SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Some residents of Green Hill want the town to formalize the use of what’s been a 20-year practice of driving golf carts on their neighborhood roads, but it’s an uphill battle, officials said.
Officers of both The Hill Association and The Green Hill Civic Association presented the request to allow golf carts to travel on public roads at Monday’s Town Council meeting.
Hill Association Treasurer David Calabrese said residents have used golf carts for at least 20 years to get around the neighborhood and to and from the beach. The associations called Green Hill a quiet neighborhood of dead-end streets, with no through traffic. Drivers typically travel below the posted 25 mile per hour speed limit, they said. The carts are small and weigh less than cars, making them compatible with pedestrian traffic.
Golf carts, the group argues, are also quieter and more environmentally friendly than combustion engine vehicles. Their use on public roads has been accepted on Prudence Island, they argued.
The residents also said they would limit use of the carts to daylight hours and only in Green Hill. Drivers would have to have a valid motor vehicle operator’s license.
The Town Council and Town Manager Rob Zarnetske indicated the move would be problematic, but maybe not impossible. State laws prohibit use of golf carts, as “low-speed vehicles” that travel 25 miles per hour or less, on non-private roads, they said. The town can’t override the state law.
“We’d have to seek state permission to designate an area where these vehicles could operate,” Zarnetske said.
Calabrese said, though, that he’s been unable to find any specific laws that say the carts are illegal.
Prudence Island had to seek special enabling legislation in 2005 to operate golf carts on public roadways, Assistant Town Solicitor Amy Goins said. Goins said the group could request special enabling legislation or consider a road abandonment process.
“A neighborhood can come together and ask the council to essentially ‘disown’ the public roadways,” she said. Municipalities and private road owners have, in the past, negotiated for the town or city to continue to perform maintenance such as snow plowing, Zarnetske said.
Interim Police Chief Joel Ewing-Chow said the department’s interpretation of state law doesn’t allow for the operation of golf carts on public roads.
“It’s my opinion personally that the golf carts could be a safety concern,” he said. “There are no directionals on golf carts. There are no brake lights, anything like that. I’m concerned they would cause more of an issue with safety than not.”
Calabrese said the carts would be operated only on the dead-end streets between Carpenter Drive and Green Hill Beach Road, south to the beach.
“It would not involve through traffic,” he said. He added that kits for directional signals and brake lights can be used to modify the carts.
Several residents wrote the town to support the proposal.
“As a full time, year-round resident of Green Hill, and a property owner since 1962, I would encourage the Town Council to allow golf cart usage as outlined in the proposal submitted,” Joe Tenori wrote. “Being one of many elderly living in the neighborhood, golf carts provide us with an easy mode of transportation to the beach and to visit with our neighbors. They curtail the noise and pollution of cars and trucks and drastically reduce illegal parking on the sides of our narrow roads.”
Town officials and Calabrese agreed to continue talks about the options for the residents.
“The options are limited, but we’re happy to continue the conversation,” Council President Abel Collins said. “Hopefully the discussions will come to some type of productive conclusion.”