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Rollerblading Not in Public's Best Interest

By Scott C. Deskin

Now that spring is here, warm-weather sporting enthusiasts are crawling out of the woodwork in astonishing numbers. Yet most sports this century have not encroached upon the freedom of law-abiding pedestrians, save the occasional inconsiderate bicyclist speeding down the sidewalk. Until the mid-1980s, the sidewalks of urban cities everywhere were relatively safe for slow-moving pedestrians. Sadly, for Cantabridgians and urbanites across the nation, those days are over.

In-line skating (or "rollerblading," for you laymen out there) is, without a doubt, the bane of modern urban society. Never before has a sporting fad (except maybe the hula hoop) had such a ludicrous impact on the minds of otherwise well-adjusted individuals. Even in the easily-mocked 1970s, roller skates and the inevitable roller derbies never really maintained such a vise grip on the American consciousness as the current fad does.

Today, the streets and sidewalks are cluttered with in-line skaters - one of every two pedestrians some days, it seems. For these people, rollerblading is less a sport than an opportunity to see and be seen by others, as I've observed by the way most people meander around on their clunky skates. So I'd like to debunk the current phenomenon by pointing out several modern "myths" about in-line skating.

Rollerblading is democratic and accessible. True, these people are at least getting outside with their skates, and there is a definite sense of community among them. The craze has grown to such proportions that the City of Cambridge closes down part of Memorial Drive to motor-vehicle traffic for them - a noble effort in itself. Now if it were only possible to give the less-skilled masses their own separate skating area year-round so they wouldn't be prone to terrorizing innocent pedestrians. Thankfully, nature helps to keep the rollerbladers in check by making the roads nearly impassable to anyone moving faster than a slow crawl on foot.

Rollerblading is a good, low-impact exercise. The way most people cavort around on their blades, you'd think the 70s were back again. Granted, it does take a certain degree of skill and proficiency to get up to a decent speed on the skates for an effective aerobic workout (30 minutes or more). But the way I've seen most people skate along the Charles River, in-line skaters are content to "coast" for much of their excursion. For runners, who have to keep their legs moving through their entire route, the cardiovascular benefits are generally greater than those of in-line skating. For middle-distance runners like myself, rollerbladers who take up the entire sidewalk are a major annoyance, although I'd say that I don't have trouble passing most of them. For the vast majority of in-line skaters, walking would be probably be a better fitness activity.

Rollerblading is fun. This is a thoroughly subjective matter that I'd like to avoid, given my obvious bias against the activity. Most people would say that they enjoy the freedom and speed associated with the experience of in-line skating. The wind in one's hair, the rush of careening down the sidewalk, and participating with other skaters are indeed attractive lures, in a glossy Sports Illustrated sort of way. And I don't want to condemn the in-line skating movement for its wholesome aspirations to American youth: Hey, Laser Tag was a noble venture in its time, too. But proclaiming rollerblading as a way of life is, like any popular fad, nave at best and dangerous at worst.

The painful truth: Rollerbladers are a menace to peace-loving pedestrians everywhere. The problem: The legions of these rapscallions-on-wheels are growing in number by the day. Therefore, I hope to posit some possible remedies for the in-line skating epidemic. First, one could move to the country, or at least to a place with a lot of hills, which would discourage (if not halt) the spread of in-line skaters. Second, municipalities could set aside special pebble-covered walkways to discourage potential skaters. Third, the Institute could extend its extant no-rollerblading-indoors policy and order that rollerbladers be shot on sight (on campus grounds, of course).

Short of a completely totalitarian stance against in-line skating, though, the best we can hope for is some kind of peaceful coexistence between soled pedestrians and their wheeled counterparts. For, like roller skating and the Bee Gees, in-line skating and Celine Dion will one day reach their point of market saturation, and people will finally come to their senses. Call me old-fashioned, but a return to traditional means of aerobic exercise is coming, and I won't be the only one laughing when it does.