Like many of us, Ingersoll sat at the light dreaming up remedies to his plight. Unlike most of us who sit passively enduring our dismal daily commute, Ingersoll decided to express his grievance on the most obvious medium of communication of our era: the car bumper (taking a tip from Marshall McCluhan‘s famous statement, “The medium is the message.“).
Ingersoll‘s contribution to our regional bumper sticker dialogue, “I live, work, and wait in Traffic City,“ didn‘t win any accolades from the Grand Traverse County Road Commission or any sympathy from the meter maid. It did, however, give voice to the local frustration that has become a chorus of discontent across the U.S. How did we become a nation that measures progress and economic growth by greater
congestion and longer commutes?
SPREADING THE WORD
Ingersoll, a retired mortgage banker who winters in Hilton Head, S.C., hoped the sticker would help move the public process towards real solutions. “The people have to stay with this traffic issue otherwise it‘s only going to get worse,“ he said.
Ingersoll handed the stickers out to city and county commissioners and anyone else interested. You can still see them out there years later.
But, traffic kept increasing and the townships kept spreading out. As Ingersoll followed the sprawl debate in the news, a story emerged that caught his attention. It was a mysterious new transportation vehicle, initially dubbed “it“ or “Ginger“ by the media, and designed by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the notable I-bot wheelchair and many other medical devices. The Segway seemed destined to change transportation as we know it.
“As soon as it came out, I knew I had to have one,“ Ingersoll said. “I live in town and I don‘t like driving in Traverse City.“
When it was released this spring as the Segway Human Transporter, Ingersoll did not hesitate at the hefty $4,900 price tag. He bought a Segway over the internet and drove to Detriot for orientation and delivery.
Ingersoll had no problems learning to operate his new transporter. Within a week, he was scooting along at 15 mph and turning on a dime. The Segway is battery powered, has five gyro-synchronis motors and nine computers to control it‘s operation. To move forward you simply lean forward. To move backward you lean back. To accelerate you lean further. To turn, twist the left handlegrip and it will turn on a radious equal to its width.
Ingersoll says driving a Segway is about as difficult as learning to ride a bike. He rates the device a 10+ on a 1-to-10 scale and has become a Segway ambassador due to his satisfaction with the product, encouraging anyone to hop on his to take it for a spin.
Though Ingersoll and hundreds of Segway enthusiasts across the nation predict bright promise for the machine and its impact on our quality of life, others hold somewhat more calculated viewpoints. Among professionals and advocacy groups who have been dealing with transportation and land use issues for years and even decades, opinion on the Segway ranges from open anticipation to hostile threat.
While news of the city of San Francisco‘s banning of the Segway from the sidewalks caused concern, Traverse City planner Russ Soying suggests that “developers of urban infill projects may see lower parking infrastructure costs and thus greater profits and lower market prices“ from the machine‘s use.
Matt Skeels, director of Traverse Area Land Use Study (TALUS), says, “the Segway may allow some multi-car families to rid themselves of a car for many of their daily needs.“
Ray Minervini, redeveloper of The Village, an historic preservation project at the Grand Traverse Commons, thinks the Segway may prove to be important to his efforts to save the aesthetic beauty of his project. “It creates options that allow us design the site for people rather than the automobile,“ Minervini said.
Walter Kulash, a nationally-recognized transportation expert, holds a sharply critical opinion of the Segway. He has grave reservations regarding the impact the Segway could have on the design of the “built environment.“
“The Segway is simply one more motorized vehicle with all the inherent issues that pertain to any motorized vehicle,“ Kulash said. “They erode the walking atmosphere, they are a disincentive to creating designs at a walking scale, they may eventually require their own right-of-way because of speed disparity and they are merely a microcosm of the design problems of the automobile.“
Kulash holds the view that all motorized vehicles are dealing with the failure to build things at a walking scale. “Its fundamental premise is hostile to urbanism, period.“
Author Jane Holtz Kay (“Asphalt Nation“) is also worried that the Segway will encroach on pedestrian space. “Any wheeled vehicle is lethal,“ she said. “Though bicycles are a great alternative and you can make a strong case for giving them their own lane, where do you put the Segway? In the street the cars are a menace, and on the sidewalk the Segway becomes the menace. There simply is not any space in the universe for this wheeled vehicle.“
The distance from the street, to the sidewalk, to the store and to the home is a fierce battleground for the space for urban mobility. Will there be room for a segue to urbanity?
Rick Ingersoll‘s venture down this path has been a rewarding and enlightening experience. Though he sees niche markets for the Segway, he does not forsee major behaviorial changes in America‘s regular
commuting habits in the near future. Rick‘s parting thought before he whirled away was, “Give it a chance.“
Take a Ride
Segway demonstrations will be conducted on Monday, July 28 at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. and on Tuesday, July 29 at noon, 3 p.m.and 6 p.m., at The Village Building 50, Grand Traverse Commons, 1200 West 11th Street, TC. Check out www.segway.com or call 929-4310 for info.