Segway Serenade 

From pitas to pols, figuring out Boise's two-wheeled conundrum

Segways cruise down sidewalks in cities around the globe. Weird Al rode one in his video for "White and Nerdy." Boise even has its first door-to-door campaigning politician, as well as its first downtown restaurant delivery riders. People have begun to embrace this two-wheeled transporter, but with that embrace have come a few complications. Just what the heck is a Segway supposed to be classified as?

It's a question that has been asked by governments and municipalities everywhere. Is the Segway a motor vehicle, or is it a pedestrian? Some people say it's both.

Last October, one man in Boise raised the issue of Segway's classification locally. Boise Police Department and the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney's Office were faced with a question they didn't know the answer to. Seems a 53-year-old male operating his Segway was riding a bit erratically on the sidewalk along Main Street in downtown Boise when he nearly took out a pedestrian. After much consideration, police decided the machine did fall under motorized vehicle laws and the gentleman was ticketed for DUI. But BPD officers weren't absolutely certain they should be citing him at the time. When the case was turned over to the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, plenty of head scratching over the incident took place there as well. Should a Segway be classified as a motor vehicle? They concluded that a Segway operator, under the influence or not, could not be cited for DUI and the case was dismissed.

Eventually, the Idaho State Legislature put all speculation to rest when they adopted an Idaho code that states, an "electric personal assistive mobility device" refers to a "self-balancing two-wheeled device" that reaches a maximum speed of 15 miles an hour or less and is designed to transport only one person. Another Idaho Code determines that the device is technically a pedestrian, and as such, "shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances." That means Segway operators must ride on sidewalks, not on roads, and that they must abide by the same rules of the road that other pedestrians must follow.

Corporal Gary Wiggins of BPD has worked in the traffic enforcement unit for over 15 years. When asked if there have been any cases of DUI or reckless Segwaying since the October 2007 conundrum, Wiggins reported that he is not aware of any known incidents. Wiggins affirmed that he personally did not feel Segways were going to raise further problems for pedestrians and street foot traffic.

"I think the people who ride them are pretty responsible about it. I haven't seen any problems," Wiggins said.

Segways have become valued modes of transportation for law enforcement agencies in as many as 150 cities worldwide. But, when asked if Segways might make their way into BPD's fleet of patrolling vehicles, Wiggins was doubtful.

"We have had discussions of alternatives to our present way of patrolling," he said. "If we do something like Segways, it has to be in a smaller area that the officer is patrolling where he can respond quickly. For the Super Bowl and confined things it's a great alternative. But we would have a budgetary issue of being able to purchase them in the first place."

They aren't cheap: Although no local dealers exist, prices online start at roughly $4,000 each.

We probably won't be seeing any of Boise's finest Segwaying down sidewalks any time soon, however, Boise has food deliveries and a political campaign utilizing the energy efficient electric mobility devices.

Downtown eatery the Pita Pit recently purchased their beloved Segway on eBay. Employee Zach Kiebel estimates they make about 20 food deliveries a day on their Segway. Kiebel said the machine is very easy to ride, and as for reckless Segwaying, he said, "You just watch out for pedestrians and slow up around people." Since there is no licensing requirement for Segways, Pita Pit staff are let loose to zig and zag freely down the sidewalks of downtown, but not before they are given a good sidewalk seminar and practice session.

Idaho Legislative Republican candidate Ralph Perez aims to call attention to the need for environmental change in Idaho. Perez is campaigning for the Republican nomination for one of Boise's District 16 House seats, and he's become the first Idahoan to use a Segway to campaign door-to-door.

"Our state and local governments must become more proactive with regards to environmentally green policies. Simple changes to ordinances that will enable the technologies of the future to become a reality are one cost effective way to start. [Segway] has proven its worth as an environmentally friendly, safe alternative to the automobile. Along with bicycles, they should be allowed to utilize our Greenbelt and pathway systems."

Currently, Segway usage on the Greenbelt is limited to users who are able to obtain a handicapped usage sticker. The Greenbelt is open to other wheeled methods of transport, such as bicycles, roller blades and skateboards, but scrutiny has fallen on Segways. In his efforts to highlight the idea that Idaho should be promoting alternative, clean forms of transportation, Perez hopes to change the ordinance limiting Segway usage.

"I've already put a formal request into every governmental agency in Ada County," he says, "and I've requested that they re-evaluate their ordinances to address the use of the Segway. I've also provided them with several safety studies done."

Perhaps Segway usage would be a more urgent matter if there was a local Segway distributor. Currently, the closest place to purchase one is in Idaho Falls. Perez reports that plans are definitely in place to bring a Segway dealership to the downtown Boise area, but it just hasn't happened yet. Still, a few Boiseans have purchased machines online or from neighboring states.

Segway's media director Eric Fleming says the phenomena of Segway has recently grown to include more international sales than domestic, but that in no way are Segway's horizons abandoning our home coasts for lands abroad.

"We really want to be recognized as the leader in green transportation. It really comes down to three basic things that we do. Segways transform the way you work, play and live," Fleming said. "We help people in their jobs, improve people's lives and their play. A lot of people use Segways for recreation. It's a great way for people to get outdoors and reconnect with their community."

Segway's inventor Dean Kamen predicted in 2001 that his machine "will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy."

While that statement may have been grandiose, there is no doubt that Segways have had an effect. Fleming states that sales have been double what was anticipated and even in this economy, they expect that again for this year as well.

With the addition of a Segway dealership downtown, these electric mobility devices will undoubtedly soon be more prevalent in Boise, proving that Segway's motto, "simply moving," is more than just a slogan. For many, it may become part of daily life.

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