27 February 2007

Coming Soon to Your Backyard: Ricky Bobby, Hummers, and the Grey Line

Town Center resident Joel Broida and Thunder Hill resident Paul Verchinski have been lobbying the CA Board of Directors to change the bike path policy to allow golf carts on the paths. Each has taken a different approach to motorizing the bike paths, Mr. Broida would like to create a golf cart shuttle system, using carts (manufactured by Daimler-Chrysler) that can carry 6-8 passengers, to and from the grocery store (for those Villages that currently do not have a grocery story in their village). Mr. Broida has gone on to state that when grocery stores are in all of the village centers, the multi-passenger golf carts could be used to conduct tours in Columbia. Mr. Verchinski would like a general use for all residents (with a minimum age requirement) to use golf carts on the bike paths for shopping, recreation, and enhanced mobility for seniors.

Where I think they agree is in their tone and the perceived benefit to the community. Both men have been aggressive in their positions. At the January CA Board of Directors meeting, Mr. Broida asked that a policy change to allow golf carts be instituted by the end of February. Mr. Verchinski, addressing the full board for the second continuous month, began his resident speakout session by stating (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I am back again this month because I was here last month and I have not seen any movement on this issue.” Both men tout the use of golf carts as a means to aid those who are aging in place and to reduce air pollution.

What I do not think they have realized is the unintended consequences of motorizing the bike paths. As they describe it, the golf carts would be used primarily to allow aging residents to extend their mobility. To go shopping, or visit a good friend. Contrast that with the following from a November 26, 2006 article in the Washington Post, written by Dan Morse (Carts Are in Demand, but Who Said Anything About Golfing?):

For residents on the outskirts of Washington, using a golf cart doesn't necessarily mean playing golf. Marty Scanlon, for one, appreciates his cart foremost as a piece of furniture.

"When we're together," the 45-year-old says, sitting on his cart next to his buddies, "this garage exudes knowledge."

Parked next to him is a neighbor who recently pulled into Scanlon's garage on his own cart. They face a TV, watching football highlights, smoking cigars and drinking beer. Conversation veers from politics to pontoon boats to cheese dip.

"It's a think tank," said Rick Rickson, 44, lifting a cup of Bud Light out of his drink holder.

Now let’s be careful here. There is no indication that anyone in the story was drinking to excess or that anything irresponsible was going on; however, alcohol, the operation of a several hundred pound vehicle, and the idea of trying to navigate Columbia’s narrow, curvy path system is a concern.

In addition, golf carts for non-golf course use have over the years been customized:

Lots [of golf carts] go to businesses, such as apartment complexes, car dealers and the like. But a sizable number end up with homeowners, said Don DelPlace, publisher of Golf Car Advisor, a trade magazine and wholesale catalog with products for the residential set. Among the Advisor's offerings: alloy wheels, rifle holders (for hunting) and kits to convert carts to roadsters resembling a Hummer H2 or a Buick Lucerne.


[Golf cart owner Mr.] Van Wie owns an excavating company. Working near Brandywine earlier this year, he repeatedly drove by a long fence, behind which were rows of golf carts. One day he pulled in.

Walking through the front door of Metro Golf Cart, he took a left into a showroom displaying options available: $220 dashboard covers, custom paint work with flames, CD players.

He and Danny Crescenzi, a co-owner of the business, walked out to the lot and approached a cart painted bright orange, bearing a No. 20 decal to match the Monte Carlo driven by NASCAR racer Tony Stewart.

"Can you do an Earnhardt car?" Van Wie asked.

"We can do anything you like," Crescenzi said.

At times speed goes beyond just the look of the golf cart. The November/December 2006 issue of the above mentioned Golf Car Advisor magazine has a feature article on high performance golf cart electric motors. The article leads off as follows:

As the private car segment of the golf car market continues to grow, and more
and more golf cars are being used like a second automobile or for non-golf
activities, the emphasis on increased speed has gotten even greater. At the
forefront of making golf cars go faster is Steen Products, of Fort Mill, South
Carolina. Steen Products is well known for their unique Plum-quick™ line of

From my point of view, I see additional problems related to infrastructure, regulation, and safety.

With respect to infrastructure, the Columbia bike path system consists largely of narrow asphalt ribbons that connect the Villages. Many of these paths are located in floodplains, traverse steep slopes, and have many blind curves. To accommodate a fleet of golf carts, most pathways would have to be widened (making them closer to resident’s side and back yards). With respect to slopes, either the grade would have to be changed or a major investment in signage (and driver training/orientation) would have to be made to alert golf cart owners that passage is prohibited. In the case of floodplains, I would suspect little could be done, with the exception of signage indicating a possible flood condition.

In addition, a good deal of the path system is nestled up close to homeowner’s backyards. Many purchased homes with the understanding that the paths would be used by children walking to school, bicyclists, and others walking the paths for pleasure and recreation. I doubt many envisioned the path as a motorized throughway. On a related note, the use of the path system by registered cars and micro-mini bikes is infrequent, but not unheard of. Would the acquiescence to golf cart use only encourage this illegal behavior?

With regard to regulation, I believe golf carts are already legal to drive on Howard County roads with posted speeds less than 30 mph. Would the county requirements be sufficient for use on the privately-owned path system, or would CA have to develop its own inspections and licensing system? Enforcement also seems to be problematic. Because the CA path system lies on CA open space, it is private property. Howard County Police cannot enter onto the property unless an obvious violation is visible. So items like speed limit enforcement, licensing, etc would have to be performed by staff hired by (or under contract to) CA.

Moreover, because all of the Columbia pathways are on private land, how would enforcement work? How about accident response? It has been only recently that CA and the 911 service have worked out a three digit alpha-numeric identification system for the tot lots. If one of these golf carts tipped over, and there were injuries, what would a caller say to the 911 operator?

“The golf cart is located kind of in between the end of Pamplona Drive and the end of Bull Ring Lane, closer to the end of African Hill, and farther away from the Stevens Forest Pool and the end of Encounter Row.”

That is a lot of detail, but does it effectively communicate the location to a 911 operator?

In the end, I believe the goal of Mr. Broida and Mr. Verchinski is noble. Providing a means to increase senior mobility is a good cause. However, I cannot imagine a scenario in which the safety of golf cart operators, their passengers, and other users of the bike paths would be preserved with any reasonable certainty. Large sums of additional monies would have to be dedicated for pathway widening, signage, monitoring, and enforcement. I would suggest that the above mentioned gentleman focus their efforts on getting golf cart lanes installed on the existing roadway system. It is a superior alternative to destroying the intended use of the Columbia path system.


wordbones said...

I agree. That has to be about the dumbest idea I have heard of for Columbia. I frequent a resort in Florida where the main mode of transportation is the golf cart. The golf cart paths are wider than Columbia pathways and walkers on those paths are rare. There is also very little resemblence between these "golf carts" and those actually used for golfing.

Anonymous said...

Yep, the CA paths weren't designed for publicly-driven motorized vehicles. There were plans to create a minibus system that used some of the paths, but those vehicles would have been driven in uniform methods and controlled speeds by trained professionals. Accidents, noise, and damage to the environment await otherwise.

Promoting increased senior mobility/independence and green transit are both great ideas, but (other than personal assistive mobility devices for those with limited mobility) it should be via the existing road system, not the CA paths. If bicycles and mopeds can share the road with cars, golfcarts certainly can, too.

And there are many fine adult tricycles and quadricycles that can currently be used on the CA paths and can be fitted with electric motors for those truly needing mobility assistance.

Anonymous said...

Bill- your coverage of this issue was very thorough and well written. I disagree, however, with your suggestion that path widening, signage, enforcement, etc. would have to be implanted to make the golf cart idea work. If the paths were widened, that would simply turn the paths into golf cart drag strips which would actually decrease pedestrian safety. The safest thing to do is have the carts operating at the lower speeds necessitated by narrower paths. Your arguments in regards to 911 personnel not being able to locate pathway accidents do not hold water. If those arguments are valid, this same problem would present itself for bicycle accidents. Concerns about alcohol related problems and the inability to enforce pathway “regulations” are somewhat overblown. Sure, there may be a drunk or two on the path from time to time, but we shouldn’t discount the whole idea based on the fact that we can’t guarantee everyone’s complete safety. I suspect it is much more dangerous to operate a bike or golf cart on the road than to walk on a pathway that allows golf carts. I am not encouraging or discouraging the use of golf carts on CA pathways, but I don’t think any good reasons not to pursue the idea have been raised in the discussing thus far on this blog. The use of trikes that one commenter suggested is a good idea, but it has not caught on with the citizens for whatever reason.

Anonymous said...

Ok, to reiterate - environmental damage. CA's paths, unlike golf courses, do not have constant returfing and erosion prevention attention for when ground is disturbed by offpath driving, stomping on the gas or brake, etc.

The pathways are also too narrow to allow safe simultaneous golf cart traffic in one direction without endangering pedestrians traveling in the opposite direction. What will happen? Either the pedestrians are forced off the path (which is wrong), the golf cart drives off the path (which causes damage to the adjacent ground), or the golf cart would have to stop to allow the pedestrian(s) to safely walk past (which is unlikely).

Noise. How do you justify allowing golf carts, but then continuing to prohibit smaller mopeds, motorbikes, motorized gocarts, etc.? Slippery slope.

Some communities do allow golf carts to travel lower speed secondary roads. We should certainly evaluate doing so.

Anonymous said...

Hey out there,
The golf cart idea is not a senior citizen subject. It is the subject of how those who do not drive and guess what, there are lots of poor folk or disabled folk who cannot afford a car with all its requisite requirements, can get to a grocery store reliably and cheaply. Perhaps more cheaply and more
conveniently than the shuttle buses.
And, some of the arguements are just plain silly...no mention of a professional as driver, just lots of silly worries about alcohol consumption. No thought of this being a County issue, not...just a CA issue....which is one of the places approached by the advocates. From my view point, I am far more afraid of young ,old , middle aged, black, white, hispanic who are on cell phones, follow too closely , have defective signal lights or consider them an upgrade since they don't get used and drive trucks aka suvs with the still all too often attitude that they control the road.
Thank goodness I have a life and don't waste much time on this blogger tripe.

Anonymous said...

Bill, tis the season. People are announcing their intentions about upcoming CA Council races. Are you going to throw in your hat again this year?

Anonymous said...

"The golf cart idea is not a senior citizen subject. It is the subject of how those who do not drive and guess what, there are lots of poor folk or disabled folk who cannot afford a car with all its requisite requirements, can get to a grocery store reliably and cheaply. Perhaps more cheaply and more conveniently than the shuttle buses."

Hmmm, sounds like personal rapid transportation to me. It just doesn't belong on a ground level CA path.

With the right kind of mass transit planning, we can get a system that will meet the needs of the groups mentioned by Anon 15:29 - the poor, the elderly, the disabled, those for whom the shuttle buses aren't sufficiently convenient. Oh, that same system can serve the rest of us, too, who want transportation that is more environmentally friendly (both in its emissions and its footprint), more economical, not subject to gridlock, faster than cars, safer, and doesn't require waiting for the system.

An integral part of such planning is ensuring the 30-year plan includes such considerations now instead of having to shoehorn in less than optimal and far more costly mass transit solutions later.

B. Santos said...

Anon 20:37,

Thanks for your interest. I am looking into several things right now. I will have an announcement, one way or the other, within the next seven days.

Stay tuned,


Jessie N said...

My, how I enjoy to watch your mind analyze an issue. You are such an asset to this community, Bill. Your thoroughness and balanced perspective plus your unwillingness to be-sound-behave politically correct and pandering is refreshing.
Truly, Bill, thank you.

Anonymous said...

There is a huge need for transit options for a lot of people - and cost is a huge factor. The green buses are currently extremely poorly funded and exceptionally unreliable. I predict that transportation will be the one issue that can and will grind the economy to a halt in the future and severely impact quality of life.

That said, I don't support golf carts on the path - the technical problems and the huge cost to CA or whoever takes over the service is a major impediment. Having a motorized free area is also a wonderful amenity. And I say this as a disabled person who walks with a cane about 25% of the time, who will likely end up in a wheelchair.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see some people on the paths. Friends and I have been talking about how Columbia's natural beauty seems to have lost its lure as more and more parents refuse to allow their children outdoors to enjoy our woods and lakes.

Chris Tsien said...


Practical reality often escapes dedicated advocates.

I often commute by bicycle and have done group rides at night using the Columbia path system. The golf cart idea is cute, but unworkable for most of the existing path system. As pointed out in comments above, the paths are narrow with many twists and sharp turns, and often run through environmentally sensitive areas (e.g., what I dub "Mosquito Alley," the path running from Vantage/LPP to the Sheraton). Nothing like first hand experience to throw cold water on a nice idea.