Cart ‘em up

Published 8:13 pm Saturday, August 21, 2010

Golf carts now allowed in Eclipse, Chatham Woods

By the same unanimous vote Wednesday, Suffolk City Council approved the use of golf carts in two very different neighborhoods.

The Eclipse and Chatham Woods neighborhoods became the first to apply under a new regulation that allows golf cart use on public roads if approved by the council. Eclipse is a historic community off Bridge Road in North Suffolk, behind Ebenezer United Methodist Church. Chatham Woods is behind John Yeates Middle School, off Bennetts Pasture Road.

The required traffic engineering studies done in both neighborhoods came to the conclusion that Chatham Woods was a good fit for cart use; Eclipse, however, was not.

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City traffic engineer Robert Lewis cited narrow streets, average speeds above the 25 miles-per-hour limit and 14 vehicle crashes from 2005 to 2009. Many of the wrecks could be attributed to cars sideswiping each other or leaving the roadway to avoid a collision on the narrow streets, Lewis said.

The process for getting golf carts allowed on a neighborhood’s streets involves an application, engineering study, approval by City Council and payment for signage by the community. Neighborhoods must have posted speed limits of 25 mph or less, and golf carts may only be operated sunrise to sunset by licensed drivers. The carts must have “slow-moving vehicle” signs on the back.

Four Eclipse residents pleaded with council members at Wednesday’s meeting to allow the carts.

“Not only is it just fun, it’s economical,” said Chris Nierman, who has lived in the community most of his life. “It’s a lot more feasible for us.”

Nierman said he enjoys coming home after a long day at work and being greeted by his children asking, “Can we go on a golf cart ride?”

“It’s great to have that, and I want it to continue,” he said.

Cathy Darden contended that having golf carts on the road would force traffic to slow down.

“I think we’re a very visible means of slowing down traffic,” Darden said. “People get used to seeing us.”

Council members stated they were willing to give it a try, reminding each other that the ordinance could be rescinded at any time if the carts became a problem.

“I believe they’re ready to try it,” Councilman Joe Barlow said. “If there’s a problem, we can change it.”

Mayor Linda T. Johnson agreed.

“I do think that Eclipse is a very unique place,” she said. “I think we need to give it an opportunity.”

Several of the Eclipse speakers even suggested the community would self-police drivers who threaten the safety of the neighborhood.

“They know we’re out there, and they’ll drive accordingly,” Darden said.

Barlow concurred.

“In this particular case, I think the community is supporting it and they will enforce it,” he said.

A motion to allow the carts in both Eclipse and Chatham Woods passed unanimously.