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No Segways allowed on Valley Trail

Council ends business initiative by refusing an extension of the Segway pilot project



There is no room on the Valley Trail for Segways.

That was the clear message from council on Monday night as they voted against extending the Segway pilot project throughout 2005, putting an end to a hot button debate in the resort community.

Their decision marked a disappointing end for a local small business entrepreneur who believes council voted against the Segway based on a handful of vocal opponents, most of whom have never even taken a ride on a Segway Human Transporter.

"Our business wasn’t measured by our merits or what the impact was on the Valley Trail," said Segway proponent Caterina Alberti, the day after council’s decision.

"I believe the decision was based on opinions that came from people that didn’t have personal experience (on the Segways). (It) is really disappointing that we were judged on that alone."

Indeed, Segways have raised the ire of some community members ever since Alberti’s business, Advanced Movement Inc., was given the go-ahead last May for a pilot project offering guided tours on the Valley Trail.

Cheryl Morningstar, who has lived in Whistler for 22 years, was pleased with council’s decision, though she felt badly for the proponent who had invested time and money and energy on the project. Still, Morningstar feels Segways eroded the quality of the Valley Trail and she was not prepared to let that happen without a fight.

"Motor vehicles have no place on the Valley Trail," she added.

Her other concern about the Segways is that they promote inactivity by offering an alternative to walking and biking.

"In a society dealing with inactivity, childhood obesity… we are introducing a mode of transportation that doesn’t take people out of cars but off their bikes," she said.

That was something councillors also struggled with in their decision-making.

At face value Segways champion Whistler’s move towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars by providing an alternative mode of transportation.

At the same time, Alberti’s proposal brought a commercial operation to the Valley Trail, which was a concept Councillor Caroline Lamont did not agree with. Commercial users on that busy trail just make it even more congested she said. And the business also introduced a motorized vehicle to a trail designated for non-motorized use.

While Councillor Ken Melamed conceded the Segway is unlike other motorized vehicles, allowing them on the Valley Trail could open the door for other motorized users.

"It’s about being the thin edge of the wedge," he said.

But the decision to end Segways on the Valley Trail was really about the bigger picture and the overall use of the Valley Trail, one of Whistler's most prized assets.

"We have a capacity issue on the Valley Trail…. It’s not going away," said Councillor Kristi Wells, adding that regardless of Segways, the carrying capacity of the Valley Trail is something that needs to be addressed by the municipality.

Councillor Nick Davies was the lone voice lending support to the pilot project extension.

The impact on capacity from Segways, he argued, would be marginal. Alberti agreed with Davies’s position, adding that the tours were small, up to four or five people.

The pilot project spanned 10 weeks from late summer into the fall. Roughly 200 people climbed on board the Segways for a tour along the Valley Trail, either to Lakeside Park or Rainbow Park.

Alberti said most of the feedback from their own surveys was positive.

Though she and her brother Gio Alberti have spend thousands of dollars trying to get their project off the ground in Whistler (each Segway costs roughly $7,000 and they have a fleet of six) as well as countless time and energy, they are staying positive about the future.

There may be opportunities in other communities and Alberti would like to work with high school students in Whistler who want to explore the science and technology used in Segways.

"Segway is a stepping stone to other innovative technologies… other alternative modes of transportation that are emission free," she said.

"There is a place for (the Segway)… you just have to open your mind to it."