Two-wheeling around downtown Little Rock

Lime e-scooters are here. The cute little two-wheelers arrived in downtown Little Rock on Thursday, charged and ready for a six-month pilot program.

Initially, according to KUAR-FM 89.1, Little Rock had investigated launching a bike share program that would provide a minimum of 200 bikes in the downtown/River Market area to use. That idea has been tossed for the time being--maybe someone finally noticed that Little Rock is extremely hilly, making it difficult for anyone who isn't relatively fit to get around on a bike, not to mention the lack of bike lanes on major streets and an indifference to the welfare of bicyclists routinely exhibited by drivers--replaced with rechargeable GPS and 3G-enabled Lime S e-scooters.

"My understanding is that scooters are really the direction everybody's going in," outgoing Little Rock Mayor Stodola said in December.

Touted as a convenient, affordable, environmentally agreeable and congestion-reducing way to get around in the city, the lithium battery-powered scooters can be ridden on sidewalks and river trails, but not on streets.

To get started, users download the Lime scooter app onto a smartphone. GPS and 3G allow them to use those smartphones to find a scooter nearby. Cost is $1 to unlock the scooter, then 15 cents per minute of use. When the ride is over, the rider taps End Ride on the app. A trip summary and final cost will be displayed, which can be paid with a credit or debit card. The scooter can be left on a street curb or bike rack.

Riders must be at least 18 and have a driver's license. Use of a helmet is recommended--although it's hard to imagine downtowners will run out to purchase helmets anytime soon, especially since bicyclists and motorcyclists often skip this safety feature.

Lime has programs in 100 markets on five continents; Little Rock will be its first partner in Arkansas. E-scooter competitor Bird is "nesting" 175 scooters on the streets in Russellville for public use, where they've been popular.

According to an Oct. 7 story in the Democrat-Gazette by Bill Bowden, Bird riders can leave them in any public place where they are out of the way of pedestrians and traffic. Bicycle racks are preferable.

The Bird scooters have lights, according to Mr. Bowden's reporting, so they can operate at night, but they can't be rented after 9 p.m. After that time, "bird hunters" pick up the scooters, charge them and return them to one of 15 nests (each with five scooters) so riders can find them the next morning.

Reactions to e-scooters are mixed. Democrat-Gazette colleague Danny Shameer says, "It's fun but scary--especially for a 60-year-old such as myself. I learned something: Our sidewalks are bumpy!"

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dr. Hany Atallah, who heads up Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital's emergency room, figures that each month, his facility's ER sees at least 30 scooter riders after they've eaten pavement. That number is increasing, as is the frequency of pedestrians being run over.

Has Dr. Atallah ridden one? "I've resisted the temptation because I've seen too much," he said. "People have got to use common sense. But that seems to be lacking here."

Then there's this, from Mark Wilson on the website fastcompany.com:

"Electric scooters have been positioned as a woke solution to many urban transportation woes like traffic, pollution, and few reliable ways to travel short distances--what urban planners often refer to as the last-mile problem. An electric scooter takes up less room on the street than a Toyota Corolla. It doesn't blow exhaust directly into the atmosphere. It's faster than walking.

"These things are basically the same old Razor that was sold to every 8-year-old for Christmas in 2001, fitted with batteries, an electric motor, and cell-phone guts for connectivity. Some have wider foot platforms. Some are painted red. All place your center of gravity strangely high [and] are near impossible to turn tightly ... This rigid design just can't handle imperfect urban terrain that you'll find in nearly every city.

"Scooters simply haven't been designed well enough to get people around safely, legally, or in an environmentally sound way. There's a gap between ride-as-amusing-tourist-distraction and ride-as-the-future-of-urban-transport. How well does an electric scooter work in the rain? Snow? For the elderly? For the sad sack who just had his phone stolen and suddenly has no way to ride home on a scooter sitting right in front of him?"

Over the next six months, I guess we'll find out.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

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Editorial on 01/13/2019