Legality of longboarding
A Milledgeville city ordinance makes it nearly impossible to follow Georgia state law because local law enforcement can pull a person over for riding a bicycle, skateboard or any other self-propelled vehicle on the sidewalk, leaving no other place to ride.
If a citizen is riding their self-propelled vehicle on the sidewalk, they can be charged under city ordinance and issued a fine. But if they move to the street, they can be charged under state law for impeding the flow of traffic by GC Public Safety.
“Not everything that is dangerous is against the law, but if we see a dangerous activity, we will work to minimize the risk of the activity,” said Don Challis, chief of GC Public Safety.
This reporter has first-hand experience with this dilemma. I was riding a skateboard down South Jefferson Street on the sidewalk and was pulled over by MPD. Less than 20 minutes later, I was pulled over by GC Public Safety for riding on the street and obstructing the flow of traffic.
According to Milledgeville City Ordinance Section 86-45, it is illegal for a bicycle or self-propelled vehicle to travel on the sidewalk within the boundaries of downtown. Also in the same section, clause (c) states, “Any person violating this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
The downtown boundaries are Greene Street to Montgomery Street and Jefferson Street to Clarke Street.
The Milledgeville Police Department enforces the city ordinance consistently and issues fines to students and citizens caught riding down the sidewalk on a bike or skateboard.
GC Public Safety Patrol Sgt. Tron Smith said riding down the street on a bike or skateboard is obstructing the flow of traffic because cars have to slow down to swerve out of the way.
O.C.G.A. 16-11-43 says, “A person who, without authority of law, purposely or recklessly obstructs any highway, street, sidewalk or other public passage in such a way as to render it impassable without unreasonable inconvenience or hazard and fails or refuses to remove the obstruction, after receiving a reasonable official request or the order of a peace officer that he do so, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
O.C.G.A. 40-6-294 also mentions the practices of safe cycling and tells riders to stay to the right side of the roadway whenever possible and to never cling to vehicles in the road or ride side-by-side with another cyclist.
Michael Screws, the corporal assistant post commander in Milledgeville for the Georgia State Patrol, said that the enforcement of these laws vary officer to officer and could be enforced either way.
Decisions like this depend on the officer who witnessed the event, Screws said.
Taylor Payne, a GC graduate student studying for his master’s in teaching secondary mathematics, rides a longboard to get to class. Payne said he has been riding the board for three years now and has been followed by local police for riding on the street.
“I was near the dorms, on the road, because you aren’t allowed to ride on the sidewalk … and a State Patrol officer came up to me in his car,” Payne said. “He was in oncoming traffic, didn’t use his lights, stopped in the middle of the road and rolled his window down. … When I told him that we had already cleared the law with local PD, he still said to get off the road and that he didn’t want to have to tell me again.”
Payne also mentioned similar encounters with law enforcement that led to a group of skateboarder’s filing a complaint via email with GC Public Safety. Recently, Chief Challis, approached skateboarder Zach Mell, now a GC alum, to extend an olive branch.
“He talked to me at one point and said he had seen the cam videos [body cameras] and actually apologized,” Mell said. “He approached me and told me that the officers would be talked to and dealt with.”
Despite the apology by Challis, students have continued to be targeted for riding on the street or the sidewalk. Sophomore Collin Kosior, a history major, said that recently he was pulled over and told to get on the sidewalk. On a different occasion, he was riding on the sidewalk, was stopped and told to get on the street because he was violating city ordinance.
Kosior commented on the two contradicting laws.
“I think there should have been some regard in writing one, to the other,” Kosior said. “I don’t know which came first. I mean if we have a law, it should be the same. Whatever level you write it at, it needs to have the same consistency.”