Orting will become one of the first cities in the state to allow golf carts on its streets.
The City Council in the small valley city this week approved a one-year pilot program that could have residents tooling to and from the grocery store in a vehicle most often seen cruising between greens and tee boxes.
“It could be an environmentally friendly and fun way to travel,” said Councilman David Inge, the primary backer of the plan. “I kind of got the golf cart rolling on this.”
The new law, approved Wednesday night on a 5-2 vote, will take effect five days after it’s officially published, so golf carts could be legal on Orting’s streets around the end of next week.
There will be rules. Carts must be electric and can’t go more than 20 mph. Drivers must be licensed. No nighttime travel is allowed and no driving on the busy highway that bisects the city, except to cross at an intersection.
As an alternative to gasoline-powered cars, the carts could help reduce air pollution, conserve energy and cut traffic congestion, according to the ordinance.
It fits well with the Puget Sound Regional Council’s policies and visions for growth over the next 20 years, Mayor Cheryl Temple said.
Some urban cities, including Tacoma, are studying the issue but haven’t formulated legislation.
No one knows how many people might want to drive rechargeable, electric carts around the city of 6,100.
Officials in the small Eastern Washington city of Liberty Lake didn’t have readily available figures Thursday for how many drive golf carts on streets there. But the practice is growing in towns and cities across the nation, news reports show. Peachtree City, Ga. has an elaborate 90-mile network of multiuse paths for pedestrians, cyclists and golf carts.
It wasn’t a groundswell of need that brought the idea to the Orting City Council, but rather the energy-saving evangelism of Sierra Club member Richard Burris, Inge said. The councilman, having seen golf carts in wide use while visiting Arizona, thought they’d work in Orting, too.
High Cedars Golf Course sits nearby and there are two 55-and-over communities in town whose residents might like the convenience and low cost of golf cart travel, Temple said.
Inge believes the carts could cut down on short trips to the store and might even encourage their owners to shop locally instead of running up to South Hill.
But opponents worry they’re built for recreation on the open spaces of golf courses and shouldn’t be on streets where they might tangle with 4,000-pound cars or behemoth commercial vehicles.
“I was very much opposed to it,” said Councilman Dick Ford, who voted against the ordinance along with George Wilson.
“There’s too much traffic in our town,” Ford added. He noted that log and rock trucks pass through Orting all the time. “It’s a safety issue; somebody’s going to get hurt.”
A provision that would have allowed carts on the Foothills Trail was stricken prior to passage.
Both the State Patrol and the Department of Transportation have concerns about the practice, representatives of those agencies said.
However, a chapter of state law allows the operation of “neighborhood electric vehicles” on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less, with restrictions.
P.J. Martin, sales and leasing manager at Northwest Yamaha Golf Cars in Puyallup, called the pilot program “an outstanding idea, especially for a community the size of Orting.”
A new cart sells for around $4,500, with a top and windshield. A good used cart sells for “anywhere from $2,000 up,” he said.
State Rep. Tami Green, D-University Place, wants Lakewood, University Place and Fircrest to think about where and how they might allow golf carts on their streets as a way to cut traffic and tailpipe emissions.
“It’s good to see Orting give the idea a jump start,” she said. “I’d like to see Pierce County full of carts. I think that would be awesome.”
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659
RULES OF THE ROAD
If you want to drive a golf cart in Orting, you’ll have to observe these rules:
• It must be electric.
• It can’t go more than 20 mph.
• You must have a valid driver’s license.
• Registration with the city is required.
• You may drive your cart on city streets only during daylight hours.
• No driving on Highway 162 or the designated truck routes on Calistoga Avenue or Kansas Street except when crossing at an intersection. There are other specified exceptions for the truck routes.
• No driving on sidewalks or trails, including the Foothills Trail.
More information: www.cityoforting.org; 360-893-2219
Kris Sherman, The News Tribune