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The Segway: A Pedestrian Friend or Foe?

What are the major planning issues involved in the use of the Segway, and should motorized transporters be allowed on sidewalks?
May 6, 2002, 12am PDT | Andy Clarke
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Andy ClarkeWhat is the Segway?
The Segway Human Transporter (SHT) is described as "the first self-balancing, electric-powered transportation device." The rider stands on a small platform supported 6 to 8 inches off the ground by two parallel wheels; holds onto handlebars that are used to steer the device; when the rider leans forward the SHT moves forward and when the rider leans back the SHT moves back or stops.

How big is the Segway?
The SHT comes in three models. The personal transport model is 16 inches long, 21 inches wide, and weighs 69 pounds. Slightly larger models are available for commercial/industrial use; they are 19 inches long, 25 inches wide and weigh up to 95 pounds.

How fast is the Segway?
The Segway is capable of speeds up to 20 miles per hour. A speed-governing key is used to limit the speed of the personal transport model to 10 miles per hour, or "three times faster than the average walker." The commercial/industrial models are set with a top speed of 12.5 miles per hour.

How far can the Segway go?
The personal transport model will go between 9 and 14 miles on single charge; the commercial/industrial model will go up to 17 miles per charge.

How much weight can the Segway carry?
The SHT is designed to carry a person up to 250 pounds. The cargo version has an additional capacity to carry 75 pounds and a trailer is under development that will have a further capacity of 300 pounds or more.

When will the SHT be available?
Demonstration models are currently being tested and used at trade shows and other venues. The personal transport model is expected to be available in late 2002.

Where can I get more information? has a lot of additional promotional and technical information.

Why has the Segway become a legislative/public policy issue?
Segway Human TransporterThe manufacturers of the Segway have launched an aggressive lobbying campaign to amend state and Federal law to ensure that the device is not regulated as a motorized vehicle and that it is able to operate on sidewalks and trails rather than the road. Legislation to achieve these goals has been introduced in the US Senate and most states.

What is being proposed at the Federal level?
Senate Bill 2024, introduced by Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), would allow the use of the Segway on federally funded sidewalks and trails, when state or local regulations permit.

What is being proposed at the state level?
While the specific legislative proposals are slightly different in every state, the general goal of the legislative campaign is to classify the Segway as a pedestrian and permit use of the sidewalk unless a local jurisdiction specifically bans them. The bills also typically restrict the Segway to streets with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour or less if a sidewalk is not available.

The March 8 issue of Urban Transportation Monitor reported that "the [Segway] company has provided model bills and testified before 45 state legislatures…Of those 45, 21 states have legislation pending and 5 states (NH, NJ, NM, NC, and SD) have passed legislation regarding how and where the EPAMD can be used."

What are the concerns/objections to the Segway being treated as a pedestrian?

  • The impact of collisions with pedestrians
  • The impact of collisions between Segway users (especially operating in limited space)
  • The threat and discomfort felt by pedestrians which may discourage walking and use of sidewalks
  • Competition for already limited space on the sidewalk
  • Likelihood of crashes between Segway users and motorists (the two most common causes of bicycle/motor vehicle crashes are bicyclists riding against traffic the wrong way, and riding on the sidewalk, both of which the Segway would presumably be doing. At every driveway and intersection, bicyclists/segway riders must negotiate drivers who are not looking for them or expecting them to be going so fast)
  • This sets a precedent for other motorized vehicles such as scooters which may be even less appropriate to use on sidewalks
  • There is no way to enforce speed limits set by state/Federal law
  • The speed governing mechanism on the Segway can be easily over-ridden
  • We have no research on the operating characteristics of the vehicle or the rider
  • The social justice impacts of allowing an expensive device available to a limited population to dominate public space
  • Sidewalks have been designed for use at walking speeds, not "three times faster than normal walking speed"
  • What happens where sidewalks don't exist or come to a stop and the road has speeds in excess of 25mph?

What are some other concerns about the Segway?

  • Promotes a more sedentary lifestyle when we should be promoting walking as healthy physical activity
  • Promotion of the Segway has been disingenuous:
    • it is a motorized device even if the phrase "electric personal assistive mobility device" seems designed to disguise this
    • we don't know if it can be safely integrated into the pedestrian environment as the makers claim
    • use of the phrase "assistive mobility device" may incorrectly suggest that it serves people with disabilities in the same way a wheelchair does
    • the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was persuaded not to treat the Segway as a motorized vehicle, leaving regulation in the hands of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, even though the Segway has a motor
  • Promotion of the Segway legislative campaign has not considered or included those most affected: pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Promotion of the Segway distracts from serious issues of bicycle and pedestrian safety and access
  • The current crop of legislative proposals will result in inconsistent and confusing treatment of the device from one state to another and from one community to another
  • The legal status of the user is unclear or is inappropriate: should a Segway user follow the rules of the road?
  • The current legislative campaign usurps local control over the use of the device and places the onus on localities to prohibit use of the device rather than make a positive decision to permit use of the device where appropriate
  • Operation of the Segway in the roadway may be problematic with the speed differential between motor vehicles and the Segway
  • There are unanswered questions about the licensing, training, and regulation of Segway users, and regulation of the equipment that should be required for the operation of the device (e.g. helmets, lights and reflectors, DUI)

What are the positive aspects of the Segway?

  • The Segway will provide mobility assistance to some people unable to walk or walk very far or fast
  • There are practical and valuable commercial uses for the device
  • If the Segway is used on streets it may help make more use of bike lanes and reclaim space from motor vehicles
  • Any car trip that is replaced by another mode benefits bicyclists and pedestrians
  • Segway users and the manufacturer may become an ally in the quest for better bicycling and walking conditions
  • Anything that gets people outside and into the fresh air is positive
  • It is an emerging and fascinating technology that should be supported
  • Public trails and sidewalks are for everyone's use and to ban or limit one type of user smacks of elitism

After weighing all these factors, the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals believes that the Segway ought to be regulated and managed more akin to a bicyclist than a pedestrian. The presumption should be against their use on the sidewalk.

Andy Clarke is the Executive Director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, a position he has held since June 1999. Clarke currently works on-site at the Federal Highway Administration as part of a contract with the University of North Carolina to provide technical assistance for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.

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