Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stump the sergeant

Years ago, when I was the downtown sergeant on the second shift, Glen called me on the radio, and took me to a side channel for a question: "I've got a guy from Romania stopped and he has an International Driver's License. Is that valid in Nebraska?" I may have been young, but I wasn't stupid. I had a mental image of Glen and a buddy in the basement of the Clayton House taking an unauthorized coffee break, giggling like a couple of sixth graders. So I waited several minutes, then called him back: "Somebody ripped the Romanian pages out of my ordinance book, just give him a warning."

Stump the sergeant was a popular pursuit by my squad. I assume it's still the same for freshly-minted supervisors. Yesterday, though, it was a citizen with the brain teaser. A nice guy emailed me with an innocent enough question. He wanted confirmation that his Segway personal transporter was legal on downtown sidewalks. He was hoping to get an affirmative email response from me that he could carry with him, in the event that an officer ever thought otherwise. He reminded me of the State Legislature's action in 2002, passing LB1105, which legalized the "self-balancing two-nontandem-wheeled, device designed to carry only one person" on streets and sidewalks.

Not so fast, Chief. This one requires a little deeper research. I had a sneaking suspicion that the City ordinances took precedence, and the actual State Statute confirmed this with the key phrase "...except as provided by the Department of Roads or local authority." The local authority in this case would be the City of Lincoln, which has it's own ordinances that regulate what can be operated where. Lincoln has no exceptions for Segways. You have to do some serious digging to get all the stuff that applies, because it's buried in different chapters, but it's in there. So, an hour or so down the trail, I was able to send this response back to the guy who asked the simple question:

"I wish this had an easy answer. The State law that allows Segways does not appear to overrule local ordinances. Lincoln Municipal Ordinance 10.24.030 prohibits the operation of vehicles in the sidewalk space, and L.M.C. 10.02.450 defines a vehicle as anything motorized other than snow removal equipment. Thus, I think technically a Segway is prohibited from sidewalks, as is an electric or gas scooter, a minibike, or a battery-powered Barbie car. Obviously, these ordinances were adopted way before anyone ever thought that little children might motor about in miniature jeeps, or forward-thinking citizens might spend a few thousand dollars on a gyroscope-stabilized human transporter.

Virtually everyone on the police department would be left scratching their head if confronted with this question, which renders the chance for a citation remote, but not impossible. I suspect that to be ticketed you'd have to engage in one or more of the following:

1. Operate a Segway like a maniac, or while intoxicated
2. Be the subject of a specific complaint
3. Mow down some innocent pedestrian
4. Distinguish yourself with some kind of unusually obnoxious behavior.

Ideally, we probably need to change the ordinance to reflect the same exception as the State Statute. Experience tells me that someone will eventually complain about anything, no matter how seemingly innocuous.

By the way, I know there is at least one other Segway commuter in town, because every morning, I park next to a Segway that's locked to a bollard right next to my car. It must be an employee here at the County-City complex who works unusual hours, because I get here early, and it's already here, but gone by the time I normally leave. It makes me wonder if it's one of my employees. You would think an investigator could get to the bottom of this.

If we had the funds, I'd love to equip several of our downtown officers and our parking enforcement staff with Segways, as the Atlanta Police Department does. Eight or nine months or so out of the year, it would be great.

I'll ask our City Law Department if they would be amenable to a modification of 10.24.030 to exempt 'self-balancing, two-nontandem-wheeled devices, designed to transport only one person'."

Whew! I'm not announcing a campaign to rid the sidewalk of toddlers on Tonka Trucks, but we sure have a variety of electric and gas powered scooters, sitters, and skaters popping up on the market these days. I don't think anyone anticipated these things when these ordinances were adopted in 1954.


Tara Garza said...

Good morning Chief. The Segway in question belongs to Denny, a dispatcher here at the 911 center. He rides to work every morning (weather permitting). We have nick-named him the "Segway Samurai." Should you ever get the opportunity, watching him ride with the wind whipping his long hair and beard is quite entertaining.

Anonymous said...

It isn't one of your employees, but you might want to talk to a long time male dispatcher to see if they would work downtown.

Anonymous said...

the segway rider is 687 in the comm room.

Anonymous said...

You are indeed correct that the person who drives the Segway in the parking garage is a City/County employee. He works in dispatch.

Anonymous said...

Back up (way back) from the Segway, to the hoofage days, for a problem that usually rears its head during parades and other such special occasions these days:

If a horse pulling a cart or wagon...drops something on the street, would that be covered by a littering ordinance like 8.22.030? I think 6.04.050 covers the requirement to muck out the stable once per week, but I wasn't sure if there was still any ordinance on the books regarding road apples on the public streets. I'm not sure if horses are dealt with by 6.08.155, which seems to apply only to dogs.

Retired Unit 1 said...

"Unit 8 to Unit 1"
"Unit 1 go ahead..."
"Unit me at 9th & O"
"Unit 1 OK..."

When Unit 8 - the "beat sergeant" arrives at 9th & O, Unit 1 - a street wise foot patrolman - is no where to be found.

"Unit 1 to Unit 8...I am...look up"

And there on top of the 9th & O parking garage is Unit 1...just as instructed by his beat sergeant.

Another "Stump the sergeant" test...

Anonymous said...

That he did though in it mustard and onions, such the light and on every talk and that is the rear of it?

Michael H said...

Thanks for calling me a nice guy, Chief! I thought your response was great (and I received it an hour after emailing you, Wow!). Now my wife want a Segway too, but not until Lincoln adapts its laws from 53 years ago.

sockrider said...

I've been considering getting an electric powered skateboard for my short commute. Is it legal to ride in the bike lane downtown? Will I be required to have a tail light if riding after dark?

Anonymous said...

Although it may seen like all fun and games, has anyone considered the fact that he uses a handicap permit. Whats the difference between a Segway and an electric wheel chair on the sidewalk when a device is used to assist a person with a disability. Other than one stands while the other sits.

Anonymous said...

The newest form of stump the sergeant is when we ask, "How many MONTHS will it take you to fix my MDT?" :)

Anonymous said...

Segways are cool, and so are bikes. However, speed can be an issue with Segways (and bicycles) in pedestrian spaces. Most wheelchairs and mobility scooters top out anywhere between 3.5 and 6.5 mph. The current Segways generally top out at 12.5 mph, almost the speed of the average "comfort bike" rider (trying not to sweat to much pedaling to work or school).

This is the reason that bicycles are banned in some pedestrian-dense areas in Lincoln and also in some pedestrian-dense areas of nearly every other city, because the velocity mismatch can be a recipe for injury accidents with pedestrians.

sedway supporter said...

Segways have 2 mode settings. Training or "turtle" mode tops out at 4.5mph and regular at 12.5. You can't change the speed while in motion and a qusai governer (sp) prohibts one from going any faster.

Anonymous said...

Can you hop on the rocket?