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Fayetteville, which became a town in 1828 before Arkansas was even a state, has been home to the University of Arkansas since that institution's birth in 1871 as Arkansas Industrial University. It's been a symbiotic relationship between the two for the last 148 years.

Symbiosis does not by necessity refer to a healthy relationship, although one would be hard pressed to suggest the Fayetteville-UA connection has been, on balance, anything less than beneficial to both. We'd say it depends on the issue, really.

What’s the point?

The addition of rentable scooters on the University of Arkansas campus and downtown Fayetteville will change the transportation landscape for everyone.

Take, for example, the parking crunch near Wilson Park created by sorority houses and their frequent all-hands-on-deck functions that bring hundreds of members to the houses at once. In that instance, Fayetteville residents take the brunt of the UA's lack of parking capacity for facilities related to its operations.

Wonder if back in the 1800s the city needed ordinances about where students parked their horses?

Anyway, the relational negatives between the two entities are minor blips easily expected in a long, shared history.

Where will scooters fall in that history?

City and university officials announced Thursday that residents on and off campus can expect to see up to 200 electric scooters sprinkled around the downtown/campus area as of today. As rent-a-scooter vendors eyeballed Fayetteville and the UA as potentially lucrative ground, the City Council earlier this year passed an ordinance to limit two city-licensed vendors to a maximum of 500 dockless, electric scooters. The university has worked with the city for a unified approach with the vendors. With today's introduction, the transportation landscape in Fayetteville will change dramatically.

Just as ride-share bicycles are scattered about, as of today, the smaller scooters will become ubiquitous in the downtown/campus experience.

Advocates for alternatives to cars for short trips value the options technology has created for students, city residents, visitors and others. GPS technology makes it possible to monitor and control bicycles and scooters in such a way that people use their smartphones as rental devices. Vendors can keep track of where the devices end up and ensure they're staying within certain "geo-boundaries."

Fayetteville's bike-share program, done with the company VeoRide, resulted in 85,000 rides in its first year, according to city officials. Every one of those represents less congestion on the streets and less pollution in the air. Win-win, right?

But scooters have had a somewhat different history that leaves city officials a little nervous about their mass introduction into the community. Fayetteville initially resisted the immediate plans of a scooter vendor to move into town. Rental companies then convinced the Arkansas Legislature to pass a law requiring cities to allow them.

Nationally, the path for scooters has been a little bumpy.

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study done in conjunction with health officials in Austin, Texas, home of the University of Texas. Over a nearly three-month period, the study identified 190 e-scooter riders who had been injured seriously enough to seek emergency treatment. Nearly half sustained head injuries, with 15 percent suffering a traumatic brain injury. A third of the injured riders suffered fractured bones. Only 10 percent of the injuries involved automobiles. Many of the injuries happened to people -- 63 percent of the injured riders -- who had never ridden a scooter before or had ridden one fewer than 10 times.

It should be noted that the rate of injuries came in at 20 per 100,000 trips. So this isn't something to panic about, but certainly something to be aware of.

In Nashville, Tenn., last month, the City Council considered but eventually rejected a ban on electric scooters after complaints about safety -- for riders and pedestrians alike -- and other issues, such as scooters laying on sidewalks affecting access for people with disabilities. In Atlanta, Ga., the city in August banned use of scooters between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. after several traffic fatalities involving the devices. Little Rock, invaded by scooters in January, has waffled on the devices amid safety complaints, but they're still there.

Fayetteville's rules try to address some of the dangers. Ones that operate at night must have a white light on front and a red like on back. They can't exceed 15 mph. No riders under 16 are permitted. No riding on sidewalks that abut buildings, such as the sidewalks lining Dickson Street. Through the use of technology, slow-down zones can be automatically triggered by the vending companies to increase safe travel in areas with unique challenges.

Will that and the cities other regulations be enough? Time will tell. The best advice for riders is to use some common sense -- namely not behaving as though a scooter is a toy.

Naturally, these devices will prove most useful around the university campus and the immediately surrounding area because of the concentration of potential customers. People will have an option for quick and short trips that allows them to leave their automobiles parked. Maybe that will even help with parking at the sorority houses near Maple and Wilson streets.

But for those driving cars on campus and downtown, the presence of scooters is another reason to take it easy, pay attention and, by all means, stay off those cell phones while you're driving. Don't let the operation of a smartphone make you look dumb.

Commentary on 11/08/2019

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