I am sure that you have all seen the Segway P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) vehicle by now. The vehicle, which is basically a seated position Segway with an enclosed shell, integrated wireless navigation technology, and a top speed of 35 mph, is slated for development by General Motors in the next few years. It was all over the news and the web yesterday, but take a look here, here, here, here, or here if you somehow missed it. Yeah, I know it is not a bike, so I am venturing a bit off topic with this post, but I think there are a few points about this concept vehicle that are worth discussing here.
To be honest, I was surprised by the overwhelmingly negative comments that I heard about Project P.U.M.A. yesterday. I understand that this design may be an easy target for some people to poke fun at and I certainly was not surprised to hear a few people yesterday mention the failure of the original Segway, code name Ginger, to change the world (as some of the originally leaked hype had foreshadowed). I won’t get into the details of this new design here, but I will say that I am very excited to see that GM is at least realizing the need to think about personal mobility in this way. Obviously though, not everyone feels the same. Someone told me yesterday that Rush Limbaugh talked about the P.U.M.A. on his show. I guess that probably fueled a few of the crazy comments about how this project is a leftist attempt to control the population or something along those lines. Sure, those types of comments are pretty easy to dismiss, but a few of the other recurring comments that I heard and read on the web bothered me a bit.
Quite a few people seem to be focused on safety issues with their criticisms of this vehicle. Even on websites with an environmental focus, comments about crash test data, lack of airbags, and the general danger of driving such a small, slow vehicle seem to be very common. Unfortunately, those types of comments reflect the “survival of the fittest” attitude that many Americans seem to have about driving on our roads. If you want yourself and your family to be safe, you simply buy a bigger SUV, all decked out with airbags and other “safety” features. That way, in an “accident” you can kill someone else instead of them killing you. Yes, it sounds cold when stated that way, but really…how else can you put it. The fact of the matter is that a shift toward smaller vehicles and lower speed limits would make all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, much safer. In my opinion, criticizing a small urban vehicle because it lacks airbags, crumple zones and whatever other supposed safety features are common in modern cars, just completely misses the point.
As I already said, I can get past many of the negative comments that I heard or read yesterday. I certainly expect some people to resist change as they hearken back to the “good old days” of big cars from GM with chrome bumpers and gas guzzling V8s. I didn’t expect to see such opposition to this idea from cyclists though. OK, scratch that statement- unfortunately I did expect it, but I certainly don’t condone or understand it. There are always those within the utilitarian cycling fold who, in response to a concept like this, adamantly voice their opinion that a bicycle is much better, more efficient, whatever. They sometimes go on to say that anyone who is not willing to ride a bike everywhere (as they do) must be lazy, out of shape, etc. We all know that cycling can be a great way to get around, but I can’t even begin to count how many comments about the P.U.M.A. concept I read yesterday from fellow cyclists who just came across as elitist jerks. Really, does it make sense to criticize an efficient, environmentally friendly vehicle that could be a viable transportation option for much of the population simply because it is not human powered? I doubt that anyone reading this loves bicycles more than I do, but if we don’t realize that there is a need for other safe and efficient forms of transportation, we are only going to continue to alienate ourselves and marginalize cycling as a viable transportation option.
I could probably rant on this subject quite a bit longer, but I had better wrap it up. I will just close with a couple of questions for some of those people who were quick to point out on the web that their “cool fixies” are already way better than this “dumb invention”. Great! I like to get around on a bike too, but does your grandmother also ride a “cool fixie” every time she has to pick up groceries or make a trip to the pharmacy? All I am saying is think about other people before you pass judgment on ideas that don’t appeal to you (at this point in your life at least). Also, would you really rather share the road with a 3-ton SUV or a 300-pound P.U.M.A.? If you disagree, let me know, but I really just don’t understand why so many cyclists seem to feel threatened by ideas like this. Personally, I say kudos to GM for making this project a priority.