January 27, 2010 in City

Bills put golf cart drivers near par

Liberty Lake, Orting allow some street use
Melissa Santos (Tacoma) News Tribune
Associated Press photo

Orting Councilman David Inge, an enthusiast for the use of golf carts as inexpensive and ecological in-town transportation, drives in Orting on Jan. 13.
(Full-size photo)

TACOMA – Two state legislators are looking to move golf carts from fairways to roadways.

A bill by Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, would let people drive golf carts in bike lanes and on sidewalks throughout the state.

Meanwhile, a bill by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, would let local jurisdictions create golf cart zones on low-speed streets.

Right now, state law allows police to ticket people who drive golf carts on roads.

The bills come four months after the city of Orting enacted a policy allowing golf carts on most of its city streets, and more than three years after the city of Liberty Lake did the same. But law enforcement agencies worry about whether it’s safe to allow golf carts to drive alongside sedans and SUVs weighing several tons – especially since the carts wouldn’t need to have standard safety features such as seat belts.

“When you put a slow-moving golf cart, even with traffic going 25 miles per hour downtown, it can lead to some safety concerns,” said Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “It’s just not necessarily a good mix.”

Haugen said she thinks legalized golf cart travel could be useful for elderly people who no longer wish to drive cars.

“We’re having more and more people get older, and they aren’t able to drive as much,” Haugen said. “We really are trying to be sensitive to the whole idea of providing alternative transportation.”

Haugen’s bill would allow carts to travel only on streets with speed limits of 25 miles per hour or below. Green’s bill would allow them to go anywhere that bicycles or pedestrians can go and would classify them as “local electric carts.”

Neither proposal would require the golf carts to have seat belts. Green’s bill doesn’t establish age or licensing requirements for people driving golf carts.

Those are big concerns for law enforcement officials, said Melissa Van Gorkom, equipment and standards manager for the Washington State Patrol.

Haugen’s bill passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee, which Haugen leads, last week after being amended to require that a golf cart operator possess a valid driver’s license.

Green’s bill, House Bill 2588, hadn’t been scheduled for a hearing as of Friday.

Orting city Councilman David Inge has taken advantage of the city’s new golf cart law since it went into effect in October.

Inge said he likes using his golf cart because it doesn’t consume gas and is more fun than driving a car.

“If there’s an errand I need to run in town, I’d much rather do it in my golf cart,” Inge said. “You’ll pull over and talk to people, get comments. It’s just a friendly way to travel.”

Environmental advocates support Green’s bill to allow carts on bike paths and sidewalks, said Richard Burris, of the Sierra Club’s Cascade chapter transportation committee.

“It basically treats an electric golf cart just like a bicycle,” Burris said. “It’s much cheaper for cities than creating added lanes to accommodate traffic.”

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