If it were up to City Councilor Bill Linehan, only Paul Blart would be allowed to ride a Segway in the Boston area.
At a hearing on Segway use in Boston today, the South Boston councilor said Boston is too old and its streets and sidewalks simply too narrow to allow widespread Segway use. He said he would only favor their use in "large malls." He was joined in his concern by the Rose Kennedy Greenway and Faneuil Hall Marketplace, whose representatives call them a menace to pedestrians - and, in the case of the marketplace, even its elevators. Last year, a marketplace official said, a five-year-old was hit by a Segway and had to be taken to the hospital.
After an owner of Boston Gliders, which runs Segway tours, refused to commit to keep his vehicles off the Greenway at a hearing today, Police Superintendent-in-Chief Daniel Linskey said the matter was pretty simple: He will direct police to escort any Segway riders off the Greenway - and possibly issue them trespassing citations. This came after a Greenway official said Boston Gliders tour operators have refused to stop for uniformed Greenway personnel trying to get them out.
Even still, Linskey and other city officials said they would be willing to work with Segway to figure out a way to allow Segways on city streets - but strongly opposed the idea of letting them onto Boston sidewalks, except for use by people with mobility problems like Paul Widmark of Dorchester, paralyzed in a diving accident as a kid, who rode his Segway into the hearing room. He said Segways "really have changed my life," and have allowed him to go places with far greater ease.
"It staggers me" that Segway hasn't performed federal safety tests or compiled stats on Segway safety, said Boston Transportation Commissioner Tom Tinlin - who once deliberately rammed current City Councilor Sal LaMattina with one of the vehicles.
Matt Dailida, a Segway consultant, blamed all the Segway perception problems in Boston on Boston Gliders, which he said is in no way associated with Segway. "The fact he is the face of Segway in the city of Boston is one we hope to change, starting today." Later, he called Boston Gliders' operation "appalling."
He said Cambridge - home of the state's only authorized Segway tour operator - has regulated Segways since 2000 with no problems, and said Boston had no problems either, until Boston Gliders started up. Dailida said Segway supports a proposed law that would call for regulation and licensing of Segway operators.
LaMattina said the issue pre-dates Boston Gliders - to a Segway crash in Charlestown last year caused by a distracted Segway rider waving at friends.
Meanwhile, Boston Segway, based in Cambridge, said it is looking at starting its own Segway tour operation in Boston - but only in cooperation with city officials.
Residents of City Square in Charlestown complained about Boston Gliders using their streets and sidewalks for storage and rider training. Liz Flynn said she's particularly concerned about Henley Street. "Henley Street is a one-block street, so people coming whipping around," Flynn said. "Someone is going to get hurt and I fear it's going to be a child."
Boston Glider said it is moving its Charlestown operation to Cambridge - but opening up a bike-tour place at the same location. It said it's being discriminated against - bike and foot-tour operators don't face the same level of scrutiny.
Boston Parks Commissioner Anontonia Pollak said park rangers in downtown parks are getting complaints from pedestrians. "Pedestrians are feeling enormously intimidated by them," especially when they ride in a clump and take over the sidewalks, rather than riding single file, she said.
LaMattina, who called for the hearing, said he's actually ridden a Segway twice: "I personally think that Segways are cool and kind of fun." But, he said, he is concerned about pedestrian safety. He said senior citizens in the North End have told them "they are afraid to walk on the sidewalk, because they're afraid they're going to be hit by a Segway.
Wendy Landman, executive director of WalkBoston said her group has opposed Segways on Boston sidewalks since 2004, and remains opposed to them as a potential safety issue. Imagine, she said, the Esplanade full of Segways.
Nancy Brennan, executive director of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, which has already baned bike riding on the linear park, said Segways don't belong on the Greenway, either. She said she's personally seen way too many Segway operators who are "very unsteady and very unfamilar with the vehicles they are operating."
"And they are too quiet," she said. "One cannot hear them coming. People cannot get out of the way fast enough. If they have a dog on an extended leash, it gets very interesting."
Steve Spinetto, commissioner for persons with disabilities, said Segways "are actually an incredible boon for people with disabilities" - if they ride them.. But they're a potential threat to the handicapped who don't ride them because they might move more slowly - or be unable to see or hear them. Spinnetto said vehicles that move at 12 mph can cause serious harm to pedestrians. "That's an accident waiting to happen."
Linskey said police are already having enough problems with "a distracted public" consisting of BlackBerry and cell-phone user who are not paying enough attention to their surroundings and getting plowed into by cars. Throwing Segways into the mix could cause even more problems, he said, adding, however, that he is confident the city could come up with regulations to allow safe Segway use - by people above a certain age. "We would not allow 14-, 12-, 10-year olds out in traffic to drive a moped," he said.
"We do believe that sidewalks are for pedestrians, Tinlin said, adding that would also include people with mobility issues who need a Segway to get around.
"One thing you don't want to do is have government snuff out all ideas," Tinlin said. He pointed to pedicabs as an example of a novel vehicle the city was willing to allow. "We don't want to be so restrictive that everyone is afraid to come to the city," he said. So there might be a place for Segways - but in the street, not on the sidewalk, he said, and with regulation of such issues as routing, location and helmet use.