Segways and New York City Sidewalks. Lets Roll.

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But as they aren't pedestrians, aren't bicycles and, despite having motors and wheels, aren't really motor vehicles, this matter will need to be resolved eventually. At Citystreets we have been thinking of vehicles that don't exist for a while. And in our heads we categorize them as Vehicle X. We didn't predict a self- balancing human transporter, but what we realized a while ago is that we need a way to think and talk about vehicles and modes that don't yet exist and plan for them on our streets. One of our ideas is to marry the idea of Vehicle X with a pressing need for a re-prioritization of public space. Here's one way it could work.

Phelps Eno, the person who wrote the first set of traffic rules in 1903 recognized the need for prioritization of emergency vehicles. Today 100 years later people die because ambulances can't get to the hospital in time. Citystreets has advocated that a lane on arterial streets be reserved for the use of vehicles responding to emergencies. This lane can then be utilized by cyclists, rollerbladers, and Segways during non-emergency use. There are post 9/11 security reasons why allocating space for the efficient movement of Emergency Vehicles in our city has a more pressing need than ever before and, in fact, it is crystal clear to everyone living in New York since 9/11 and more recently with the Northeast blackout on August 13th, 2003, that there is a need for an infrastructure that can support the pedestrian evacuation of Manhattan.

The irony is not lost on us that a large portion of emergency trips involve ferrying pedestrians struck by drivers of automobiles to hospitals. It is astonishing that cars strike approximately 14,000 pedestrians every year in NYC. Or stated another way, every 27 minutes a pedestrian is hit by a car. In fact, automobile crashes are the largest public health threat facing the residents of NYC. This problem is so pervasive that it is almost impossible to see. How else can one explain there being so much public concern about the imagined dangers of Segways on sidewalks and so little about the stark reality of people perpetually being mowed down by cars?

Finally, as residents of NYC we’re also well aware that more people riding Seqways instead of cars means less oil use. And given the insidious link between oil dependency and terrorism, this reduction would do more to promote Homeland security than any bunker-bashing bomb or hi tech surveillance system. The fact is, we are long overdue for a national energy policy based on Efficiency in the spirit of American innovation and ingenuity. Segways are exponentially more efficient than automobiles for moving people around cities. Further, our economy has for years been aided by a hidden gasoline subsidy that benefits big box retailers with sprawling distribution networks at the expense of cities. What is damaging to cities are bad polices that favor the automobile and a suburban growth model and not brilliant energy efficient innovative inventions like the Segway.

Now back to our qualifications for riding on sidewalks: We can come up with a list of scenarios and instructions for safe sidewalk riding but it's more meaningful to say it like this. A Segway rider, when on a sidewalk, should ride on the sidewalk as if he were a temporary guest who has already overstayed his welcome. If there is a bike lane adjacent to the Sidewalk the Segway rider should ride in the bike lane before the sidewalk. It also goes without saying that when a Segway is ridden on a sidewalk it must be in a way that is physically safe to people walking there. It is understood that there are certain sidewalks on which Segways can't be ridden because of the density of pedestrian traffic. It also means that Segways on sidewalks must always give pedestrians the right of way. They must never make a pedestrian move out of their way. They need to exercise great care when passing. And they need to be ridden conservatively and with common sense. On crowded sidewalks the person operating a Segway should operate at a walking pace, giving up the speed benefit of the technology in the name of safety. Finally, the fact that Segways don't seem to have any lights or reflective material to adequately illuminate them makes their nighttime use a source of some concern. Fortunately, sidewalks are generally well lit but, nonetheless, this is an issue we have been thinking about and one that will have to be addressed in some manner (most likely, by making lights or reflective material mandatory).

We're going to give the benefit of the doubt that someone who has bought into a new transportation vision has a self-interest to act responsibly when on a sidewalk and not adopt the arrogant attitude and behavior that drivers did at the turn of the 19th century when cars were introduced, and whose effect we're still dealing with today. What we would like to see happening is, in fact, the opposite: Behavior where Segway riders learn to act in a manner useful to pedestrians. For instance, we would encourage them to block turning cars for pedestrians in crosswalks and to act as a barrier between pedestrians and cyclists when possible. If a pro-pedestrian behavior is adopted by early Segway riders and is practiced consistently, we believe it will do more to win over the hearts and open the minds of New Yorkers than any writing ever could.

Thanks for reading please send any comments you have to [email protected] and of course be safe out there however you choose to move around.