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Segway use for physically impaired back on table

By Staff | Apr 22, 2009

The issue of allowing Segway usage to persons of restricted mobility or physical impairment was brought back to City Council this week, leading to a lengthy discussion of whether the city can continue to ban the vehicles from the island’s shared use paths.

Currently, only professionally-guided tours on Segways – a service conducted by Billy’s Bikes and Rentals – are allowed on the city’s path system. However, a recent inquiry requesting use of the state-of-the-art personal vehicle by an island resident prompted the new debate.

In the past, safety has been the primary concern among citizens and city leaders alike. While some fear that people operating Segways improperly could pose a danger to shared use path users, others worry that the devices are too large for the pathways, which averages eight feet in width.

“Where are we relative to safety?” Mayor Mick Denham asked during Tuesday’s meeting. “There have been a few accidents, and only one of them has been significant. But there haven’t been any more accidents on Segways than there have been on bicycles.”

Denham also noted that the city initially allowed commercial Segway usage on Sanibel back in 2005 via a conditional use permit renewed every 18 months.

According to City Attorney Ken Cuyler, the state statute which provides that any Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Device (Segways being the only commercially available vehicle meeting the statutory definition) may be operated:

On a road or street where the posted speed limit is 25 mph or less.

On a marked bicycle path.

On any road or street where bicycles are permitted.

At an intersection, to cross a road or street even if a road or street has a posted speed limit of more than 25 mph.

On a sidewalk, if a person operating the device yields the right-of-way to pedestrians and gives an audible signal before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.

“Therefore, as noted in the last council meeting, state law authorizes the EPAMD/Segway to be operated ‘on a road or street where the posted speed limit is 25 mph or less,’ or ‘on any road or street where bicycles are permitted,'” Cuyler’s April 14 memo to council members reads in part. “In the City of Sanibel, bicycles are permitted on all public streets or roads and, therefore, state law would authorize the use of an EPAMD/Segway on any public street or road in the City of Sanibel.”

Several members of the audience offered their opinions to the council regarding the allowance of Segway use by handicapped or physically impaired persons, which would have to be approved on a case-by-case basis.

John Carney explained that he has contacted the United States Department of Justice, which regulates compliance issues of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), asking why they haven’t certified Segways as an approved mobility device.

“They told me that they didn’t certify anything – not a cane or a walker or a Segway,” he said, adding that they also told him that if he placed his handicapped license plate on a Segway and he was issued a ticket, “a team of lawyers would be on their way down here.”

Fellow resident Victor Retta pointed out that Segways are restricted to only 8 mph.

“I’ve seen young people on the bike paths going a lot faster than that,” he added. “If you use a Segway the way that it is intended to be used, it is completely safe.”

Billy Kirkland, owner of Billy’s Bikes and Rentals, also spoke in support of allowing personal Segway use.

“The federal government has ruled on Segways and they have said that they should be treated the same way as a wheelchair,” he said. “If somebody has a legitimate handicap, I think that we should consider allowing them to be used.”

Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane, who made a motion for an ordinance to be drafted and brought back to council for approval, added, “When I brought this item forward, I wasn’t looking for any publicity.”

Ruane’s motion, seconded by councilman Marty Harrity, was passed with a unanimous 5-0 vote.

In other business, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance amending the rate for beach parking permits. The ordinance will allow resident and/or Sanibel ad valorem taxpayer property owners as well as full-time, part-time and retired City of Sanibel employees to purchase “A” decals for $12 annually, the same rate as this past year. However, non-residents and non-Sanibel ad valorem taxpayer property owners would be restricted to buying “B” decals. The price for the “B” decals also will jump for $12 per year to $90 per year.

Restricted parking permits (“C” decals) will continue to be priced at $90 annually.

Planning Commissioner Les Forney, addressing the second reading of an ordinance approving an increase in residential development density for a 14-unit Below Market Rate Housing development – called Court Place – requested that the council consider the department’s request to pave Center Street between the development and Dixie Beach Boulevard.

“That road today is a mess,” said Forney, who estimated traffic to increase in the subject neighborhood by 40 percent. “There are lots of potholes, and we’re in dry season. When it gets rainy, it’s going to be even worse.”

The council agreed to look into paving Center Street, which is currently covered in shellrock, and City Manager Judie Zimomra was authorized to issue notifications to affected residents of the neighborhood when the council considers the item formally.

“If it’s gonna get done, it’ll have to be done by the city,” Forney added.

Also, Denham reported to his fellow council members that last week’s third public workshop related to the alternative transportation study was progressing a little slower than it had anticipated. He explained that one area he and several citizens expressed during the gathering – bringing LeeTran bus service to Sanibel – was addressed as being “off the table.”

“The fears that I had a month ago are no longer there,” he added.