ST. JOSEPH — Proponents of golf carts on some St. Joseph streets want to test-drive their idea for a year, north of the St. Joseph River, city commissioners heard Monday.
Joe Allen, owner of Scooter Joe’s Rentals, and Kerry Wright, director of real estate sales and marketing with Harbor Shores, continued to make their case for the vehicles, an idea first brought to commissioners in July. They argue that the golf carts provide a fun and efficient mode of transportation that has proven popular in 24 other Michigan communities, including South Haven.
Golf carts are not now allowed on city streets. Allen and Wright are asking that golf carts be allowed on streets in the Harbor Shores, Edgewater and Ridgeway neighborhoods, as well as areas around Tiscornia Beach, the St. Joseph River Yacht Club and West Basin Marina. A crossing on M-63 at Klock Road would be allowed under the proposal.
“When you talk about real estate, you talk about lifestyle,” Wright said, maintaining that allowing golf carts would be a way of enhancing that lifestyle.
Comments from the full house were mixed, with mostly older residents warning of a safety nightmare and younger residents seeing a cool way to get around.
Resident Jack Kinney predicted a “killing zone” as carts cross busy, 55-mile per hour M-63.
Lisa Altman, a Fairways neighborhood resident, said she and about half of her neighbors already have golf carts. She said the one-year trial is “an excellent idea.”
Others said that safety would be improved by regulating the use of golf carts.
The golf carts would be operated by licensed drivers age 16 and over. They would be restricted to roads with speed limits no higher than 30 miles per hour, and would only be allowed to travel up to 15 miles per hour. Wright said they would be required to drive as far to the right as possible, providing room for other vehicles to pass.
If allowed, city officials would be able to specify which streets and the types of streets where the carts could be used. The city also could require safety features such as brake lights and turn signals, reflectors, mirrors, brakes and parking brakes, horns, windshields and safety belts, Wright said.
The golf cart proposal has the support of the Edgewater Dunes Condominium Owners Association.
“A limited, north-of-the-river ordinance would allow the city to assess the impact of golf carts on city roads in a less dense, less congested residential area without impacting downtown and the city’s commercial center,” a letter to city officials says.
Commissioner Peggy Getty asked St. Joseph safety officials to check on the safety record of golf cart use in other communities.
Commissioner Jeff Richards said he did not want the test area to include M-63.
Mayor Mike Garey said the proposal would require a lot of study before a decision is made. He noted that the area in question includes homes, businesses, industry and recreational sites.
Allen began renting low-speed vehicles this summer at Harbor Shores, and said there were no safety issues. He also rents surrey cabs and bicycles in downtown St. Joseph.
Earlier this summer, he launched an online petition to request lowering the speed limit on the Bicentennial Bridge, between Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, from 40 to 35 miles per hour, which would permit the use of low-speed vehicles on which roadway.
The low-speed vehicles, which travel up to 25 miles per hour, are allowed on streets with speed limits up to 35 mph, which keeps them from traveling on the bridges over the river.
Allen said that recommendation is still alive, but for now they are focusing on the golf carts.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak