In an effort to encourage more students to use alternative transportation methods, UA sustainability officials are moving forward with one major project while another falters.
The largest sustainable transit project in the works is a total redesign and reconstruction of Maple Street, said Dane Eifling, bicycle and pedestrian programs coordinator for the UA Office of Sustainability and the city of Fayetteville. Planned elements of the redesign include a protected bicycle lane connecting the Razorback Greenway to Garland Avenue, sidewalk improvements, landscaping, crosswalks and new Razorback Transit bus stops.
Eifling said the plans for the Maple Street project, which is a collaboration between the university, the Walton Family Foundation and the city of Fayetteville, have been mostly completed. However, despite the foundation committing $2 million to the project, progress is stalled over details the stakeholders have yet to settle, Eifling said.
“There have been some setbacks in terms of just coming to terms with the design and the cost,” Eifling said. “That’s still kind of ongoing. We were hoping to start construction as early as next summer, but it’s kind of TBD right now. I would like to say that yes, it is definitely going to happen. There is always a possibility that it could be derailed.”
Garrett Lampson, a senior who is vice president of the UA cycling club and a member of the UA Bicycle Advocacy Committee, said that although he will have graduated by the time it happens, he is eager for Maple Street to get a protected bike lane. Lampson thinks campus has become more bike-friendly since he was a freshman, thanks to the introduction of the VeoRide program in fall 2018 and the opening of the Discovery Bikeway in January, he said. However, there are several improvements he thinks should be made to improve sustainable transportation, Lampson said.
Lampson thinks one of the most necessary developments is a bike lane connecting campus to the Razorback Greenway, he said. More protected bike lanes, covered bike parking and racks throughout campus would also encourage more students to commute by bicycle, Lampson said.
Lampson thinks continuing to foster a bike-friendly environment will be important for the city because alternative transportation methods have benefits such as eco-friendliness and affordability, he said.
“It’s a lot more environmentally sustainable, it does a lot for increasing people’s overall happiness, it promotes a healthier community.” Lampson said. “It increases accessibility for a lot more impoverished people.”
The UofA was upgraded from silver to gold Bicycle-Friendly University status when The League of American Bicyclists announced its 2019 BFU awards Oct. 17. The university joins 24 other schools who have ever earned that award, with only the eight platinum-awarded schools ranking higher in bike friendliness.
However, the university is not done trying to make campus an easily accessible environment for cycling and the use of other alternative transportation, Eifling said.
“Our transportation needs are growing and intensifying more as we’ve grown our student population. People aren’t going to be able to drive a car by themselves to this campus and find a parking spot,” Eifling said. “Given all the investment that’s gone on in the region into building trail infrastructure, we’d be foolish not to tap into that to meet our transportation needs.”
The other major project in the works for the university and the city is the introduction of 500 e-scooters, half of which will be owned and serviced by the company Lime, and half by the company Spin, Eifling said. Officials decided to split the scooter contract between the two companies so that if one vendor does not have success in the region and has to pull out, it can be replaced with less disruption to customers, he said.
The success of the VeoRide rollout encouraged members of the Office of Sustainability to add more alternative transit options, Eifling said. Riders throughout Fayetteville have taken just over 96,000 rides on the fleet of manual and electronic bicycles since the program launched. At its peak, the Fayetteville VeoRide program had 400 bicycles, but that number is down to about 350 because of vandalism and mechanical issues, Eifling said.
The Fayetteville City Council voted in July to limit the number of e-scooters that could be operated by private companies to 500, although the law allows that the cap can be raised. There is no set rollout date for the scooters, but the project is moving along as UA and city officials negotiate with Spin and Lime and discuss ways to keep riders safe, Eifling said.
“It’s never been done in Fayetteville before, so we haven’t really tried to pin ourselves into a date because we want to make sure that we don’t do anything hastily or prematurely,” Eifling said. “That said, it has been a while in the process of getting them here and getting them permitted, so they’re at the point where they’re ready to launch sooner than later.”
Will Blasingame, a senior, said he thinks e-scooters are an excellent idea because, like VeoRide bikes, they are affordable, eco-friendly and convenient. Blasingame thinks e-scooters have been beneficial in his home city of Dallas, and Fayetteville needs them too, he said.
“Parking on campus can get really bad, and who wants to have a lot of parking lots everywhere?” Blasingame said. “For sustainable growth, you kind of need inventive modes of transportation.”
Blasingame often has a hard time finding a VeoRide bike when he needs one and thinks having e-scooters on campus will allow more short-distance transportation to be readily available to students who need it, he said.
Jack Freeland, a senior who rides his electric skateboard to campus most days, is a big fan of alternative transportation, he said. While he worries that there might be a community-wide learning curve in regards to safety and road sharing, Freeland thinks e-scooters will benefit those who don’t have cars and will get even more use than the VeoRide bikes, he said.
“It’s sort of a gap we have. I know that a lot of freshmen are afraid to move off campus because they don’t have a car, so they don’t know what they’re going to do,” Freeland said. “The university itself can’t cover the entire town (with Razorback Transit), and I think scooters and things are convenient, even if you’re not commuting to or from campus.”