Kailua debates Segways
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
The battleground in the fight over Segways, those electronic two-wheelers that share walkways and bikeways with cyclists and joggers, has shifted from Waikīkī to Kailua.
Dick Hagstrom, a decades-long Lanikai resident who takes walks with his wife along the bikeways at Kailua Beach Park several times a week, said the Segways that have popped up along the paths create another safety hazard.
"The bike paths are pretty crowded with joggers and walkers and bicyclists and these guys coming down en masse just really created additional traffic," Hagstrom said.
Concerns like those raised by Hagstrom and some members of the Kailua Neighborhood Board led Windward Councilman Ikaika Anderson to introduce a bill that would ban "electric personal assistive mobility devices" at city parks.
The bill received the first of three necessary approvals from the council last Wednesday, but Anderson said that after taking a ride on a Segway through the park himself, he's inclined to vote against the measure.
It's the latest skirmish in the fight over Segways, which first started appearing along Honolulu sidewalks for nearly a decade. The debate has centered largely in Waikīkī, where residents have complained that Segways hog sidewalks and pose a hazard.
The bill before the council could have a huge impact on the future of Segway tour businesses in Waikīkī, Kailua and elsewhere.
Richard McMahon, who started Segway of Hawaii-Kailua in January, said it was a strategic decision to open up his business at the Kailua Beach Center across the street from Kailua Beach Park.
It's critical that those taking his tours "be able to ride a Segway into the beach park on the bike lane, which is wide enough for bikers and joggers and Segways to go in either direction," he said.
If his Segway tours are barred from entering the beach park, "I'd have to close," McMahon said.
The Segways are never rented and all tours are accompanied by two guides, he said. They do not ride on the sand, grass, or other areas outside of bike and walking paths, he said.
The business has little impact on the environment, he said, noting, "I'm just offering people a green alternative. We commute without polluting."
Anderson said he agreed to a request from several Kailua Neighborhood Board members to introduce the bill to ban Segways in parks, but stressed that he never promised to support the measure.
McMahon "runs a safe operation," Anderson said. "During the tours, the Segways yield to bicyclists, pedestrians, parents with strollers and all park users in general."
Anderson also pointed out that each Segway is equipped with a governor which limits its speed to 8 miles an hour, the state limit for the devices.
His staff also could find no statistical evidence to support the charge that Segways are dangerous, he said.
Bill 13 (2010) calls for "electric personal assistive mobility devices" to be prohibited from city parks, which would include Kapi'olani Park and Ala Moana Beach Park, which are frequent stops for Honolulu area Segway tour companies.
Anderson said the neighborhood board members who approached him about a ban wanted to extend the bill to include not just parks, but sidewalks and bikeways as well.
Charles Prentiss, chairman of the Kailua Neighborhood Board, said the panel has yet to vote on the issue.
However, he said, "there've been some concerns on the board that Segways are not compatible with bikes and people walking and jogging on pathways."
Other motorized devices are barred from public sidewalks, but the state exempted Segways, Prentiss said.
Some board members are also bothered because one of the Segway tours takes visitors to Kawainui Marsh. "It's commercial activity at the marsh," Prentiss said.
The bill has been forwarded to the Public Safety and Services Committee. Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, who chairs the committee, said he has not yet decided whether to hold a hearing on the bill.
Meanwhile, city Parks Director Lester Chang said the administration is still reviewing the bill and has not taken a position.
There has also been skirmishing over the issue in Waikīkī. Alan Flood, a member of the Waikīkī Neighborhood Board, said he and other members there have been working with their area council member, Councilman Charles Djou, about legislation that would ban Segways and mini scooters from Waikīkī sidewalks.
"They speed too fast," Flood said. "We've got a lot of people on the sidewalks — tourists and visitors and vendors and everybody. There should not be motorized vehicles on the sidewalks in Waikīkī."
Flood said Segways in parks has not been an issue in Waikīkī.
Alan Rice, owner of Segway of Hawaii, which operates out of Waikīkī, said banning the vehicles in parks would bar his business from going into Magic Island, Kapi'olani Park and elsewhere in the area.
Segways are safe, Rice said. In seven years of operation, there has never been an incident of a Segway user hitting a pedestrian, he said.
Caroline Sluyter, spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department, said she knows of no fatalities or serious injuries resulting from a pedestrian being hit by a Segway. The department does not keep statistics on Segway incidents, she said.
Rice said state and city officials need to embrace and support Segways, not put more restrictions on them.
He estimated there are less than 100 Segways in the state.
"I have a lot of customers who want to buy a Segway, but there's nowhere for them to plug them in," Rice said.
"It's mind-boggling to me," he said. "How is the state supposed to be electric and green if there's no place to charge them?"