A skid row or skid road is a run-down or dilapidated urban area with a large population of impoverished abusers of alcohol and, often, other drugs. In a related expression, someone who is down and out is said to be "on the skids". The term originally referred literally to a path along which loggers skidded logs; that literal meaning is now obsolete. Its current sense appears to have originated in the Pacific Northwest.
Informally, there is an identified skid-row neighborhood in almost every major North American city. Some examples are Pioneer Square, Seattle, Washington, Skid Row in Los Angeles, San Francisco's Tenderloin District, and the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. In recent years some historic North American skid rows, such as The Bowery in New York City, have lost their rundown character and have been gentrified.
Seattle's historic Skid Road district (now better known as Pioneer Square) centers on Yesler Way, widely believed to have originated as a "skid road" in the literal sense.
The 100-block of East Hastings Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, the heart of that city's "skid road" neighborhood, also lies on a historical skid road. In Seattle, logs were floated from the foothills of the Cascade Mountains across Lake Washington to the skid road up and over First Hill. The logs were then "skidded" by attaching a "choke" chain, or cable, to one end of the log. The log was then pulled by overhead cables, dragging or skidding the other end over the hill to the Seattle Waterfront, to a sawmill owned by Henry Yesler. However, Crowley questions whether the original geography of Seattle, with a sharp ravine near today's Fourth Avenue, would have allowed such a system. The Vancouver Skid Road was part of a complex of such roads in the dense forests surrounding the Hastings Mill and adjacent to the settlement of Granville, Burrard Inlet (Gastown).
Murray Morgan, in his 1951 book Skid Road, described how the loggers spent the summers in the mountains cutting down trees and how the winter snow and mud hampered operations. The out-of-work loggers would hang out on Skid Road hoping to find work and would often run out of money, sleep on the streets, and find themselves reduced to begging. This is where the connection between the operation of skidding logs and being poor and unemployed originated.
However, the term in its modern sense did not become popular until the early 20th century, when the Rev. Mark A. Matthews, popularized (and possibly originated) the current sense of the term "Skid Road" in his sermons. The Seattle-area Presbyterian minister and ardent prohibitionist regularly used the term in his sermons, and was explicit about his etymology: "Yesler Way was once a skid road down which logs were pushed to Henry Yesler's sawmill on the waterfront. Today it is a skid road down which human souls go sliding to hell!
"Skid row" is most likely a corruption coming from areas outside of the term's region of origin.
A portion of Vancouver's Skid Row, Gastown, has also been rejuvenated but is in a difficult coexistence with the nearby impoverished Downtown Eastside along East Hastings Street. Downtown Eastside is infamous for its open drug trade, drug-related deaths (Vancouver's Skid Row has the highest per capita heroin-related deaths in the entire North American continent), prostitution and the highest rate of HIV and AIDS infection in North America. The poorest urban area in Canada, it is wedged between Downtown, Chinatown and Gastown. These areas are frequented by tourists, and East Hastings Street is a major thoroughfare. These avenues of exposure make the Downtown Eastside a highly visible example of a skid row. The Downtown Eastside (sometimes abbreviated D.T.E.S.) is also home to Insite, the only legal intravenous drug safe injection site in Canada, part of a harm reduction policy aimed at helping the area's drug addicted residents.
The name Skid Row is sufficiently official that fire engines and ambulances serving the neighborhood have historically had "Skid Row" emblazoned on their sides. On 1 June 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that fire officials plan to change the legend on the vehicles to read "Central City East". Many residents support the change, but it is opposed by firefighters and some residents who take pride in the sense that they live in a tough place.