The war on the ‘hoverboard’

The war on the ‘hoverboard’
It has become the year’s must-have gadget, but is there room on the road for the self-balancing scooter?
By David K Gibson
Oct 22 2015

Two things made the news last week.

The first is that the US state of California rescinded a ban on motorised skateboards, which had been in place since 1977. As of the first day of 2016, electric versions will be street legal — though only in bike lanes. The second is that the Metropolitan Police in the UK — via Twitter — reminded citizens that those weird self-balancing things, often optimistically referred to as ‘hoverboards’, are unregistered motor vehicles and therefore illegal to ride on roads in England and Wales. They are likewise forbidden on sidewalks, thanks to the Highway Act of 1835. Yes, 1835.

Jeff Bezos, given an advance look at the Segway personal transporter back in 2001, was quoted as saying “…Cities will be built around this device.” Later accounts offer a bit more context, suggesting that the founder recognized that for the Segway to become popular, cities would have to be built around it, astutely noting that most of our cities have already been built.

That the Segway is the domain of mall security rather than our best technological selves boils down to the fact that there’s no place for it to go. It’s too fast for sidewalks, too slow for roadways, too wide for bike lanes. But since its unveiling, dozens of inventors have taken inspiration (and perhaps proprietary technology) from the Segway to create vehicles that would take us from point A to point B, if there were only a legal roadway between them. In the US, for something as seemingly straightforward as an electric bicycle, each state has its own rules and regulations, and local and municipal laws often trump those state laws. That makes for a tough environment to innovate.

A multimodal transportation infrastructure is the holy grail of transportation planning these days, and the concept of “Complete Streets” rests upon it. But “multimodal” should balance public transport, automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians, as well as the spaces in between — spaces filled by Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, light quadracycles, low-speed electric trikes, and weird self-balancing things. Any one of these spaces might be the perfect spot to invent the economical, safe, and not-at-all-dorky future of transportation. But we’re going to have to follow the example of California rather than the Metropolitan Police, and be a little more chill about what rides where.

The Segway, by the way, is not legal for operation on UK public paths or roads, thanks to the Highway Act of 1835. Yes, 1835.


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