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The times, they are a-changin'. That's the name of a Bob Dylan song from 1964. Times were changing then, but nothing like they're changing today. Today's changes would have been earthshaking events that would have rattled us back in the ancient '60s.

Let's look at one that is coming down the pike faster than anything I have ever seen.

In five years, 20 percent of Arkansawyers who live in a town will be riding scooters to work every day. In places such as Fayetteville (just try to find a parking place near the university during classes) the numbers will be above 50 percent. I can't wait to ride to work on one. The head-shakers are going at it again, the same ones who shook their heads at the idea that El Dorado would have Uber. We do.

Here in Arkansas it's hard to imagine riding an electric scooter anywhere, but check out major cities and you'll find the demand for scooters outstrips the supply. It's easy to see why. For short rides to work on any city street, the scooters are quick, economical, easy to park and simpler to maneuver in traffic than any other mode of transportation. And every mile you ride is a plus for the environment.

Millions of folks live within a half mile of where they work, shop, dine, and are entertained. Scooters are perfect for those little trips. But in order to fully link with coming transportation needs, we should work to extend sidewalks and trails to as many parts of our towns and cities as is reasonably possible. Exercise and bicycle needs should also be a priority. We should try to emulate cities like Seattle: 30 percent of its downtown workers walk, ride a bike, or ride a scooter to work.

Back in 2001 and 2002, a design team from the University of Arkansas spent a year developing a comprehensive report aimed at helping El Dorado revitalize itself. It covered the entire incorporated town and included the municipal airport, Mellor Park Mall, re-use of abandoned buildings, and transportation needs. As a part of this study an extensive trail study was included.

It's been 18 years since that study was completed, so I know you're interested in how much we have accomplished that was in the study. An abandoned brick building in the south part of town was restored as a community center. That's it! The rest of the study was put on the shelf. The team was obviously ahead of its time.

However, if we dust off the trail study. it gives our town an outline of how to connect various parts of the community. The plan is structured to give individuals the option to walk, bike or ride a scooter from one area to another. Trails can be used as an exercise route for an individual, but they should have a destination.

The proposed trail map has trails from the municipal golf course to downtown, and from downtown to the shopping areas on North West Avenue. Trails are not just circles around a park. If you want a circle trail, go to your local high school and walk around the track. Trails should have a destination.

As Cadillacs developed fins in the '60s, our cities and towns stopped putting in sidewalks. You can easily spot the older parts of any Arkansas city or town by noting the sidewalks; as you travel to the newer parts of town watch as the sidewalks disappear. As we look back to see how design-stupid fins on a Cadillac were, we can also see how shortsighted our city planners were to not have mandated sidewalks everywhere pedestrians walk.

Every city in our state should budget money to add and extend sidewalks, and have in its building code a requirement for sidewalks to be put in every area where pedestrians are present. It's the smart thing to do, and it's the overwhelming focus in cities that are on the forefront of quality of life communities.

In El Dorado, we have two major shopping areas, downtown and North West Avenue, our primary entry into the city. We have new brick sidewalks downtown. But the half-mile walk to the North West Avenue shopping area or out another three-quarters of a mile to the Walmart Supercenter will put your life at risk if you walk down N. West Avenue with four lanes of traffic, an endless turn lane, and no sidewalks. Still, I see folks trying to walk it every day, jumping up on the curb as traffic whizzes by.

The city should have put in sidewalks when the shopping expansion from downtown to North West Avenue happened, but it's not too late. El Dorado has plenty of rights-of-ways to put in sidewalks, trees, and underground utilities, but it's like pulling teeth to get any action. I've offered to plant 50 trees down the avenue, and all the city has to do is cut the hole in the rights-of-ways they own. I'm still waiting.

Every town in our state has the same problem. Some cities ar adding sidewalks, trees, and underground utilities, but it's like pouring molasses in January.

America's West Coast cities are leading the wave of the future, and if you want to see how an Arkansas town might look in 20 years, you should travel to any of the cities in that area. We should emulate them. As surely as we pick up our cell phones or check Facebook, someday we'll ride scooters and put in sidewalks and trails.

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email richard@gibraltarenergy.com.

Editorial on 09/30/2018

Print Headline: Scooters, sidewalks, and trails

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