Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Segways zoom on D.C. bike lanes—and it's legal!

July 21, 2011 - 11:22 AM
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These riders look lost and in need of an appropriate path. 8 Photos
These riders look lost and in need of an appropriate path. (Photo: flickr/ElvertBarnes/flickr)

Consider the Segway. In the capital, the little motorized vehicle is everywhere. The very first Google result for "Segway" is a Washington D.C. Segway tour. They're considered consumer products and not regulated in quite the same way cars are, though you still have to be 16 to ride them. Two wheels, motorized, upright. The Segway has been around for a decade, and remarkably, the head of the company was killed by his own product last year when Segwaying off a cliff. The ride is a smooth 12.5 miles per hour but remember, you're supposed to wear a helmet (but aren't legally required to). You don't need an inspection, license, registration, or any of that, but the same parking rules that apply to bikes apply to Segways, according to D.C. government. The goofy vehicle seats many in D.C., from tourists to cops to enthusiasts, and they're all buzzing around in their upright way.

Yes, the Segway rides on — including in D.C.'s bike lanes. The District department of transportation has said it's created more than 48 miles of marked bike lanes, which means there's a lot of places that a war between Segways and cyclists can break out.

 It's completely legal and expected for the Segway to ride on these cycling lanes throughout the District, where in the Central Business District blocks they're not allowed to ride on sidewalks. They're also not allowed to ride on National Park Trails, for that matter (PDF). The bike lane, therefore, is the natural home to these vrooming zooming devices. Yet on some gut level, the presence of the Segway on a bike lane may offend a cyclist. You're biking along and then, boom, a Segway dashes along? Let's hope the rider at least has a whistle to alert you. Frustration over these lane wars has even come up around the globe.

A writer in British newspaper The Guardian questioned permitting Segways in bike lanes at the beginning of last year, pointing to the fact that they're motorized. "Why should they take over the tiny percentage of road grudgingly allocated to us?" the man asked. Seattle has kept Segways from bike paths. San Francisco frustrations even led citizens to attempt a ban of Segways from the area's sidewalks. Sometimes state and city law varies. The question has even arisen as controversial as far away as Hawaii.

And closer to home, the debate also stirs. D.C. area residents commenting on a Greater Greater Washington post from last year brought up the issue of Segways on cycling lanes. "Clearly, the bike lane is not the appropriate place," one comment declared. "The Segways create a dangerous situation when riding in these lanes since they travel at a much slower speed than bikes. Bikers need to speak up when people are using these and all other bike lanes inappropriately."

But the law and official recommendations continue to place Segways alongside our bikes. "The use of the Segway should be allowed on cycle lanes," declares Segway's official safety report (PDF).

Yesterday morning I saw a guy riding a Segway east on G St (DC), handless, texting, not looking ahead, without a helmet. #naturalselectionless than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet Reply

Sharing the road has never been easy — and as summer Segway tours continue, the eternal traffic struggles will also go on. The same issues of vulnerability, aggression, and debate have fueled the discussion surrounding how cars and bikes should share the road. The Segway is, for now, a vehicle without a path, not quite fitting onto bike lanes, traffic lanes, or in the central District, on pedestrian sidewalks.

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