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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

RIP Wall of Death

posted by on October 21 at 14:29 PM


Responding to my post yesterday about the city’s destruction of a famous and much-loved skate spot, Seattle Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter writes…

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your phone message yesterday. Seattle Department of Transportation, which owns the property, did the work because the number of complaints and incidents of cyclists and walkers being hit made it clear it was a safety issue.

Parks recently opened a new skatepark at Woodland Park, and we’re working on new skateboard parks at Delridge Community Center and Playfield in West Seattle, at Dahl Playfield in northeast, and at Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill.


My response…

Dear Dewey,

Can you provide me with some documentation—police and emergency reports—of incidents where cyclists and walkers were hit by flying skaters? Do you have any proof that there was a safety problem at the Wall of Death? I’d like to see it, please.

It has been my impression, as a frequent user of BGT, that skaters there, like skaters at skateparks, are very conscientious about when it is and isn’t safe to “drop in.” I ride the BGT on my bike several times a week, and I’ve never seen an accident or even a near miss. It is also my impression that the Wall of Death skate spot is used—excuse me, was used—more frequently by skaters in the winter and rainier months, when the BGT isn’t being used by many cyclists or walkers.

And as cyclists and walkers are primarily menaced and harmed by drivers, can I look forward to the banning of cars from our streets?

Please respond about when I can expect to see some documentation of the safety problems at the Wall of Death. Thank you.

Dan Savage

We’re filing a public disclosure request with the Seattle Police Department about any incidents involving skateboarders colliding with cyclists and walkers at The Wall of Death.

RSS icon Comments


I ride by all the time. I've never been hit and the skateboarders are usually more considerate than my fellow bicyclists.

Posted by Chris | October 21, 2008 2:34 PM

I mean, it says "the wall of death" right on it. If that's not a heads up to be alert for other traffic, I don't know what is.

Posted by Dougsf | October 21, 2008 2:36 PM

I'm sure they'll get right on it after that bitchy response.

Posted by Jeff | October 21, 2008 2:38 PM

You're like too old to be skating, peepaw

Posted by Your knees make noise | October 21, 2008 2:38 PM

Nice work, Dan! Keep us posted!

Posted by Carollani | October 21, 2008 2:39 PM

Skateboarding is just as useful and vital to the economy as automobiles. Make a note of it.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 21, 2008 2:44 PM

I agree we should ban pit bulls.

oh wait, your against a ban, I was confused

Posted by vincent | October 21, 2008 2:47 PM

I hope they ban cars from sidewalks.

I don't like them doing that. While I agree with the sentiment of this letter, that one bitchy statement about the banning of cars ruins it. The trail is primarily for bikers and walkers. The streets are primarily for cars. There is a bit of purpose and intent that is lacking in your disingenuous statement.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | October 21, 2008 2:48 PM

I'll bet it was freakin' ECB who narc'ed. Started riding a bike like a year ago and all the sudden she's the goddamn pedal police.

Posted by sk8 or die | October 21, 2008 2:48 PM

Good luck with that one Dan. In 15 years of skateboarding, I have never seen a destroyed skate spot get rebuilt by a city. still skatable.

Posted by ZWBush | October 21, 2008 2:51 PM

how high can you ollie, Dan?

Posted by randy beaver | October 21, 2008 2:58 PM

Taken out of context, that last sentence is pretty funny.

Posted by Super Jesse | October 21, 2008 2:59 PM

Seattle is lucky to have you Dan. You always do a nice job of putting things into perspective. Can't wait to see where this goes?

Posted by rob | October 21, 2008 3:01 PM

Was it skateboarders hitting bikes, or bikes hitting skateboarders?

Posted by cochise. | October 21, 2008 3:02 PM

No, bitchy emails to the city do so totally work.

I sent a bitchy email to SDOT because construction had closed the sidewalk on both sides of 24th just above and just below 58th, in Ballard. You had to cross the street twice to get past.

In about a week, they sent out an inspector, discovered that one sidewalk was closed without a permit, and next thing you know? They opened that fucking sidewalk.

I mean, obviously I'd have preferred they send armored cops with mace they way they do when the leftivist protestors block a sidewalk for five minutes, but so what? Being bitchy does work.

Posted by elenchos | October 21, 2008 3:03 PM

Because if you haven't seen it, then it's not a problem, right?

I've witnessed many near collisions, had a near miss myself and know a co-worker who was hit by a skater there and suffered some nasty road rash. It's unreasonable for the city to not do something to this trouble spot before someone gets seriously hurt. Why don't you find another pet project to get all worked up into a self-righteous tizzy about?

Posted by burgin99 | October 21, 2008 3:06 PM

Awesome. Way to call them on their BS, Dan!

Posted by kitschnsync | October 21, 2008 3:06 PM

Leave it up to SLOG to defend the dank foundation of an overpass as a cultural landmark. Hey, I hear they're tearing up some sewers in Ballard...maybe you can form a Preservation Committee.

How about this, kids and teens:

Open fresh air.
Soccer fields.

Posted by John Bailo | October 21, 2008 3:09 PM

I asked for documentation, burgin99, I didn't deny that there could be problems. I just want the proof. My anecdotal evidence vs. yours = a tie.

Posted by Dan Savage | October 21, 2008 3:12 PM

You're one to talk, Basement Jerkoff Boy.

Posted by Fnarf | October 21, 2008 3:12 PM

I don't see the parks department saying anything about incidents involving the police or ER.
I guess Dan, your position is that only if people are being assaulted or seriously injured, serious enough to require an ER trip, would the incidents warrant closing it down.
More than likely it's simply a result of complaints and reports of collisions on the part of a few cyclists.
I too have never had a problem riding through there, and I do so all year long, several times a week, to get from Cap Hill to my climbing gym.
Perhaps the complaints were simply some grumpy old folks who resented seeing the skateboarders incur on their domain. Maybe the incidents were made up by the same lot. Or maybe there are a few less than civil members of the skateboarding community who use the park, like the sort of skateboarders one sees on Broadway grazing old women as they skate past. Or maybe its a little bit of both.

Posted by kinaidos | October 21, 2008 3:13 PM

A tie? That doesn't even mean anything.

That thing looks pretty weak anyway. Real skaters would just ollie over that bullshit anyway.

Posted by w7ngman | October 21, 2008 3:15 PM

And yes I like to end sentences with anyway.

Posted by w7ngman | October 21, 2008 3:16 PM

22 - riiiight. a 3' ollie at speed up a bank like that wont kill your momentum or anything. Go back to playing Tony Hawks Guitar Hero.

If you want to impress us with your l33t ollie skills i'll be at the Lower Woodland skatepark around 5pm, bust out brussel sprout.

Posted by bobcat | October 21, 2008 3:31 PM

I commute past the wall of death twice each day and have been almost hit by skateboarders at least three times in the past couple of years. And yes, it happens when it's raining - exactly when it's hardest to stop your bike quickly. Your impression, Dan, that skaters are "very conscientious," differs from my own experience.

Posted by alaskagrown | October 21, 2008 3:31 PM

Great idea! We should install skateboard ramps on each side of public walkways!

How about one infront of the Stranger's office?

Bonus if you ollie over the bum pee stains!

Posted by Jeff | October 21, 2008 3:34 PM

Also these parks:

"working on new skateboard parks at Delridge Community Center and Playfield in West Seattle, at Dahl Playfield in northeast, and at Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill."

Have neither funding nor space - Just excess smoke from the parks dept blowing their crack residue up our collective arses.

A smart old man told me that Seattle takes anything fun and destroys it. While other cities (portland with their master 19 skatepark plan with 4 already open) are building skateparks and open places, seattle has destroyed 2 legal ones (ballard and seask8), one great indoor park (raincity) and countless other spots. They shut down Raincity a week and a half for having an exit sign 2 inches off center then demolished the place for seachickens parking. Even Bellevue has 4 goddamn skateparks (with one undercover). Our pay-to-play choices are Innerspace in Fremont (small street ledges and banks) or drive 20 miles to Renton to skate at Skatebarn.

We need undercover places.

Posted by bobcat | October 21, 2008 3:37 PM

#22 was not even remotely tongue-in-cheek.

Posted by w7ngman | October 21, 2008 3:44 PM

yeah, my sarcasm detector has not been working that well as of late.

Posted by bobcat | October 21, 2008 3:47 PM

Okay, odd that all you smart people didn't clue into the response from Seattle Parks and Rec that it was SDOT who you should be talking to....

It helps to talk to the right people, but then again that might lead to actual dialog with possible results!...and that's no fun.

Posted by greymatter | October 21, 2008 3:49 PM

Interesting that Dan demands actual evidence for the anecdotal evidence he was presented with. Yet on the subject of Breed Bans he has no problem claiming that breed bans work, but provides no evidence other than his good word.

Posted by Lavode | October 21, 2008 3:52 PM

It's a liability issue. If the city knows there is a danger and does nothing about it, the city could be held responsible for injuries that occur. Sucks for the skaters, but that's the way it is.

Posted by Betsy Ross | October 21, 2008 3:58 PM

Once again, Lawyers Ruin Everything.

Posted by Greg | October 21, 2008 4:06 PM

The real hazard on the Burke Gilman is the packs of roadies in full Tour de France get up riding fast 2 or 3 abreast, 3 or 4 rows deep, fully expecting all other trail users to get out of their way. Where are the cops with radar guns issuing speeding tickets(as they have in Denver)? Oh right. Those are rich white guys.

Posted by travis | October 21, 2008 4:07 PM

I never hit anyone with my skateboard.

But if they hold a public meeting, maybe I could arrange that ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 21, 2008 4:17 PM

The small roadway slightly east of that BGT/bridge area can also cause troubles. Bikers will go down that path and turn onto the BGT. I've had a numerous near misses from cyclists making that turn. I doubt that the city will be closing that roadway/path though.

Posted by stinkbug | October 21, 2008 4:18 PM

#30, vaguely reminiscent of the time a bike got locked up in front of the Convention Center, prompting ECB/Dan to blame the CC for the lack of bike racks when in fact it is the citizens' responsibility to contact the city to request a bike rack after first reading the official guidelines for bike rack placement.

I presume a comparably lib-tarded and misguided act of civil disobedience is in the works to protest this issue? Just make sure to protest the Parks Department instead of the SDOT. Maybe start obnoxiously skateboarding in the public park outside my apartment at 2am every Saturday night. Oh wait, you already do that.

Posted by w7ngman | October 21, 2008 4:19 PM

"The real hazard on the Burke Gilman is the packs of roadies in full Tour de France get up riding fast 2 or 3 abreast, 3 or 4 rows deep, fully expecting all other trail users to get out of their way"

Huh? I've been riding BG five days a week for six or seven years and I've never seen a honest-to-god pelotan. When are you seeing these spandex jihads?

Posted by Tiktok | October 21, 2008 4:24 PM

I've biked the BGT a couple times a week for the last eight years, and I do get a little sketched when I approach the Wall of Death and see skaters poised and waiting to swoop down. But that reaction's a function of my own paranoid PTSD biker nerves, insofar as I've never seen nor heard of any sort of accident involving the Wall of Death. In my experience the skaters are really careful and respectful. It's a pretty dodgy situation that kind of inherently requires caution from all involved, and it seems like folks rise to that expectation.

I think for some bikers, though, "almost getting hit" constitutes anything from a legitimate scary near-miss to the mere presence of someone standing and looking expectant within 10 feet of their projected path (I'm guessing especially if said someone is holding a skateboard). And I wonder if what happened was that some of those more easily rattled folks simply took matters in hand and made a series of increasingly irate calls to the Dept. of Neighborhoods, and whablammy! No more skaters allowed on the bike path.

There's my two cents worth of radically unsubstantiated conjecture.

Posted by Anne | October 21, 2008 4:25 PM

What about all those kids on the new skateboards (trackbikes) clogging up all the skatespots? Do something about THAT!

Posted by Nikko | October 21, 2008 4:26 PM

Take out one of the rocks, embed Dan Savage in concrete instead.

Problem solved.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | October 21, 2008 4:32 PM

I don't know about this one Dan... like other cyclists' commenting here, I ride this almost daily and have yet to have an accident with the skaters... but I've never driven off a cliff, either.

Do we need a road study before putting guard rails on cliff edges? Just because the statistics aren't high doesn't mean this isn't ultimately more safe.

Posted by KBF | October 21, 2008 4:36 PM

the only good "Wall of Death" is a Richard Thompson song.

what's with the Savage obsession with skateboarders? this is a walkway/bike path, not a skateboard park. if some folks decide they want to shoot skeet* in that area, would that be ok too? i mean, i'm sure they would be respectful and courteous to walkers and all.

take a deep breath. focus your outrage where it belongs.

*by skeet, i mean clay targets and shotguns, not the slang term from popular music.

Posted by n0t l33t ollie | October 21, 2008 4:56 PM

Do you know how much speed we are going to need to ollie those rocks...we are going to take up alot more space not to mention all the misc. pieces of plywood that will start stacking up?

Posted by Big Balls Mccoy | October 21, 2008 5:08 PM

Do you know how much speed we are going to need to ollie those rocks...we are going to take up alot more space not to mention all the misc. pieces of plywood that will start stacking up?

Posted by Big Balls Mccoy | October 21, 2008 5:08 PM

Nah that spot sucks for skeet would be ok but that would take a license and its illegal? Skateboarding is legal! Take a deep breath not too deep you'll get light headed and focus your outrage on something that makes sense.

Posted by Big Balls Mccoy | October 21, 2008 5:15 PM
Skateboarding is legal!

Since when?

Posted by keshmeshi | October 21, 2008 5:58 PM

I've had a few near collisions there, one where I was run off the road by a skater and nearly crashed. Another time, one of them threw a piece of plywood at my front wheel. I have no idea why -- he just stared at me and grinned.

Posted by scotto | October 21, 2008 6:20 PM

While they're at it, can we also look forward to the day when they patch up parts of the BGT which have cracked pavement, since that is also a source of danger for bicyclists?

Posted by Nandor | October 21, 2008 8:38 PM

Sorry to not be PC but fuck skaters. Maybe there's no issue where you live. But here there are many parts of the town that have lovely cobble streets and terrace cafes. The only that makes more noise than a skater on these (once) quaint streets are fuckin semis. Go skate somewhere else you I-need-to-be-seen fucktards and stop the noise pollution already.

Posted by Fred34 | October 22, 2008 4:58 AM

There are some inconsistencies with Dan's email.

1) Why would there be documentation from police or emergency services in terms of getting hit by a skateboarder/cyclist. If someone got hit, at most it would be a fall, unless the person had a medical condition that only got worse because of the fall (resulting in an emergency call, making documentation rare). In other words, getting hit by a bicycle or a skateboard, would hurt but no lasting damage (in most cases) would come from it.

2) I've never been to Seattle but from the pictures that just seems to be an underpass created to allow the path to continue and not be ostructed. In other words, that underpass was probably created to allow pedestrians to walk under, not for skateboarders/bicyclists to use for skateboarding/bicycling.

3) Roads are made for car-use primarily, DS's "clever" comparison doesn't make sense. Pedestrians/cyclists are not menanced by cars; there are more car-car accidents every year than pedestrians-car accidents. Yes yes, if there's a bike lane, then all vehicles, motorized and non-motorized need to fine tune their driving abilities and learn to "share the road". But for the most part (and I don't agree with this) roads are primarily for car use if they have been initally designed as such (which is the case for about 99.99% of North America)

This underpass was created to allow pedestrians to continue walking along the path. There could be an issue with zoning bylaws, the safety of pedestrians and the safety of the skateboarders/cyclists. Like the guy from the city said, skateboarding parks are opening up all around your city. From my experience in Toronto, most skateboarding parks are located by community or rec centres, which have people staffed with first aid and quick access to phones to call emergency services if need be.

Must've been a slow day for news in Seattle or something - dont you guys have an election in like 2 weeks?

Posted by darek | October 22, 2008 6:20 AM

Darek, you are even more clueless than the average Slog poster.

The path was created specifically for cyclists and pedestrians. Seattle doesn't have an awful lot of public works for skaters. But you wouldn't know that, because you have never been here.

Which begs the question... Why are you commenting, exactly? Don't you have some election results to cry over?

Posted by kitschnsync | October 22, 2008 10:11 AM

Quickcrete that bitch, pump bump, 1/4 pike, anything skateable. That looks more like vandalism than a city project. 1up Seattle Parks!

Posted by Cracker | October 22, 2008 11:54 AM

What part of "near miss" don't people understand? A miss is a miss. No need to get your spandex in a bunch over nothing. Skaters are more in control than you think, and are probably more in control than you in most cases.

Posted by yaaay | October 22, 2008 6:35 PM

My problem with it is primarily that it is ugly as sin. Could you not have made a barricade that was somewhat orderly or even attractive? Hot gluing a bunch of rocks there just makes that whole side of the wall ugly, to go along with now being useless. Half assed and heavy handed. That really should be the motto of Seattle.

Posted by Chris | October 23, 2008 10:16 AM

As a skater and a cyclist, I can see both sides of a story, but why would the city want to take away a spot where kids go outside and get exercise?
As for number 50's response, you're right, skating's noise pollution is exactly the kind of pollution you should be worrying about. Maybe if every person rolling down the street on a skateboard got up and in their car instead, we could make the air on the cobblestone terrace a little bit thicker for you to breathe in.
And number 51, the mentality that 99% of the roads are created for cars, does not mean that cyclists don't have a right to the road. And this is the debate here isn't it? That everyone should have equal rights to the public infrastructure around them? Cyclists should be allowed to commute in an healthy, enviro-friendly way on whichever streets they see fit, as those streets should be for the community and not just those who can choose the automobile. Similarly, underneath where an embankment of concrete lies, who can say it should be limited to one purpose of being a big ugly piece of concrete, let the skaters have their piece of infrastructure as well. What the city should have done is make an effort to include both parties, not exclude one.

Posted by Dylan | October 23, 2008 10:53 AM

I bet Darek is canadian

Posted by hairy ballsagna | October 23, 2008 3:39 PM

"The streets are primarily for cars. There is a bit of purpose and intent that is lacking in your disingenuous statement." ...actually streets are primarily for citizens. Your mode of transportation is of equal right. Streets are for things that move forward.

Posted by d | October 23, 2008 3:54 PM

a sarcasm detector, now that's a useful invention

Posted by theshepherdsdog | October 23, 2008 8:17 PM

The following quote is from SDOT's response in an email to the City Council and the Parks Department on 10/22/08:

"This ramp is in a heavily used section of the Burke Gilman trail. We have received a number of complaints from cyclists, pedestrians, and moms with strollers about conflicts with skateboarders who are using the area as an unofficial skate ramp. SDOT went out to the site and observed the problem and our conclusion was that it was a hazard to have skateboarders skating down a ramp that runs right into the Burke Gilman Trail. While we do not relish talking out the skating spot, SDOT has a responsibility to remove known hazards along the trail."

In my opinion:

1) From a skater's perspective, the attractive things about this space are that it is covered, has (or rather, had) a very large skateable bank across from a big ollie gap onto a large piece of public art with a concrete base. It is also accessible via the BGT and located near other popular skate spots in the U-District. Also, it is not really a "skatepark" - just a great place to ride a skateboard in the city.

2) From SDOT's perspective, the proximity of the bank to the trail accidentally created a skate spot with traffic lines that crossed the BGT, creating a hazardous condition.

3) It was only a matter of time before something happened here. Skatespots like this evolve naturally from the found environment, and skateboarders have perfected the ability to recognize and utilize such features. Thankfully, enough time passed to allow the Wall of Death to become an important part of Seattle's skateboarding landscape, so there is a community of people who would like to see skateboarding in this public space again.

So the real question is: What now?

Again, in my opinion:

1) This piece of public space could be further modified to support skateboarding again. A boardslide/grind rail placed between the BGT and the art would give skaters a way to continue using the space while travelling in the same direction as bikers and pedestrians. A small halfpipe or other permanent concrete structure placed South of the art might also be interesting. Other solutions might accomplish the same goals.

2) There is no magic wand to wave here. Even though SDOT was a participant on the task force that created Seattle's Citywide Skatepark Plan, the Wall of Death was never acknowledged as an "existing skatespot" because it was never officially planned or sanctioned. Unlike Seattle Parks, SDOT is in the business of creating and maintaining transportation corridors throughout the city, so their perspective is very different when it comes to recreation. If the Wall of Death were resurrected as an official skatespot or skatedot, it would take compromise from both sides of the table, as well as funding that could be spent building skateable terrain in other parts of the city.

3) Renegade/DIY construction is always an option, but that takes long-term effort and resources too. Plus, there's already a world class DIY project on SDOT land in South Seattle, along with a great community of skaters who build and maintain that public space themselves.

4) Minimally, it's certainly reasonable to propose a solution to SDOT that represents the interests of the skaters who use this space. I and others would be very interested in anyone's suggestions on the types of skateable features that could be built here.

Thanks to everyone for getting involved in this important issue.

For more information on "Skateable Terrain in Seattle" please review the following 2005 position paper by the Seattle Parks Skatepark Advisory Committee:

Scott Shinn

Parents for Skateparks

Posted by Scott Shinn | October 24, 2008 7:30 AM

Ah, Irony.

Biggest problem for skateboarders at the Lower Woodland skatepark which Dewey mentions? Bikes.

Posted by Audax | October 24, 2008 2:16 PM

If you want more skateparks (I DO) go to the developement meetings!! You can find out when & where by checking If you are old enough to vote? Then vote yes on proposition 2. So the parks department has some dough to work with. The skateboarding community is the tightest but our voice just isn't loud enough.

Posted by Laird | October 24, 2008 4:54 PM

Not only have i skated Wall of Death in the rain and seen 2 cyclists during my 3 hour session, but it is of wide consensus that the skateboarders generally look out for the pedestrians on the BGT.

Also , this is a large step away from the proposed skate spot skate dot program that was propposed a year or two ago.

Posted by Fed | October 26, 2008 7:07 PM

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