Segways and New York City Sidewalks. Lets Roll.
by Harris Silver
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Citystreets is a leading pedestrian rights and advocacy organization. Accordingly, we consider pedestrian safety to be the number one priority for street use. When it comes to Segways, it would be easy and logical for us to argue against their being ridden on sidewalks, under any circumstances. In fact with a current recall this position would be almost expected. We are uniquely qualified to fiercely defend this position. Unfortunately, such a position would not only overlook the compelling merits of this new mode of transportation but also ignore the more holistic and absolutely vital discussion we ought to be having about street use and transportation in New York City.
The Segway is the world's first intuitively driven, self-balancing transportation device. You stand on the machine and it balances itself to you. Not the other way around. There is no gas or brake pedal. To move forward you simply lean forward. To slow down or stop you lean back. Turning is done mechanically via hand control. Segways are often talked about and thought of as a form of scooter. They are not electric scooters and have nothing to do with scooters.
From an urban perspective, Segways offer a number of advantages: They are quiet. There is no exhaust pipe spewing pollution. They can operate at 4 times walking speed. They take up almost no space. And they do all this without the rider ever breaking a sweat -- which means they can be used by the broadest possible cross section of the population, including the elderly and infirm. These devices can help our older residents move around with an ease and dignity that would otherwise be unimaginable. Look at this picture. The guy standing is 91. He had been on a Segway all of 3 minutes and didn't want to get off.
And while claims about the dangers of Segway use are completely abstract and theoretical (no one has ever been injured by a Segway on the sidewalks of New York City), this assessment of its merits is concrete and first hand. During the development of our position on whether Segways should be ridden on sidewalks, we contacted the company with the questions and concerns we had about their device and their rationale for its usage. Quite frankly, we were skeptical about the machine's appropriateness for use on New York City sidewalks. E-mails and phone calls were exchanged and Segway, realizing that we were independent, fair-minded thinkers, boldly offered to send us a machine for trial and evaluation. We took them up on their offer.
The machine they sent is not yet available to the public but will be soon. It is called the "P Series" (horrible name) It is smaller than the "I series" (another horrible name), the machine that is currently available for sale. The machine is so intuitive that it literally took less than a minute to learn how to operate. Within 5 minutes we were comfortable enough to ride it on a non-arterial sidewalk. Within 15 minutes it felt natural and we could operate it safely on any sidewalk, even a fairly crowded one. We thought the machine would be confrontational to pedestrians. It wasn't. We thought people would be annoyed and frightened. They weren't. To the contrary, people were either friendly, curious, or oblivious but never bothered, frightened, or annoyed. To our surprise, in the right hands the machine was surprisingly pedestrian-friendly. Between the two models, the P model, which is smaller, has a more human feeling scale and is better suited to the sidewalks in New York City. So much so in fact, that Segway should consider only selling that model here.
Although they didn't know it, the engineers had it right when they originally named what is now called Segway, Ginger (after Ginger Rogers). Being a pedestrian is a subconscious dance. We gracefully move out of one another's way when walking, we avoid objects in our way with ease, we subconsciously time our jay walking to be as close to the last passing car as possible to give us the most distance from the next car. All without missing a beat. We are urban dancers. Ginger (Segway P series) can be a great dance partner. These machines are engineered so well and their controls are so precise that they can also be operated gingerly by anyone. That said we don't think this dance partner is quite yet ready for escalators, stairs, and subway turnstiles. But who knows what the future will bring?