Warren Miller didn't stop for the light. He didn't slow down, and he didn't look where he was going. So he got a $5 ticket one night last week for a moving violation on roller skates.
The plice officer wanted to see Miller's driver's license, but Miller couldn't show it to him. He had given it to the skate-rental man along with the deposit on his skates. Miller, 25 from Oakton, Va., was amused but puzzled: "i never knew it was so rough on the streets.
But it is.The newest urban craze has produced the newest urban crime: jay-skating. Most of the potential offenders can be found in the M Street roller corridor around 19th Street, going with the flow of polyurethane wheels and the ramps at intersections that make it easy to cross the street.
There, on a warm weekend night, scores of rental rollers shoot down the crowded sidewalks, didge the bar-hoppers, weave through the thick traffic and try desperately to stay in control.
In control or not, if they go through a red light they can get hit with a Section 52-C:
"Between adjacent intersections controlled by traffic control, signal devices or by police officers, pedestrians shall not cross the roadway at any place except the crosswalk." Do it on wheels and it's jay-skating.
If that law is clear -- and the number of violators is rising -- the legal status of street-skating is still unclear and hotly contested by both sides.
Although police routinely warn skaters against using the streets, it took Lt. Fred Jacobs 15 minutes to try to find a law prohibiting non-motorized vehicles (other than bicycles) from "utilizing a thoroughfare."
"Here it is," he finally said. "I mean, there was a section under traffic regulations, but it's been deleted." Asked about the confustion, D.C. police public information officer Gary Hankins said that skating in the street was allowed as long as people obeyed pedestrian and traffic regulations.
"Hey, if he said it was legal," jacobs said, "what can I say?"
Jim Sheible, who is forming a trade association for skaters and vendors, has a lot to say. He resents the police treating him as a pedestrian. "I maintain that we are no more pedestrian than a bicycle. I can go more than 20 miles an hour on skates. I don't call that a pedestrian.
"Arrington Dixon [City Council chairman] gave us a ruling that there was not law agains skating in the street. People-powered vehicles are a rational, sane and civi-minded response to the energy crisis. There is no real conflict. Cars and people-powered vehicles will have to learn to coexist," said Scheible, who also owns the Metro Stop Skate Shop
"Since when is an automobile supposed to have precedence over human beings?" he asked. "It is irrational, illogical."
Beyond the police warnings about street-skating, Sheible joins other vendors in complaining of skater and vendor "harassment." Another vendor said, "the police are giving us a hard time, citing laws that don't exist -- like you can't vend out of a truck in the District, or you have to park 45 feet from the corner when the law says 20.
But according to the District's second-precinct police, who patrol M Street, the parking laws for vendors are the same as laws for private vehicles. They must park 25 feet from the corner -- whether selling out of the trucks or not -- and sales from a vehicle are legal with a permit.
"Our lawyers checked into a lot of these laws," Sheible says. "There is no law prohibiting people from skating in the street."
The vendor did not want to give his name for fear of antagonizaing the police. He things that they are looking for "picayunish kinds of things just to get us," although he concedes that "In all fairness to the cops, some of them are very nice and cooperative."
Washington may not have been the first city to pick up on the skating craze, but it is apparently the first to make jay-skating an offense. The New York Central Park police have enough trouble with more important misdemeanors, they say, sand reckless skaters are not among them. And Los Angeles police say that most skaters are contained in parks and near the ocean, away from cars, so they have not become a hazard.
Rhonda Strickland, owner of Cosmic Wheels in Georgetown, skates every day and herds classes of novice skaters around Washinton. Although she is aware of the legal risk, she has yet to be issued a ticket.
"The other night," Strickland said, a friend and I were skating across the middle of the street right in front of a police car. He slowed down and looked at us, them drove on. I thought that was pretty encouraging." CAPTION: Picture 1, no caption; Picture 2, Jay-skaters on 19th Street Nw; by Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post