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Segway Supporters Turn Out for Bike Path Hearing


Published November 18, 2009 at 6:58 a.m.

A Parks and Recreation Commission public meeting last night on the question of whether to allow Segways access to the Burlington bike path drew a number of supporters for the proposal. Kevin J. Kelley wrote about the issue in last week's Seven Days. His story is currently the most popular item on our website.

Kevin attended the hearing last night at the P&R office on Pine Street. He said the room was filled, and estimated a crowd of 30 to 50 people. He writes, "Steve Allen, chair of the P&R Commission, said at the end of the 90-minute session that it's unlikely a decision will be made prior to the commission's scheduled meeting in January. P&R staff, headed by new director Mari Steinbach, will study last night's testimony and do additional research on Segway use around the country that will inform the commission's decision."

Here's the full report Kevin sent this morning:

Vt attorney Rick Sharp, one of the pioneers of the Burlington bike path, spoke in favor of Segway use. Sharp, who was injured in a 1996 accident, moved with visible difficulty from a seat in the front row at the hearing to the witness chair less than 5 feet away.

Sharp framed Segways as an earth-friendly mode of transportation that would fit on the bike path philosophically as well as physically. He described Segways as "another step in the save-the-planet movement." The devices are battery-powered and produce no emissions.

Since his accident, which left him in a wheelchair for four months, Sharp said he has become "more sympathetic" to Segway users. He bought one himself a month ago, he told the commission, and has found "it's an exhilarating experience for someone with my disability to be out there on their own." Sharp warned that the Americans with Disabilities Act will likely prevent Burlington from restricting Segway use because, he said, "it's the same thing as a motorized wheel chair."

Chapin Spencer, head of LocalMotion, said blog posts on his group's website indicate members are split evenly on the issue of whether to permit guided tours on the bike path in accordance with a proposal submitted by 802 Segways, a Stowe firm headed by Jeff Snyder. Spencer says it's unlikely LoMo will take an organizational position, but he told the commission support for Segways will probably increase in Burlington if three conditions are met: improvements in the width and surfacing of the bike path; efforts to enhance etiquette among bike path users; adoption of a clear city policy concerning bikepath use of emerging technologies such as Segways, battery-assisted bikes, motorized scooters.

Spencer himself suggests that allowing Segways on the path "won't be a big deal." He said in an interview after the hearing that the city could give 802 Segways a conditional permit that could be revoked if serious problems arise.

Synder, who brought along a Segway for demo purposes, spoke frequently in response to questions raised by commission members and those in attendance. He emphasized that the machines can be safely used pn the bike path by his planned tour groups of no more than eight members plus a guide. Segway tours are allowed in many North American cities, Synder noted. He said that allowing them in Burlington will be a boost to tourism.

Others argued that letting Segways cruise the bike path will expand the constituency for this amenity. There will be more advocates for improvements of the path.

Speakers were generally divided on the issue, but there was what I would describe as surprisingly strong support for the Segway proposal.

One of the opposing voices was that of Burlington resident Amanda Wormann who told of being hit by a touring Segway while riding on a bike path in SanFran a few years ago. She wasn't seriously injured. After the crash, she said, she told a friend "I feel so privileged to live in a place that remains pure, where something like this will never happen."