Council’s L&O Committee revisits special vehicle ordinance

MARSHALL – For members of the Marshall City Council last year, it was a question without an answer: Should golf carts and other “special vehicles” be allowed on Marshall streets?

New members of the council’s Legislative and Ordinance Committee still couldn’t find definitive answers after a public hearing Monday night. However, this time committee members seemed a little less conflicted and a little more interested in exploring possible ordinances governing the use of golf carts, ATVs and other special vehicles.

Last spring, questions were raised about the city code on special vehicles, including golf carts, when Marshall residents Steven and Karen Meister applied for a permit to drive a golf cart on city streets. The city’s past policy had been to allow golf carts to be driven only to and from the golf course.

There was much discussion by both the city council and the Legislative and Ordinance Committee on the matter, as well as disagreement on whether to allow special vehicles on the street. In the end, the issue was referred back to committee.

The Meisters were present at Monday’s hearing. After being denied a permit for a golf cart, the Meisters bought a GEM electric vehicle instead. However, they did give feedback and answered questions for the committee.

Marshall Director of Public Safety Rob Yant and Jeff Wenker of the Marshall Police Department said traffic safety was still a big concern in deciding whether to allow special vehicles.

Yant said his general recommendation in the past had been not to allow golf carts and other special vehicles on city streets.

“The safety concerns related to these really outweighed the advantages,” Yant said.

Police contacted different cities in Minnesota and South Dakota to hear their experiences with golf carts or ATVs on city streets. They said cities like Mankato and Watertown, S.D., hadn’t reported many problems. Some examples of ways other cities regulated the use of golf carts included designating which streets the carts may be driven on, or treating golf carts the same as motorcycles in city ordinances.

“Safety is important, there’s no question,” Steven Meister said about allowing special vehicles. But, he said, “there has to be a personal responsibility” to drive safely as well.

Minnesota statutes say a city may authorize the use of vehicles like golf carts, ATVs and utility vehicles on city streets. The statutes say city ordinances should designate which streets special vehicles are allowed on and require evidence of insurance. Special vehicles must obey traffic laws, and they may cross state highways but not drive on them.

Legislative and Ordinance Committee member Mike Boedigheimer said he didn’t see a problem with allowing special vehicles in Marshall, provided safety restrictions, like requiring signal lights or seat belts, were placed on them and enforced.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to think outside the box,” he said, as long as public safety is protected.

“Personally, I feel we need to take the existing ordinance and throw it away,” or change it, Boedigheimer said. “It’s 20 years old.”

Committee member Ellayne Conyers said safety was definitely still a concern, and committee member Glenn Bayerkohler said he hadn’t made up his mind on what action to take.

“I want to study it some more,” he said, adding that there needed to be a good balance between public safety and individual rights on the matter.

In the meantime, committee consensus was for city staff to continue working on possibilities for draft ordinances on special vehicles.