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Councilman Calls for Clampdown on Skateboarding in Columbus Circle

By Jill Colvin | May 10, 2012 9:02am | Updated on May 10, 2012 9:15am
A skateboarder skates through Columbus Circle.
A skateboarder skates through Columbus Circle.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

COLUMBUS CIRCLE — City Councilman Dan Garodnick is calling on the city to clamp down on skateboarding in Columbus Circle, where residents say boarding kids are terrorizing tourists and threatening the safety of families trying to relax.

Garodnick said his office has received a flood of calls from residents complaining about the skateboarders, who flock to the circle after school to show off their skills. They race through the busy plaza, doing spins off the base of the central monument and slamming against steps, often as young children play, critics say.

"What is supposed to be a passive, recreational area runs into direct conflict with kids who are jumping their skateboards off a variety of different ledges," Garodnick said, calling for a solution. "It is disruptive and it’s dangerous and we need the Parks Department to act."

Skateboarding is prohibited in the circle, but few even notice the signs.
Skateboarding is prohibited in the circle, but few even notice the signs.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

In a letter to Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro, Garodnick gave the department until June 20 to outline a plan for curbing Columbus Circle skateboarding, which he expects to become worse as the weather warms.

A Parks Department spokesman, who last year said enforcement officers regularly patrolled the area in response to complaints, said the agency is "closely communicating with the NYPD on the need for additional enforcement at Columbus Circle" and police have already agreed to increase their presence in the area.

Parks Enforcement Patrol officers have also been instructed to regularly enforce the rules against skateboarding, he said.

But on Wednesday evening, the circle looked a lot like a skate park as a group of more than half a dozen teens on skateboards wove between baby strollers and joggers, showing off their moves.

Within minutes of DNAinfo New York’s arrival, one skateboarder had nearly collided with a cyclist, while another’s skateboard had skidded into a woman sitting on a nearby bench.

The activity left some, including Denise Flynn, shaking their heads.

"I think it’s outrageous! Not just the noise, but it’s a very dangerous thing," said Flynn, who is in her 80s and has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years and was surprised to learn that skating is not legally allowed.

"The boys that are riding the skateboards are not very concerned about people’s safety," she said. "They don’t care."

Allison Ramsey, 40, a babysitter relaxing in the circle with her boss’s young kids, agreed.

"It’s inconsiderate," she said of the skaters. "It’s not a skating rink. Not here."

The boards were also a problem for four-legged neighbors, including Dachshund Tuski, whose owner, Terry Boyle, 77, said the boards always make him bark.

"He doesn’t like the skateboards!" Boyle said.

Since skaters already ignore several small green-and-white "no skating" signs posted at the circle's entrances, Garodnick has been advocating for the installation of anti-skating devices along the steps and benches that would make it impossible for skateboarders to use them as jumps.

Some people have expressed concern about altering the statue or creating a tripping hazard, but Garodnick said the changes would be minimal and would have an enormous impact on the park.

"While the Parks Department advised my office that this was not feasible, we have repeatedly attempted to find out why these devices, which have been successfully employed in other locations,  are not suitable for the base of the monument and the benches at Columbus Circle," he wrote.

The Parks Department said the idea is not being considered at this time.

The skaters, however, defended their right to use the plaza Wednesday and said that, despite what people think, their riding is safe.

"We make sure we only go when there's a clear path. We don't want to hurt anybody," said a 16-year-old student from Downtown's Millennium High School. DNAinfo New York is withholding his name because of his age.

The teen said in the two years he's been skating regularly in the circle, he's never seen anyone get hurt.

"I know all the guys here and everybody takes a lot of precaution in keeping people safe," he said.

Another 16-year-old skater, who lives on the Upper West Side, said he felt under attack by residents and police for doing something that he loves.

"We’re not bothering people. We wait for people to get out of the way so we don’t hit them. And if we do, we say we’re sorry because we didn’t mean to," said the teen, who admitted that he had seen several injuries — "but not bad," he assured.

He also called for less enforcement — not more — after having been arrested in January for skating in the circle. He said he thought it was crazy to slap someone his age in handcuffs and force them to spend three hours in a holding cell for such a minor offense.

The charges were later dismissed, but the incident prompted him to write a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pleading for support.

"I just feel like they didn’t have a right to do this," he said. "I just said that I wanted help."

Despite his arrest, the teen continues to skate at the park, and said he and his friends will likely remain until the city does something more drastic, like installing skate stoppers along the low-level surfaces.

"Then we wouldn't be able to [skate]," he said. "We’d be bummed."