Segway transporter hits legal pothole in San Francisco
Published: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 12:03 a.m.
Instead, the city today becomes the first large municipality to outlaw the Segway Human Transporter on its sidewalks - more than a month before the chariot-like vehicles are made available to the public.
The Board of Supervisors acted last month following intense lobbying by Segway LLC in state capitols to change laws to permit the two-wheeled vehicles on sidewalks.
Thirty-three states, including California, approved Segway-enabling legislation. But that doesn't mean major cities will roundly embrace the scooters touted by inventor Dean Kamen, when he introduced them to great fanfare in December 2001, as apt to "change civilization." California's law allows cities to opt out.
The upright device - controlled by body movements with the help of tiny computers and balance-controlling gyroscopes - has been tested across the country by postal workers, police officers and meter readers.
They're on sale to the public at Amazon.com for $4,950 each and will begin shipping in March.
Critics say the Segway is a safety hazard on sidewalks because it weighs 69 pounds and travels at up to 12.5 mph - three times faster than the typical pedestrian. No state is requiring that its drivers be trained, although some have set minimum age and helmet requirements.
"We don't want to say that it doesn't ever make sense. But in urban settings there isn't enough room for all the pedestrians," said Ellen Vanderslice, president of America WALKs, a pedestrian advocacy group based in Portland, Ore.
In hilly San Francisco, officials feared the battery-powered Segways would cause more problems than they would solve, particularly for the disabled and senior citizens.
"There were statistics submitted to us about injuries, and the Segways themselves did not have adequate safety features to alert people they might be behind them," said Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco supervisor who supported the ban.
Segway officials say the scooters have been tested for 100,000 hours on city streets across the nation without injury.
Ammiano also said Segway's campaign rubbed officials the wrong way.
"Segway didn't help themselves by hiring very expensive lobbyists," he said. "I think that backfired on them, too."
New Hampshire-based Segway hired lobbying firms but has made no contributions to any public officials or candidates, said Matt Dailida, the company's director of state government affairs.
Along with California, about half the states that passed laws to allow the Segway also permit cities to opt out, but so far most major municipalities are taking a wait-and-see approach, Dailida said.
Dailida says Segway has worked with many state and local legislators to show that the scooters are safe alternatives to cars.
Buyers also must attend a multihour training course before the scooter is shipped to them, he added.
"We understand that this is an entirely new technology that each city needs to regulate," he said. But "we think the action by San Francisco was premature."
Illinois passed a measure allowing Segways in towns that specifically pass ordinances permitting them. Most, including Chicago, have not done so.
Segway expects New York to allow the vehicle throughout the state except in New York City, where use in the first year would be limited to government and commercial users.
In California, Santa Cruz, Oakland and San Mateo are considering joining San Francisco in banning Segways from sidewalks. There is no similar move in congested Los Angeles, city officials said.
"The bloom is off the rose about the Segway," Ammiano said. "I think a lot of it was ballyhoo. Now, with people looking at the practicality and cost and possible liabilities, I think they're abandoning their enthusiasm about it."
On the Net:On the Net: Center for Injury Research: http://www.columbuschildrens.com/ccri/centers/injuryResearch/
Segway: http://www.segway.com America WALKs: http://www.americawalks.org/
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