Regular readers of my columns (hi, Dan the kindly editor) know that I often wax philosophic and darn near poetic about a variety of major issues (Ed: get back to work) that confront our great nation and our wonderful state of Colorado. I usually talk about President Trump or other foolishness, and blather on about Colorado’s political scene. And don’t get me wrong, those are important issues. But reading Colorado Politics I came across a story that does a really nice job of highlighting both the importance of political science concepts as well as a vital American and Coloradan issue: electric scooters.
OK, I take that last part back, but the story reports on the Denver City Council unanimously voting in favor of new rules that ban electric scooters from Denver sidewalks. Want to scoot? You need to be on the road or in a bike lane.
As a bike rider and former political science teacher, I find issues like this very interesting, but I confess I would likely not have responded to the article were it not for a recent trip my wife and I made to the Alamo City itself, San Antonio, Texas. Amazingly, in my 25-year military career, I never ended up traveling to the only city I know of that can rival Colorado Springs for the number of major military installations found there. San Antonio, like my own Springs, hosts five major bases or facilities, and thus there is a military feel to the town. Add to that the history of the Alamo (which is very interesting to walk through) and you might expect a wild west town, and in one area you might be right: scooters.
We were amazed to see the number of electric scooters strewn about on the sidewalks of San Antonio. Seven different companies combine to place — wait for it — over 12,000 scooters for public use. They are rented using various methods, and basically, as near as I could figure it out, you pick up any old scooter you find (and they are everywhere, often blocking the sidewalks), fire it up and go. Once you get to your destination, you discard the scooter and go about your day. At night, mysterious trucks pick up and recharge the scooters.
While most Texans drive their scooters in the roadways, there are some on the sidewalks, and a tourist like myself, looking at the sights, might well find himself banged into by a scooter if I don’t pay close attention.
Which of course, brings us back to the one significant question in all things political. You’ve heard it from me before, the inherent battle between maintaining order and preserving liberty. All government, from issuing parking tickets to deploying weapons of mass destruction, are efforts by leaders to find that sweet spot that protects liberty while also maintaining enough order for society to thrive.
The members of the Denver City Council have clearly and decisively decided that scooter operators will have their liberty limited (no sidewalks for you!) in order to maintain public safety. After a delightful time in San Antonio (it’s a great city, even if you have to dodge scooters) I offer my congratulations to the Denver leaders, as scooters driving on sidewalks and scooters being left wherever the spirit moved the previous user is not only bothersome, it could be a matter of life or death for some.
I’ve made the point before that we spend way too much time, as involved citizens, looking at the wrong levels of government. We are currently obsessed, or at least interested in, the seemingly daily bizarre behavior emanating from the White House, while also following the, what is it… 217 Democrats running for the presidency? I fall into that trap all too often, and I sat down to write a column about Dem candidates qualifying for the upcoming debate, and I planned on writing about the flaws in a system where remarkable candidates like my old boss, Michael Bennet, can find themselves on the outside looking in, while others with less gravitas may make the grade. I was going to agree with Bennet that the DNC has created a system where it looks more like a reality show than a serious discussion of key issues.
But that stuff is national, and frankly, won’t impact you or me to the same degree that decisions by local governments do.
If you walk or drive in Denver, you care about scooters, even if you haven’t thought of them yet. If you want to see an interesting way of balancing liberty and order, plan a trip to San Antonio and then Denver, and walk the streets. You’ll find your life far more impacted by scooters than national popularity polls. And so, I again urge you to care deeply about local politics. Now if you will excuse me, I must scoot off.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.