From the Chicago Tribune
Gas-sipping golf carts winning over small towns
By Steve Schmadeke | Chicago Tribune reporter
July 16, 2008
In Ashkum, Ill., Garry Lanoue and Jeannette Krutsinger test-drive one of his golf carts, which have been allowed on town streets since January to help drivers cut gas bills. (Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak / June 17, 2008)
With gasoline topping $4 a gallon, retiree Carl Kaufman didn't see much point in filling up his Chevy truck just to get the mail and run errands in the small Iroquois County town where he has lived for more than 30 years.
So when Crescent City passed an ordinance last month allowing golf carts on its streets, Kaufman went out and bought one.
"I don't have to drive my truck around town anymore," he said recently. "It's been three weeks, and I'm still burning my first [5-gallon] tank."
Three Iroquois County burgs—Crescent City, Ashkum and Danforth—recently passed ordinances opening their streets to golf carts, and at least two other towns south of Kankakee were poised to enact similar laws. One of those towns, Gilman, scheduled a public hearing for Wednesday. Community leaders say their motives are mixed: They are acting in part to help residents cope with record gas prices, but also to regulate a mode of transport that has become more popular.
"We are going to look at it because the gas mileage on those [golf carts] makes the [Mini Cooper] look like a Hummer," said village manager Mark Rooney, who made clear that the heavily traveled state roads that traverse the town would make adopting an ordinance difficult.
Safety is a major concern. An 87-year-old man from Brook, Ind., died three weeks ago when the golf cart he was driving was struck on a state highway there, Newton County sheriff's police said. In both Illinois and Indiana, it's illegal to drive golf carts on a state road.
A study published this month found that golf-cart injuries have increased by an estimated 130 percent since 1990. About 15 percent of those injuries occurred on streets, said co-author Lara McKensie of the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio, who called the growth in golf-cart injuries "astounding."
Newly written ordinances in Iroquois County permit licensed drivers of golf carts that are outfitted with headlights, turn signals, brake lights and a reflective sign to roam on town streets that have speed limits no higher than 35 m.p.h. The carts are not supposed to go faster than 25 m.p.h., according to federal regulations.
In one town, Danforth, owners must also register their golf carts.
Illinois towns have been free to open their roads to golf carts since 1998, when state legislators passed an authorizing law over the objections of the Illinois Municipal League, which opposed it for safety reasons. At least 11 other states have similar laws, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Municipal League executive director Larry Frang said it has been rare for towns to give golf carts a green light. But, times have changed since 1998, when gasoline prices fell to $1.03 per gallon.
In Franklin County, the town of Sesser passed a golf-cart ordinance July 3, emulating nearby Breeze, said City Council Member Bob Woll. He said that it not only will help residents sick of high gas prices, but it also will save the town $600 a year by using a golf cart (Woll's) instead of a pickup to check water meters.
On Jan. 8, Ashkum (population 724, with no golf course) became the first Iroquois County town this year to change its ordinance.
Now even Mayor Paul Heideman, a gas-company supervisor, can be seen driving an electric cart seven blocks from his home to Assumption Catholic Church on Sundays. He said the town acted in part to keep youths from driving the carts, but gas prices were also on their minds. The first paragraph of their ordinance touts golf carts' "energy-efficient mobility."
"Whenever you get in the car, it's going to cost you," said Bob Mitchell, 79, who drives his green cart 2 miles from home to the Ashkum cemetery about every other day to water the geraniums on his wife's grave. He also gets his mail, buys groceries, picks his grandkids up from the bus stop and drives to the ballpark to watch their Little League games.
After commuting more than 80 miles each way to his job as a window installer in the Loop, the last thing Brad Perzee, 33, wants to do when he's home is get in his car. So about a month ago, the Ashkum resident bought an electric golf cart and now takes his two daughters, 4 and 7, on rides just about every night.
"I just wouldn't be driving around town otherwise," he said. "It's a relief to get on the golf cart and take a ride with the kids."
Garry Lanoue, who runs Ashkum's car repair shop, began selling golf carts about three months after the town's ordinance passed. He sold seven and keeps a copy of the law on hand for those who come in to take a look.
Lanoue, whose blue work shirt is monogrammed "Grumpy," says the carts have made Ashkum a friendlier place.
"You drive around and everybody waves at you—it just makes a whole lot friendlier community," said Lanoue, who lives outside town and drives his cart on weekends. "You stop and talk to your neighbor, where normally you'd drive by. We [were] riding the other day and we stopped at three different houses—we'd have never stopped there otherwise."
Although the carts appeal to residents as a way to save on gas, their upfront costs—prices start at about $2,000—can put them out of reach. Karen Edwards, who works at the food mart, sees at least five people a week load groceries onto their golf carts and wouldn't mind having one, but the price tag makes it impractical.
"It's one of those things where you have to have the money," she said.
Mayor Paul Price of Gilman, the largest community to consider the ordinance so far, believes the town will adopt it, but thinks it might backfire. The three-person police force tolerates the four or so residents who drive carts now, he said. But once the ordinance is passed, he can see neighbors ratting each other out for driving a cart that isn't up to standards.
"It only takes two or three people to cause misery," he said. "Everybody knows everybody here."