Don’t Let Scooters Ruin Our Riverfront Paths

Our riverfront paths are a unique treasure. No other city in America has as wide a swath of natural beauty cutting through its midsection. Rain or shine, these paths are always busy and the mood is always bright.

First-time users sometimes need this hint. “On your left!” is a declarative statement, not an alarm or an invitation. It is a courtesy conveyed, requiring nothing of you. Don’t freeze and turn. It could cause an accident. Stay calm and carry on.

Our riverfront trails attract all comers. That makes them special. Bicycles, skateboards, baby strollers, wheelchairs and dogs — even horses — are welcome. Joggers, runners, and walkers pass at different speeds, cooperating to avoid collisions. Communication is key.

Twice in the past month, I’ve seen a new addition to this rich mosaic of transportation modes.

Early one morning on the Middle Fork Path near Dorris Ranch in Springfield, a young man zipped past me at what seemed an impossible speed for a skateboard on level land. After eliminating my first theory that he had arrived here from the future, I determined that his skateboard was powered by an electric motor and controlled by a remote he held in his hand.

We can only assume that he chose the early morning hour because the paths are less crowded. There was no chance to ask him, because he was traveling so fast. He was wearing a helmet, but any spill at that speed could have been messy.

Last week, I had my second encounter. On the Ruth Bascom Riverfront Trail near Valley River Center in Eugene, two helmeted teenagers were trying out their electric scooters. These scooters have a bit more control than a skateboard, but their velocity was roughly similar.

Our paths prohibit motorized vehicles, but that distinction is beginning to blur. Modern bicycles and wheelchairs often come equipped with electric motor assistance. Scooters and skateboards are following (quickly) behind. Will they be allowed or forbidden? We may need new signage to clarify the policy, because that mix of transportation modes is going to change quickly — and very soon.

Many cities are struggling to stay ahead of electric scooter rental companies. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last Wednesday that makes it legal for adults to ride electric scooters without a helmet. On that same day, a few states away, Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that a 24-year-old’s death was caused by blunt force injuries to his head. The e-scooter he had been riding had been found several hundred yards away, broken in half.

Eugene and Springfield should learn from other cities and states. We still have time to avoid confusion — and potential danger — that is sure to come. Nobody will be happy if residents and visitors begin to see our riverfront paths as unsafe or unfriendly.

If we’re going to allow motorized travel on the paths, which ones? As speeds increase, we may need a helmet requirement, speed limits, or passing lanes. Courtesy will remain the best solution, but new users will need new training. I hope our city officials don’t freeze and turn when they hear something approaching quickly from behind them.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.