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Segway issue returning to council

By Staff | Mar 26, 2009

The long-debated issue of allowing Segways to be used on Sanibel’s shared use path system is about to be brought back to City Council once again.

During the public comment portion of the last council session, Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane noted that a member of the audience was seeking permission for his wife – who is partially disabled – to be able to use a Segway. The woman, who is in her 70s, cannot walk more than a short distance due to her medical condition. However, a Segway would allow her to be able to enjoy the outdoor ambiance of the island along with her husband the way they used to when they first moved here more than 20 years ago.

The council agreed to add the couple’s request to their April 7 meeting agenda, which will surely draw a good amount of attention from islanders who have both protested and supported the use of Segways on Sanibel’s shared use paths over the past several years.

Currently, the only legal use of Segways allowed on the island’s pathway system is by Billy’s Bikes, who operates commercial tours on the futuristic-looking personal transportation devices. Last May, Billy Kirkland’s Segway business received an extension for another 18-month conditional use permit from the Planning Commission, but only by a 4-3 vote. Kirkland has been operating Segway tours on the island since 2005.

“These are not bumper cars, these are not racing vehicles. I would be tickled to death if we were here today to make a determination of their safety, which by the way I don’t believe the City Council ruled them inherently unsafe,” Planning Commissioner Paul Reynolds said at the time. “We have three years of history that indicate that the danger and the threat that these pose is probably somewhere around butterfly bites on Sanibel – the list of injuries that have been put together are miniscule.”

However, just a couple of months later, a proposed ordinance which sought to prohibit the use of motorized vehicles on Sanibel’s paths, sidewalks and shared use paths was set to come before City Council in October. Rather unexpectedly, the first reading of the ordinance was pulled and never debated at City Hall.

Perhaps that debate will occur in the near future.

According to the proposed ordinance to ban Segways, “motorized devices” that include mopeds, motor scooters, motorized bicycles, electric personal assistive mobility devices (as defined by Florida Statute 316.003) are unsafe. However, the ordinance did exclude public officers or employees who use motorized devices in the performance of duty, or persons operating motorized wheelchairs or other such devices that are certified and approved by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, due to a disability.

But what if a person, who is handicapped, elects to get around via the use of a Segway, which – according to Disability Rights Advocates for Technology – are ADA compliant as a means of mobility assistance? Many states allow their use in bicycle lanes or on roads with speed limits of at most 25 mph (Segways operate at about half that speed).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve Segways as medical devices, so a lot of cities and municipalities across the country have been slow to approve their use as such on public thoroughfares and rights-of-way.

Do we think that Sanibel is ready to render a decision on allowing Segways to be used by handicapped persons on our shared use paths, to be considered on a case-by-case basis? We certainly do.

But do we think that it will happen anytime soon, say, at the council’s April 7 meeting? Probably not. However, we think that now is as good a time as any to continue the debate.

– Reporter editorial