BOSTON — The saying goes that a prophet is never appreciated in his hometown.
Allan Danley is no prophet. That doesn’t keep people in the North End from not appreciating him or his Segways. And he knows it.
“You could ride down this road, Commercial Street, (a) one-way street, on a bike the wrong way and no one would bat an eye,” Danley says. “But if you do that on a Segway, ooh boy, you’re gonna get roasted, toasted and deep fried.”
(OK, Danley is a little prone to exaggeration. And bicyclists have their own issues in this town.)
Danley runs Boston Gliders, which offers guided tours on Segways. On one, you can see in a few hours what it can take days to see walking. They’re fun to ride, futuristic, even energy efficient. All good, right? Well, not so fast.
“I think it’s dangerous for the city and someone’s gonna get hurt,” says Salvatore LaMattina, the North End’s City Council representative. “The issue is safety for me. You know someone is on it, and they’re going 12 mph. And if they hit a senior or a little kid someone could get hurt. I wanna address this issue before someone gets hurt or someone gets killed on these Segways.”
LaMattina is looking into ways to curtail the use of Segways — possibly even banning them altogether in the North End.
But to prove his point, Danley runs over his assistant’s hand. This is one of the many demonstrations he uses to show how safe Segways are. He rolls over my hand — I’d say it felt like a pinch. Not something I’d want to happen all day long, but not bad.
To further prove how safe they are, Danley wants to take me out on Segway tour. But first we’ve got to have orientation. I tell him I’m a little afraid of falling.
“You’re six inches off the ground,” Danley says, “so we’re going to talk to you about what you should and shouldn’t do in case you felt like you may fall, and how to disembark the Segway properly to ensure that you wouldn’t get hurt.”
I never really got over my fear of falling but I did begin to feel a more comfortable. So we went out for our ride around the North End. As we ride we see lots of fans of the Segway, and for the most part we stick to side streets.
Riding a Segway is pretty fun and it’s kind of hard to see exactly what the problem is. Councilor LaMattina has some insight.
“I have no problem with Al,” LaMattina says. “I know that he doesn’t have a lot of friends in the particular neighborhood that he’s operating in, in the North End.”
Essentially, Danley rubs people the wrong way. He admits he’s found himself in the middle of a few neighborhood feuds.
Even Segway — the company — has a problem with him.
“It wasn’t until his presence was there that there was any sort of an issue,” says Eric Fleming, a Segway spokesman. The company is lobbying the state and the city to keep Segways from being banned. Fleming worries the real problem is not the product, but Danley.
“As an entrepreneur, as a member of that local society, you have to have this two-way relationship with the place in which you operate,” Fleming says.
For Danley, the fight is personal. It’s a fight about his livelihood, and he thinks people shouldn’t make up their minds about Segways because they don’t like him or they think his Segways look annoying.
When Segways were first introduced, their inventor said they would change the world. Al Danley still thinks they can.