Segways and New York City Sidewalks. Lets Roll.

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But, in our minds, the bigger and more vital issue doesn't concern the machines themselves but rather the space in which they operate. If architecture can be defined as "places", then we need to look more carefully at the space between these "places"-the un-designed and largely unconsidered area that has been completely shaped by and for the automobile. This space can be summed up with a made up word “carchitecture”. Indeed, fewer than 15% of Manhattan residents own cars yet 85% of public space is allocated for their use. As we have designed most of our public space for automobiles, how do we introduce and even begin thinking about a new transportation mode? To do this correctly we have to re-conceive how we use our public spaces known as streets. At Citystreets we have been advocating a philosophical shift from cars back to humans as the basic design unit--a movement from, if you will, "carchitecture” back to architecture. Cities built for people not cars.

One way to achieve a more balanced and democratic use of this public space would be to create a road network where bicycles, rollerbladers and, now, Segways were separated from cars. We use the word "network" and not the word "lane" to define a space separated by something more substantial than a line of paint. We seek a space that cars cannot enter. Far from being a utopian abstraction, this extensive network of bicycle roads is a concrete reality in cities like Amsterdam. It works, it is wonderful and it should be implemented in New York City. Segways fit perfectly into our vision of cities designed for humans and not cars. It is now a matter of waiting for our infrastructure to evolve from the auto-centric to the human-centric to accommodate their usage. If the city shifted its thinking to a new pro-pedestrian perspective, it is our estimate that it would take a mere 7 years for a complete transformation of our public space.

We wish there was an existing infrastructure in our city that could ideally accommodate the Segway. But there isn't yet. And so we have to address the question of how and whether they should exist in this present, highly imperfect context. So, here is our thinking:

We understand that the idea of this new means of transportation being used on the sidewalks of New York City makes some people uncomfortable. But we also understand that to say "Segways can't be ridden on sidewalks in NYC" is essentially to argue that "Segways shouldn't exist in NYC", since the only place left to ride them would be on streets. And to tell someone standing on an unprotected platform to mix with 8,000 pound SUV's is not a reasonable thing to say as it places the Segway rider in unacceptable danger. But most importantly, we at Citystreets understand the value of ideas. We know that good ideas need some coddling, shepherding and support, especially during infancy. Segways are unquestionably a big idea. And they are unquestionably in their infancy. They have been described as "disruptive" in certain circles. As urbanists, we prefer the word "transformative."

We do not know whether or not the Segway will thrive in New York, but we do know that the answer to the question "Do we want to try to support a new mode of transportation that has zero emissions, zero noise, is easy to learn, safe to ride, and can move people at 4 times walking speed?" is a resounding, upper case "YES!" For Segways to fail because our public servants don't know how to accept new ideas and because it is easier and more convenient to sweepingly dismiss them is simply irresponsible. This behavior is not in the public's best interest. It is intellectually lazy and, in a word, unacceptable.

So the position we have taken is this: Until our urban infrastructure has a chance to evolve to accommodate this new transportation technology, Segways may be ridden on all roads and pathways that their riders can safely navigate. This would include avenues, side streets, bicycle paths, bicycle lanes and sidewalks. Yes, sidewalks. We say sidewalks with some qualifications (which we will describe in detail below) but also with the real confidence born of our firsthand experience riding these remarkable machines around our city.

We understand the classification of Segways to be both technical and political. We also see it as somewhat problematic as regulations deal only with what exists and there is nothing quite like Segway. The easiest thing regulatory wise would be for the city to provisionally consider them as bicycles, with the understanding that they have pedestrian traits and should be allowed on sidewalks. Another, more honest, approach would be to say "we don't really know what they are but they are neat, so let's live with them for a while, get to know them, and then figure it out."