By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — Columbus Circle is under attack by gangs of skateboarding kids who threaten the safety of families trying to relax, some Midtown residents complain.
The popular tourist spot at the southwest corner of Central Park has become a gathering place for local high school kids, who flock to the steps on sunny days to hang out and show off their skating skills.
But some residents say the skateboarders are an accident waiting to happen, as they race, spin and slam against the steps where young children also play.
"I'm afraid they're going to kill somebody," said Susan Herlihy, 57, who lives nearby on West 55th Street and said that she was surprised there haven't been any incidents yet.
She said she was shocked to see how bad the problem had grown last summer and was fearful for this coming season.
"They're wild," she said.
So far this year, 311 has logged five complaint about bikes, roller-skaters or skateboarders around the circle, up from one complaint from January through March in 2010 and two complaints over the same span in 2009.
Police at the local precinct are aware of the complaints about skating, which is prohibited in the plaza at all times, and intend to establish a greater presence in the circle as the weather gets warmer, sources said.
A spokesman for the Parks Department said its enforcement officers were also patrolling the area in response to complaints about reckless skateboarding and have instructed several young people to leave.
Eileen Spinner, who lives on West 51st Street, said that walking her Maltese, Penny Lane, past the plaza has become so scary that she now has to pick the dog up as she passes through.
"They really don't care who's in the way," she complained. "They just don't understand they can hurt somebody."
Some have suggested erecting a fence around the central statue to prevent the skaters from sliding along the steps. Others want larger, clearly visible signs that say skating is prohibited in the plaza. But so far, nothing has changed.
Monday, as the sun shone around 3:30 p.m. about half a dozen high school kids on skateboards skirted through the circle, whizzing past tourists, joggers and pedestrians, and slamming against the steps. Several times, DNAinfo observed skaters buzzing past passersby.
But regular skaters in the circle said that they feel they are unfairly under attack.
None had ever noticed the small white-on-green signs posted on far-away lamp poles that say "no skating or skateboarding on the plaza."
One Lower East Side skater who goes to Martin Luther King Jr. High School on the Upper West Side, said many locals look at him and as his friends as criminals and hoodlums when all they want to do was skate.
"People stereotype us as smoking pot and doing graffiti," complained the 15-year-old, whose name DNAinfo is withholding because of his age.
While he said he understood residents' safety concerns, he thought they were being paranoid.
"We know how to control ourselves," he assured.
Another MLK student who hails from Brooklyn, also 15, said he wants to be a professional skater someday and should be allowed to practice in public, where sponsors might catch him in action.
While they could go to local skate parks, including the LES (Chinatown) Skate Park under the Manhattan bridge, many parks require helmets and padding and aren't as close by, skate-enthusiasts said.
"It's a public place. I don't think they should be bothering anybody," said an Upper West Side student, 17, who enjoys watching the guys practice and defended their rights.
A West Harlem student, 17, who comes to the circle to skate about three or four times a week, said he's always careful to keep away from families and has never seen a close call.
As long as they're safe, he thinks boarders should be able to stay.
"It's just a place for kids to come and have fun," he said, before hopping back on his skateboard to try another run.