Monday, April 11, 2011

Is skateboarding illegal in Toronto?

Traffic ticket for skateboarding in TorontoThis topic seems to recur every couple of months on a local skate forum I frequent, so I wrote up an aggregated answer based on the current City of Toronto bylaws. Turns out I'm a nigh-daily scofflaw...

Skateboarding on the road is prohibited in Toronto.
Yes, it's true! Technically, you're not allowed to skate on the road where there are sidewalks, in Toronto, except when crossing. Happily, this bylaw is seldom enforced, unless you're skating like an idiot—our municipal police usually have way more important matters to deal with.

The main bylaw governing skateboarding in the road is the 'Traffic and Parking Code'. The specific reference is Chapter 950, Article III, Subsection 950-300, Clause D. Pedestrians' rights and duties:
D. No person shall play or take part in any game or sport upon a roadway and, where there
are sidewalks, no person upon roller-skates, in-line skates or a skateboard, or riding in or
by means of any coaster, scooter, toy vehicle, toboggan, sleigh or similar device, shall go
upon a roadway except for the purpose of crossing the road, and, when so crossing, such
person shall have the rights and be subject to the obligations of a pedestrian.

[The previous version of the skate-related municipal prohibition was: here, and prior to that, 400-14A, and before that it was 522-78 in the (pre-amalgamation) City of Toronto code; you may see references to these if you are issued a ticket]

Always claim you're crossing the road! A careful reading of the text also seems to suggest that you can skate on the road if there aren't any sidewalks... And no playing ball hockey.

Further, this bylaw includes skateboards as part of its definition of vehicle (see Article 1, 950-101, B. Specific Definitions). So technically, if you are skating somewhere, you are also supposed to ride according to the rules that govern 'vehicles' in this bylaw (Which is a contradiction of the above clause: if you were crossing a roadway while skating, are you acting as a vehicle or a pedestrian?).

You can't skate in Toronto bike lanes (or footpaths or pedestrian ways or bicycle paths)
You’d think that bike lanes would be perfect for commuting use by skateboarders, but apparently the bureaucrats at City Hall think otherwise. The bike lane bylaw excluding skateboards is 599-2007, chapter 886-8 and 886-10A. (and 886-1 where skateboards are defined for the purposes of the bylaw as vehicles).
"Subject to 886-11, no person shall operate a vehicle other than a bicycle in any bicycle lane except for the purpose of... [exceptions follow]"
So if you skate in a bike lane, you're breaking the law twice, once for being in the lane, and again for being on the road! Kind of sad...

The same prohibition goes for the handful of officially designated City of Toronto footpaths, pedestrian ways, and bicycle paths (respectively 886-3, 886-5, 886-6c of the same bylaw cited above) -- no skateboard riding permitted.

For example, the Martin Goodman Trail along the waterfront is designated as a footpath (see Schedule A of 599-2007). Other pedestrian ways include certain very-specific areas around:
  • Trinity Square
  • St. Patrick’s Market
  • Ontario Street
I wonder if anyone’s ever tried to stop in-line skaters from using the Martin Goodman Trail?

You can (carefully) skate on the sidewalk 
With respect to skateboarding on the sidewalk, clause F of the abovementioned Bylaw Chapter 950-300 (Ch.950, Article III, subsection 950-300) states:
"No person shall ride upon or operate a bicycle, skateboard, in-line skates or roller-skates,
coaster, scooter, toy vehicle, toboggan, sleigh, or any similar device on a sidewalk
recklessly or negligently or at a speed or in a manner dangerous to the public, having
regard to circumstances. [Amended 2014-02-20 by By-law No. 122-2014]"
In other words, don’t be an idiot on the sidewalk.

The previous version of the code was 313 (Article IV)-27, Subsection D, which originally dealt with riding horses on the sidewalk (don’t do it). Interestingly the updated code no longer makes any mention of horses—I wonder if this means you can now ride your horse on the sidewalk?

Toronto Islands (careful) street skateboarding ok
Subsection E of 313 (Article IV)-27 is basically a repeat of the language in subsection D, but applies to the Toronto Islands, and applies to the streets on Toronto Islands as well as the sidewalk. As long as you exercise due care and attention and have reasonable consideration for others, you're good.
"Pedestrians shall have the right-of-way on a sidewalk, and no person shall ride upon or operate a bicycle, roller skates, in-line skates, skateboard, coaster, toy vehicle or similar device on a street or sidewalk on the Toronto Islands without due care and attention and without reasonable consideration for others using the street or sidewalk on the Toronto Islands. [Amended 1995-03-31 by Bylaw No. 1995-0263]"
There isn’t any mention of the Toronto Islands in  Bylaw 1409-2011, so I’m not 100% sure what this means if 1409 was supposed to replace 313. Probably the best advice (as usual) is, skate away, but be careful of others.

Skateboarding not permitted in Yonge-Dundas Square
Skateboarding is prohibited in Yonge-Dundas Square (not that that's ever prevented us from skating a certain garage in close spatial proximity to that square, ahem), per municipal code 636-11 clause I.
"No person shall, within the limits of a square:
I. Ride or stand on any skateboard, roller skate or roller blade."
What, you can't even stand on your deck? You can't hand out helium-filled balloons either. Or light any fires. Oh, those crazy municipal mandarins!

Skateboarding prohibited in Nathan Phillips Square
There was also an older, unconsolidated bylaw, 34-74, the specific text of which I haven't been able to dredge up, which governs behaviour in Nathan Phillips Square. There was a subsequent amendment in 1988, 1988-0349, which is described as follows:
Two grand for skating! I guess City Hall doesn't want you skating on their turf. Somewhat confusingly, the PDF link on the city web site for the 1988-0349 bylaw leads to the text of an amendment passed a decade later, in 1998, "BY-LAW No. 863-1998", which added 'Chapter 270', outlining a prohibition against skating in the 'proposed public square in the Yonge Dundas Redevelopment Project'. It's probable that Council intended this bylaw to apply to all public squares; the language in the text (specifically 270-2, Prohibited Activities) is essentially the same as in 636-11.

Skateboarding on certain streets prohibited
Intriguingly, skateboarding has been prohibited on two streets (including their sidewalks!) in Toronto (North York). The streets are Ptarmigan Crescent from the east limit of Wallingford to the south end, and Wallingford from the south limit of Brookbanks to the north limit of Cassandra.

This prohibition is outlined in Clause E of 950-300 (Ch.950, Article III, subsection 950-300):
1) For the purposes of § 950-300E(2), HIGHWAY shall be defined as in the Highway Traffic Act and shall also include sidewalks.
 2) Despite § 950-300D, no person upon a skateboard shall go upon a highway set out in Schedule XLII in § 950-1341 between the limits set out in the said Schedule. 
And here’s Schedule 42, which identifies Ptarmigan and Wallingford.

[The previous version of this code was 972-2003].

Makes you want to check it out, eh?

Skateboarding not permitted on the TTC 
Skateboarding on TTC property is prohibited, per TTC Bylaw 1, Section 3.8. The fine is $195 -- the same amount as it is for urinating or defecating.
No person shall roller-skate, in-line skate or skate-board in or on TTC property.
Skateboarding in Parks OK except where forbidden
Skateboarding in City of Toronto parks seems to be mostly acceptable -- except where there's a sign prohibiting such activity. Plus, you can't 'inconvenience' anyone in the park either, per bylaw 608-23.
While in a park, no person shall:
  1.  Operate or utilize roller blades, skate boards, linear skates or similar conveyances where posted to prohibit or otherwise restrict the use of the conveyances; or 
  2. Obstruct, inconvenience or endanger other users of the park while operating or utilizing roller blades, skateboards or similar conveyances
Two sections later in 608-25, the municipal code also prohibits you from flying a kite in any park. At least not near any trees. So if you fly a kite while skateboarding in the park...

An additional, somewhat oblique reference to skateboarding exists in the same chapter of the code, as it pertains to dogs. Under Definitions in 608-1, "Skateboard bowls, tennis courts and other sports pads" are defined as Prohibited Areas. The only other mention of Prohibited Areas in this chapter of the code is in 608-34:
While in a park, no person as owner  or person having control of a dog shall: [Amended 2007-07-19 by By-law No. 790-2007; 2009-10-27 by By-law No. 1093-2009] 
[...] 2. Excluding blind persons reliant upon a guide dog,  and a working dog providing a service to the City, allow the dog to enter a prohibited area  
From this you can infer that dogs aren't allowed in skateboard bowls in the City of Toronto (not including guide dogs or dogs working for the city). What I find interesting about this part of the code is, I can only think of one 'skateboard bowl' in all of Toronto (Vanderhoof). (Phase 2 of Ashbridges Bay will incorporate a bowl.) It's probably being pedantic to not interpret 'bowl' as actually meaning 'skate park'.

These are the Toronto bylaws I've been able to research that deal with skateboarding, for a variety of situations.

Longboards Ruled Not Vehicles in HTA
What, you might ask, does the Ontario Highway Traffic Act have to say about skateboards?

Nothing. 'Skateboards' are not mentioned in the HTA (not anymore—see update below re: towing). You might think that the HTA definition of vehicle comes pretty close to encompassing skateboards:
“vehicle” includes a motor vehicle, trailer, traction engine, farm tractor, road-building machine, bicycle and any vehicle drawn, propelled or driven by any kind of power, including muscular power, but does not include a motorized snow vehicle or a street car;
In 2009 five longboarders were charged with careless driving on Grey Road 19 in Ontario. The charges were quashed in the decision R. v. Cruz, as the JP ruled that longboards were not vehicles, and therefore as 'pedestrians' the defendants could not be charged under the HTA with careless driving. The decision referenced a previous ruling in Alberta,  R. v. Atchison, 2006 ABCA 258, where the judges concluded
[...] a person on a skateboard is a pedestrian for purposes of the [Alberta] Traffic Safety Act.
In the latter case, other court rulings were cited, finding that persons on skateboards or roller blades constitute pedestrians in various contexts: Littlewood v. Prendergast, [2004] B.C.J. No. 2115, 2004 BCSC 1321; Falconar v. Le, [2003] B.C.J. No. 2214, 2003 BCSC 1434; R. v. Zimmer, [2004] S.J. No. 680, 2004 SKQB 444; R. v. Greer, [1995] O.J. No. 655 (Ct. J.- Prov. Div.).

[R. v. Cruz doesn't show up on CanLII yet; apparently court transcript costs prevent easy replication of the decision]


[The astute will observe that this seems to contradict the two bylaws previously cited where skateboards were declared vehicles. Generally the HTA has precedence over municipal bylaws -- see 195.1 in the HTA -- but if a police officer tells you to get out of a bike lane, you should probably do as they ask.]

Update to HTA - No Towing behind cars or hanging on to cars
Recently Bill 31 amended the Highway Traffic Act with a number of measures mostly involving bicycles and distracted driving, but also added a prohibition against getting towed on a skateboard behind a car (i.e. skitching).

See Bill 31, Section 160:
No driver of a vehicle or street car shall permit any person riding, riding on or operating a bicycle, coaster, toboggan, sled, skateboard, toy vehicle or any other type of conveyance or wearing roller skates, in-line skates or skis to attach the same, himself or herself to the vehicle or street car on a highway.
 Section 178 (1) was also amended to prohibit hanging on to a car, with roughly the same language.

No Helmet Required
Many people believe erroneously that there's an Ontario or Federal law that skateboarders must wear helmets. They cite private member bills on the subject (e.g. John Milloy, Bill 129, or Dave Levac, Bill 111), and often mention a City of Toronto Bike Helmet Law page that alludes to it in passing. 

However, these people don't seem to understand how the legislature works -- none of these private member bills has ever made it through final reading and royal assent. The bills just get proposed and then die on the order paper or in standing committee [Milloy's bill, for example, only made it through 2nd reading]. 

In other words, there is currently no law that mandates the wearing of helmets while skateboarding, in Toronto. That being said -- head injuries suck. You should wear your helmet! Yes, 99.999% of the time it sits on your head uselessly and screws up your hair -- but that one funny time your wheels catch or the car pulls out from nowhere... you'll be glad you were wearing a lid. Trust me.

Whether you agree or or not, skateboarding is prohibited in the road in Toronto. Don't let that ever stop you from spreading the stoke and skating hard -- on the road. If an officer flags you down and fines you $90... suck it up pal, and frame the ticket. Wear a helmet, skate responsibly, and don't be an ass in traffic.

If you know of any other Toronto-specific bylaws pertaining to skateboarding, or have any corrections to submit, please leave a comment!

Photo credit: original taken from a skater's lament at being fined.

Minor update
There was a recent City of Toronto staff report presented to the Public Works Committee regarding the playing of ball hockey in the streets, i.e. regarding bylaw code 400-14A cited above.

The report identifies two options:
  1. doing nothing and maintaining the status quo, and 
  2. amending the bylaw to no longer prohibit the playing or taking part in games or sports upon roadways.
Josh Matlow is on the 'decriminalize' side. Denzil Minnan-Wong is on the 'why bother' side.

The recommendation of the report is to do nothing. (i.e. playing in the street -- and by extension skateboarding -- would still be prohibited).
For the most part, children/adults choose to play on streets where it is relatively safe to do so. Games or sports being played on the roadway generally go on without incident. The determination regarding safety and the responsibility to ensure same is, however, taken on by the individual and does not shift to the City in these situations. Therefore, the current prohibition is technically sound and operationally justified.
Enforcement of the current prohibition against the playing or taking part in any game or sport upon a roadway is the responsibility of the Toronto Police Service. Any such enforcement is discretionary and is generally complaint driven. The transient and sporadic nature of the activity makes enforcement difficult and given the responsibilities of a police officer, this matter is not given a high priority. Further, applying a charge that could result in a fine being paid by the participant in the game/sport seldom occurs.  
Usually, a warning (particularly in the case of children) is sufficient to deter the activity in a problematic location. However, the by-law prohibition does allow for enforcement to occur, if necessary.
If City Council decides to amend the bylaws, I’ll update this post.

May 2012 Update: Councillor Matlow proposed a ridiculously bureaucratic permit-approval process for legalizing ball-hockey, which presumably (but not necessarily) might have affected the bylaw’s status. After enduring scorn from many quarters, Matlow realized there was no support for it and declared:

Other skateboarding posts I’ve written
The Return of Longboard Haven Skate Shop
Profile: Justin Readings, Downhill Skateboarder
• The rise of Patrick Switzer, Downhill Skateboarder
• The Toronto Board Meeting: A Short History
• Letter to Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon: Why Jeopardize the Ashbridges Bay Skate Park?
Concrete Wave’s Lame ‘Pin-Up’ Cover
The Banana Split -- Four Years Later
• Speed! Thrills! Women! FUBU Skate Race Recap
• Grappling with another longboarding death
• Our first longboarding tragedy