Editor’s note: This commentary is by Phil Hammerslough, of Burlington, a lifelong advocate for bicycling and walking as sustainable modes of transportation. He has served as a board member of Local Motion, and is a longstanding member of the Steering Committee for the Burlington Walk/Bike Council, among other organizations.
When the Segway was introduced, it was touted as the alternative to the car for urban transport, but it never really caught on. Maybe it was the design, the visual of balancing on parallel wheels. Maybe it was that it couldn’t be picked up and carried, or maybe it was too fast to be safe on sidewalks and too scary to be on the road.
The company had all kinds of PR, promoting how easy it was to learn to ride (like learning to ride a bike: which we all know takes time), and was a PR disaster. They also went to great lengths to have municipalities make the Segway legal on sidewalks. Had they put that energy into a collaboration with bike advocacy groups to create protected bike lanes, on which bikes, Segways and scooters could travel safely, we would be much further along with safer transit for everyone, and the Segway would not have become a minor player in urban conveyance.
With the introduction of electric scooters and their instantaneous proliferation, we are again faced with the dilemma of where they should be ridden. In my humble opinion as both a pedestrian and bicycle advocate, sidewalks are no place for bicycles or scooters. Sidewalks are too narrow to accommodate both pedestrians, bikes and scooters. None of them have protection from crashes the way one has in a car. Both pedestrians on sidewalks and cars on the road would be safer if bikes, scooters — and, yes, even Segways — would have a safe place to ride in protected bikeways and greenways, side roads with reduced speed limits and bump outs to slow traffic.
It is important to remember our roads are public spaces and therefore should offer equal access and safety to all modes of transportation. A case could be made for building more bike paths, but it is more economical from a transportation and environmental point of view to create protected bike lanes on our roads, and widen them if necessary. Building more bike paths is expensive, requires rights of way, adds more asphalt to our landscape and destroys vegetation and trees.
Regardless of one’s way of getting around, we can all agree that getting from point A to point B safely is the highest priority. Just as our road engineering and design were changed to accommodate the introduction of the automobile, it is now the time to adapt our infrastructure to adjust and harmonize with human powered mobility to move freely, safely and easily.