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Switching to Glide

By Joe Wessels · March 18th, 2009 · Wessels

So many of us want Cincinnati to be a progressive city. Maybe one day we ought to start thinking like one.

Considering I’m a first-generation American (on my Dad’s side) West-side German Catholic who’s relatively comfortable in this fine Midwestern town and proud of its history (mostly), I still know Cincinnati can be a whole lot better if we would just stop being so, well, stubborn and comfortable and controlling.

Progressive cities fare much better than the stodgy ones. And being stodgy typically breeds stifling behavior and uniformity antithetical to today’s urban dwellers and anyone else looking for a unique city-living experience.

Boy, Cincinnati still rates pretty high on the “stodgy” meter. This mindset permeates our daily lives and makes things so difficult, but it doesn’t have to stay this way.

Take, for example, the news that we’re getting a Segway store. Big deal, right? What the hell is a Segway anyway?

Besides being cool and modern, they’re a single-person, two-wheeled, upright transporter that uses computers, batteries, gyroscopes and a lot of ingenuity to stay upright while a person rides it. They travel at a maximum 12.5 miles per hour, can stop quickly and are highly maneuverable. They can go about 20 miles on a single electric charge.

The Cincinnati Police Department has a few Segways for use in patrolling downtown, Over-the- Rhine and other parts of the urban core.

Shawn Jenkins will open his Steps in Segway store this week at Central Parkway and Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. He’s a local guy, a UC grad, and he wants to lead tours of downtown and Over-the- Rhine on his 105-pound electric Segways.

Great idea? Of course.

What a fantastic way to show off our central city to natives, newcomers and visitors alike.

Medium-sized cities that think big get tourists to visit and spend money. Cincinnati is full of cool things that shock those who come here — from great architecture to amazing views to exciting arts and culture. Promoting these gifts is key to changing long-held perceptions of Cincinnati as “stodgy.”

How have our local bureaucrats reacted to news of Jenkins and his business plan? City officials informed him that he’ll have to pay a $117 license fee per year for each Segway he operates on a city street, sidewalk or pathway.

Jenkins then approached officials in Covington and Newport to see if they’d be interested in a similar Segway store and tour business. Their response: “When can you start?”

There is a silver lining to all this stodginess.

Cincinnati Park Board Director Willie F. Carden Jr., whom I’ve noticed likes to innovate in order to make things better, gave Jenkins the go ahead to roam Segway-mounted through the city’s parks. He also provided a closet to put them in at Eden Park, with an electrical outlet to charge them. For free.

So Jenkins is off and running, offering tours of Eden Park. ($50 for 90 minutes; www.segwayofohio.net or 513-225-1583.)

I went on a tour recently, bringing another native Cincinnatian along, and we both learned stuff about our city and Eden Park we didn’t know before. It made me appreciate this place even more. And it was fun and different.

I brought Jenkins’ situation to the attention of City Councilwoman Roxanne Qualls, who, a few minutes into our conversation, directed her chief of staff to draft a motion directing city officials to lift the licensing fee on Segways. While she was at it, Qualls suggested that bike messengers not be subjected to the fee as well.

So far, Greg Harris is the only other Council member to support this license restructure, though others are expected to join.

Long ago, the theory went that taxes were levied to offset the costs of maintaining whatever service or roadway or structure the citizen used up — not to make money. A 105-pound electrical device isn’t a tour bus carrying 50 people and tearing up our roads, yet the Segway and the tour bus pay the same $117 license fee.

As the world evolves and new technologies come along that can make life better in Cincinnati, why — if we want to be progressive — are lawmakers and bureaucrats not more prescient in their thinking? City Council and city administration could make Segways tax-free, a position that would have residuals positive effects on crime and quality of life. It’s not that hard to extrapolate.

Jenkins said he hopes to get started soon on more tours. I’m hoping our town will get to show off its less stodgy side, too.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: joe@joewessels.net



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