Friday October 14, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Parents may soon be held accountable for minors who violate a city ordinance that bans the use of skateboards, bicycles and rollerblades on North Street sidewalks.

Mayor James M. Ruberto has proposed the City Council approve an amendment to the regulation that would allow police to levy the same fines against the parents, as well the youngsters. Under the current ordinance only the violators face a first-offense fine of $25, the second is $50 and third, $300.

In addition, police officers could seize the skateboard, bike and rollerblades from the scofflaws.

The council has referred the matter to its Committee on Ordinance and Rules for debate and a recommendation back to the entire 11-member panel. Committee chairman Jonathan N. Lothrop has yet to set a meeting date for the subcommittee review.

The proposed revision is in response to nearly 25 North Street retailers who claim skaters and riders are putting pedestrians at risk by riding on the sidewalks in front of their stores.

Last month, the merchants called on the police, through a petition to the City Council, to start to strictly enforce the ban. Donna Todd Rivers, owner of Bisque Beads & Beyond, helped organize the petition drive.

"I want to thank you for making this a priority," Rivers said to the council on Tuesday night.

However, local skate and bike enthusiasts feel they are being unfairly targeted for the actions of a "few bad apples," according to Bill Whitaker, co-owner of The Garden, a skate and snowboard store on North Street.


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"If the parents don't teach some of these kids respect, everyone gets blamed," said Whitaker.

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael J. Wynn claims the ordinance needs to be re-written because it's difficult to hold a child financially responsible for disobeying the ordinance. He cited how parent accountability is used elsewhere in law enforcement.

"There is precedent for this in state law, including some motor vehicle violations and vandalism committed by minors," Wynn said.

The police chief hopes the tighter controls on skateboard and bicycle use will be enough of a deterrent that his officers won't have to dole out fines.

"We just want to keep the sidewalks safe," he said.

Area skateboarders and bicyclists have lacked a formal skate park since the city removed the one at the First Street Common as part of the park's multimillion-dollar redesign and upgrade. Currently, a replacement skate park is under construction at the former tennis courts next to Pittsfield High School on East Street. The $215,00 project is scheduled for completion by mid-November.

"Once the new skate park opens, 90 percent of the problem on North Street will resolve itself," Whitaker said. "The kids right now simply don't have a place to go."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.