Gangway for Segway!

THE SEGWAY Human Transporter, the most hyped two-wheeled contraption since the Razor scooter, is about to become street legal in Washington. Thanks to a bill that sailed through a House committee Monday, the 80-pound, battery-powered Segways—think of a Pogo Stick with wheels that can go 12 mph—will have full license to run up and down city streets and sidewalks without headlamps, signal lights—or liability insurance. The Senate has already approved the bill, and little opposition is expected on the House floor. Washington cities, some of which have local ordinances banning motor vehicles from sidewalks, hardly put up a fight, primarily because the legislation allows cities to restrict the use of Segways in certain areas.

So how is Seattle bracing for a potential onrush of Segways? Seattle City Council member Nick Licata, who sits on the transportation committee, watched a video of the gravity-defying scooter in action for the first time Monday. "It makes pedestrians look like settings of pins in front of bowling balls," Licata says. Seattle doesn't regulate the use of motor scooters on sidewalks, but in Licata's opinion, the city would definitely need to set speed limits on Segways and keep them out of congested areas like Pike Place Market.

But council member Heidi Wills welcomes the Segway as a new mode of alternative transportation. "We absolutely need innovative solutions to gridlock," says Wills. "The Segway is just the way to get there, so to speak."

With an operating range of 17 miles, however, and no cargo bin, it's difficult to imagine the Segway serving as a popular commuting vehicle.

The Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board, one of the few voices to speak out against the Segway legislation, argues that the scooter is primarily a crutch for the fat and lazy, not a solution to traffic congestion: "The real problem is that most Americans are unwilling to be pedestrians, despite the clear benefits to our health and environment. . . . Sidewalks have become less hospitable for those of us who walk, and a new machine there won't help."

Kevin Fullerton

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