Silent Segways lead to noisy debate
By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer
Reviews on the on the Zerve.com Web site all rave about Mountain Glides’ Segway tours of the Macon County Greenway.
“Although my husband and I have walked the entire length of the Greenway during various visits to the Franklin area, this was a delightful change of pace. The people with whom we were traveling would not have been able to walk the distance we covered, and the Segways gave us a way to see the area — together,” reads one tourist’s comment.
“My husband and I enjoyed this activity with our two daughters who are in their early twenties. It was fun for all of us to try something new and fun on vacation. It was an easy tour of the Little Tennessee Greenway, which is nice and peaceful,” writes another.
The postings are two of 20 on the Zerve site, which brokers and promotes activities online akin to sites like Travelocity or Citysearch. They support what Mountain Glides owner Nancy Hancock says about her Franklin-based business.
“I’ve done nothing but positive things here. I really, really, really have,” she said.
But some disagree.
The volunteer organization Friends of the Greenway (FROGs), which assists the county in the management and development of the Greenway, say they have received complaints about Mountain Glides’ Segways being on the greenway. They also say the greenway was not designed for commercial use. They want the tours to stop.
“We have recommended, with the majority decision of the board voting, to ban the Segways completely,” said Kay Coriell, FROGs President.
The recommendation will be presented to county commissioners Monday, Oct. 2. Commissioners will make the final decision as to the Segways’ fate on the greenway, as the FROGs exist in only an advisory capacity and has no rule making power of its own.
Hancock says that she doesn’t think the recommendation will pass.
“We haven’t done anything, we haven’t broken any laws, we haven’t hurt anyone,” she said.
And, at least for the moment, Hancock appears to be right.
First, the county’s Little Tennessee River Greenway Regulatory Ordinance does not specifically prohibit Segways on the Greenway. Motorized vehicles are prohibited. However, state general statute does not consider a Segway to be a motorized vehicle. The Segway falls under the definition of electric personal assistive mobility devices — “a self-balancing non-tandem two-wheeled device, designed to transport one person, with a propulsion system that limits the maximum speed of the device to 15 miles per hour or less.”
Towns and counties can restrict Segway use on public paths, limiting operations to certain times and areas, but they can’t ban them outright, according to state law.
However, the Little Tennessee River Greenway Regulatory Ordinance bans commercial operations on the greenway without a permit. But it fails to establish a procedure for getting a permit.
“I guess I’ve brought something to a head that maybe was overlooked,” Hancock said.
Hancock believes that the inclusion of this section indicates that when the greenway was established the intent was for it to be used for such purposes.
However, Coriell says otherwise. While there should be an opportunity for special-use permits for fundraisers and the like, the FROGs don’t want to see the greenway used for a commercial venture. The greenway is, after all, county owned. In most any other context, one wouldn’t think of using county property — the courthouse or library — for private enterprise.
A ban on Segway tours wouldn’t keep the greenway from being used for profit though, Hancock said, pointing out photographers, personal trainers, and those who rent bicycles as potentially profiting from greenway use. Even the FROGs have a coffee and gift shop on the greenway, though monies garnered are put back in to the greenway.
Segways weren’t always a problem on the greenway. In fact, the FROGs board first decided to allow them a year ago when Hancock opened her business. Hancock went to the FROGs and received a verbal OK to conduct her Segway tours.
“But we did tell her we would allow it as long as we didn’t get any complaints,” Coriell said.
Once a complaint was lodged earlier this summer — the Segway is so quiet it “kind of sneaks up on people,” Coriell said — Hancock’s verbal agreement was rescinded, Coriell said.
However, complaints about the Segways may not have much legal ground. A letter from county attorney Rick Moorefield to Coriell and Hancock dated July 28 notes that the county ordinance makes it unlawful “to place a vehicle or other object on the greenway in such a manner to create a hazard to the safety of pedestrian or authorized vehicular traffic.”
“Ms. Coriell has not told me that anyone has complained of the Segways creating hazardous conditions. The complaints are more in the nature that some greenway users just don’t like the Segways on the greenway,” Moorefield’s letter states.
In an effort to accommodate for the Segway’s quiet nature, Hancock agreed to install buzzers or horns so that her customers could alert pedestrians they were approaching. Also, Hancock agreed not to conduct tours on the north side of the greenway bridge near the Wesley Playground area.
“I believe this is a reasonable accommodation of the wishes and complaining users of the greenway and is consistent with the ordinance regulations,” Moorefield’s letter states.
Hancock feels like the entire fight over Segways on the greenway has been unfair.
“This has been like a witch hunt,” she said.
Most of her business is done on the greenway. She offered a historic tour of downtown Franklin, but nobody wanted it. Rather, customers were looking more to ride the Segways in a safe environment, which the greenway provides. Hancock introduced a new tour in August — one that makes use of the Segway’s off-road capabilities — but the tour is only for those who have prior experience with the Segway.
So far, Hancock can’t say whether the recent controversy has hurt her business. She’s only been open for a year. Recently Segways were recalled after they were identified to have a problem that would cause them to suddenly stop short, potentially toppling their cargo. However, a company technician flew out to Mountain Glides and updated the machines’ software. As a result, Hancock had to close for only one day.