Technical Corner

Controlling Safe Wheeled Movement in All Recreation Facilities

March 2022

The ORFA considers a recreation facility as “any land, premise, location or things at or upon which offers a recreation or leisure experience for all” and as such, all require the same level of care and control.

“Movement” in recreation is considered a core element to a healthy lifestyle. Movement takes on many different forms, with some activities having more risk of injury.  The level of risk is increased when introduced without warning into facilities that were not designed for their use. The ORFA has released several documents that are included in different ORFA certification training courses and held within the ORFA Resource Centre that addresses this concern. These documents also raise awareness of risks associated with other emerging forms of new approaches to a very old technology – the wheel. Skateboard parks form an important part of many recreational asset inventories, but their early use was often viewed as a nuisance and a high-risk recreational activity in areas that were never designed for this type of activity. In response facility managers posted signage and adjusted designs to reduce the opportunity to use skateboards in public areas. Roller skates played an important part of many communities’ recreation programs in the 70’s and 80’s as many concrete pads in ice rinks served as the perfect roller-skating environment. In the 2000’s “heely’s” were introduced to the marketplace as another human movement device that had small wheels installed on the bottom of a street shoe that allowed the user to go seamlessly from walking to rolling without changing footwear. This new trend had the ORFA warning of these shoes in a 2005 member “alert” titled “The Popularity of Heelys Brings a Variety of Roller Shoes Out to Public Facilities” so that they might consider the risks of these wheeled shoes and decide if controlling or limiting use should be considered in specific operations.

As fossil fuel costs change, so will human approaches to travel. Bicycle enthusiasts have often clashed with urban design as they demand improved and equal access to primary roadways. Finding a balance of safe and accessible pathways for all forms of equipment that move people for recreational or work requirements have always overlapped into various recreation operations. Management have historically tried to control motorcycles and other forms of off-road motorized riding such as ATV and UTV from accessing recreational areas that may be environmentally sensitive to such traffic. Sports fields and other open spaces such as established trails and pathways for walking and biking were often used by these enthusiasts or damaged by these vehicles. These traditional operational issues are now being challenged by new forms of personal devices that have a new look but are actually old ideas – motorized bicycles and e-scooters. Motorized bicycles were introduced as early as 1868 [more] and have gone through many different changes that include the motorcycles we know today. Through this evolution, there have been a variety of laws created to control their use and help ensure user and public safety. Through time, inventors have always tried to find ways to get people moving mechanically that skirted the legalities of the use of these devices. Mopeds were made available in North America in the late 1960’s and continued through the 1970’s. These two-wheeled devices had pedals that made them a bicycle when required but could be pedaled quickly enough to start a small gasoline engine that would then propel the unit along its way. Law enforcement was not sure how to classify them. Did they need a license, insurance, or helmet? Young people were zooming (before the Zoom we know today) all over the place with no regard to the rules of the road or safety equipment. It took some time, but lawmakers did catch up placing appropriate controls and restrictions in place.

Recreation infrastructure requires structure to properly function in a safe manner. These tools will include design, barriers, and signage. It may also require supervision or policing pending use. It is human nature to both socialize and seek locations to recreate. As new technologies, equipment or devices are created or recycled, facility management must be quick to respond to meet their obligations under the Occupiers Liability Act to provide safe environments for all who enter or use the location.

The ORFA is continuing to monitor how the AODA Alliance reacts to many large centres and how e-scooters can be used on public property. An electric scooter is defined as a personal device with no more than three wheels that has handlebars, is designed to be stood upon by the operator, and is powered by an electric motor that is capable of propelling the device with or without human propulsion at speeds of 35 plus kilometers per hour on a paved level surface. A recent news release stated:

A Seriously Wrong-Headed Disregard of Safety and Accessibility for People with Disabilities - A silent menace, e-scooters, appearing out of nowhere, are ridden on sidewalks in cities that ban them from sidewalks. Uninsured, unlicensed, untrained, un-helmeted joyriders, racing at 20 KPH, endanger the safety of innocent pedestrians, especially those who can't see them coming or who can't quickly dodge them. Often left strewn on sidewalks, e-scooters are tripping hazards for blind people, and an accessibility nightmare for wheelchair users.

As far back as 2014, police departments have been concerned about increased numbers of gas-powered bikes [more].  Motorized bicycles which are the original DNA of the motorcycle. In Canada, eight provinces currently allow the operation of motorized bicycles using low-powered electric motors capable of a maximum speed of 32 km/hour under the definition of power-assisted bicycles. Some of these bikes are known to now exceed 80 km/hour. In Ontario, "It's not illegal to sell them. It's not illegal to own them," says a Guelph Police Service spokesperson in the shared article. They're permitted on private property but can't be driven on public roadways unless they strictly adhere to the Highway Traffic Act motorcycle requirements. The issue becomes the policing of the laws on surfaces controlled under the Highway Traffic Act by the police. Once they move onto public property the responsibility for control can quickly become an operational matter.

A goal to offer as many recreational experiences as possible is not unreasonable. However, ensuring that these new experiences are safe and well controlled are an important part of this growth. The ORFA raises awareness and advises members to be aware of all wheeled changes that may be accessing trails, parks, and other properties and to take appropriate action to try and control use of these devices. Risk management is a balance of awareness and proactive action.

Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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