The use of golf carts has moved beyond country clubs, retirement communities and campgrounds to include hundreds of towns and cities across the nation — including several in the Kanawha Valley.
The slow-moving vehicles are proving to be a good fit for a number of communities with an abundance of lightly traveled side streets with low speed limits.
Since more than 90 percent of golf carts are battery powered, they reduce pollution and cut noise while their light weight eases wear and tear on streets. They provide a convenient option for those who need to travel a few blocks instead of a few miles and are not in a rush.
According to the International Light Transportation Vehicle Association, more than 350 cities across the nation had legalized golf cart use by 2014.
In West Virginia, state law bars golf carts from public roads, but allows municipalities to set their own laws to regulate use of golf carts and other motorized carts on city streets.
In 2014, the Putnam County town of Eleanor passed an ordinance allowing golf cart use on streets with posted speed limits of 25 miles per hour or slower. Cart operators there must be at least 16 years old, provide proof of liability insurance, limit driving to daylight hours unless carts are equipped with headlights, tail lights and parking brakes, and obtain free two-year permits from the town.
Six months ago, Nitro City Council passed a similar ordinance enabling golf cart use. The new law effectively opens the whole town to golf cart traffic, except for travel along First Avenue/W.Va. 25, a state highway. However, golf cart operators may cross W.Va. 25 to travel between the city’s downtown district and its high school, library, pool and neighborhoods on the Kanawha River side of town.
South Charleston City Council followed suit last month, enacting a golf cart ordinance drafted from a similar template. On Monday, a proposed golf cart ordinance will be discussed at a St. Albans City Council meeting.
“So far, it’s working out great,” Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt said of his city’s golf cart ordinance. “There have been no traffic complaints. The people who have the carts really get out and use them, and a lot of people who don’t are talking about buying them.”
“Nitro is a perfect place for golf carts,” said Todd Lemon, who lobbied for the ordinance with friend and fellow Nitro resident Fred King. “The swimming pool and Ridenour Lake are nearby, but too far to walk to. With the cart, they’re easy to get to.”
“I run all over Nitro with mine,” said Fred King, whose cart is decked out in WVU colors. King’s errand-running routine “is a whole lot easier using the golf cart,” he said. “Right now, I know four or five people who use carts, but I’ve heard a lot of other people say they need to get one, too. I’m tickled to death that we have the ordinance.”
“It’s amazing,” said Kathy Barr of West 13th Street in Nitro, as she and daughter-in-law Emily Barr decorated their golf cart for an appearance in Saturday’s Boomtown Days parade. “You just plug it in at night, and the next day you can scoot out to the lake, go to the Dairy Queen or pick up [grandson] Blaine at the school bus stop.”
“I haven’t seen a big boom in in golf cart traffic so far,” said South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens. “We just passed the ordinance on August 15. They were already being used in a gated subdivision here, and I’m sure we’ll see more people taking advantage of the new law in other parts of town.”
St. Albans Mayor Scott James said a golf cart ordinance had been rejected by his city’s council about one year ago, but is again on the agenda for discussion during a meeting on Monday night.
“If we can agree on the guidelines and work out the logistics, it could pass this time,” he said.