—that don’t like novelty.  

The best way to overcome these fears is to do what ASU did—install highly-visible racks, so skateboards are stored instead of brought in to clutter classrooms; and carve out right-of-way that is separate from pedestrians. If ASU could do this on its relatively tight-knit campus, it could be done on America’s many large campuses with expansive walkways.

In cities this would be more complicated. There are already turf battles over sidewalk usage, and streets are dangerous because they’re mostly used for cars. This has confused skateboarders and other micro-mobility users.

“Right now, half of them are on the sidewalks, and half of them are on the streets,” says Bauer. “That’s really problematic.”

The path to popularizing them in cities would be similar. Have “micro-mobility” lanes along roadways that can be used for bicycles, scooters and skateboards; and have designated stations along sidewalks or on-street parking spots where they can be stored. Ground Control Systems makes “Micro-Mobility Hubs” for this latter purpose. Other companies manufacture so-called “bike lockers”, or condensed metal boxes that are used to secure bikes.

But realistically, cities likely won’t make room for skateboards anytime soon. While the global market for skateboards has risen steadily the last few years to $1.9 billion, it isn’t viewed as a mainstream commuting option.

Where the low-hanging fruit exists, though, is university campuses. College kids love to skateboard, and campuses are perfect places for it, insulated as they are from automobiles. It just requires schools like ASU to encourage skateboards—or, at the very least, allow them.

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