Steve Schultz, owner of a new Hilton Head Island company that offers Segway scooter tours, has gotten a few head shakes and negative comments from residents who say the scooters don't belong on the paths.
"Everyday there's someone who says we're not supposed to be here," Schultz said.
But a 2002 state law allows Segways on sidewalks, roadways, bike routes, paths and trails. No one seems to recall just why the exemption was made in state statute, but we speculate it was likely intended to help individuals with limited mobility. The law ensures that those who cannot walk very far can still enjoy a ride on the same sidewalks and pathways as walkers and cyclists.
But in our region, it seems that the devices are not used much by regular folks. Instead, law enforcement and tour companies are its primary users. In fact, a small Segway tour industry has popped up in the region with Segway tours now available in Charleston, Savannah and Greenville.
Nationwide, 44 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation, allowing the use of the Segways, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. But just where the devices are allowed varies from state to state.
We believe the Segways deserve a spot on the pathways. While they can reach 12 mph, Schultz said he keeps them at half that speed. Thus, there's little fear of a rider zooming along too quickly. They're battery-operated so no disturbing noise is emitted. And they're lighter than bicycles so they don't cause any more wear and tear on the paths than what cyclists and moms pushing strollers are already creating.
And as Schultz points out, it's a fun outdoor activity that families can enjoy together -- a tourism niche in which Hilton Head excels.
We might feel differently if the paths were limited solely to bicycles. In that case, the introduction of Segways would require cyclists to learn new behavior, slowing down and even make sudden stops to prevent a run-in with the slower scooters. But since walkers and joggers are already welcome on our paths, there's no reason to discriminate against the slow-poke Segway.
But we do have a caveat. Should they prove to be a nuisance by creating traffic jams or causing wrecks during the upcoming summer months, Hilton Head Island Town Council would be well-advised to seek ways to limit them.
That might mean seeking flexibility in the statute to allow council to cap the number of scooters allowed in tour groups or limit the hours of operation for the tours.
It may take a little massaging, but we think there's room enough for everyone to enjoy the island's paths without gnashing of teeth.