Memo-08-09-2016-Item 14

August 9, 2016

MEMO TO:           Mayor Barber and Board of Commissioners

FROM:                  Frank A. Rush, Jr., Town Manager

SUBJECT:           Review – Emerald Isle Local Golf Cart Program           

I have scheduled time on the Board’s August 9 meeting agenda to review the Emerald Isle local golf cart program and discuss some of the most common concerns about the program, in the interest of identifying any potential changes the Board may wish to consider in the future.

Background Information

  • North Carolina law does not allow the use of typical golf carts (motors with speeds capable of up to 20 mph) on public streets.

  • However, NCGS 160A-300.6 allows municipalities to establish a local golf cart program for use on streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less.

    § 160A-300.6. Regulation of golf carts on streets, roads, and highways.

    (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of G.S. 20-50 and G.S. 20-54, a city may, by ordinance, regulate the operation of golf carts, as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(12a), on any public street, road, or highway where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less within its municipal limits or on any property owned or leased by the city.

    (b) By ordinance, a city may require the registration of golf carts, charge a fee for the registration, specify who is authorized to operate golf carts, and specify the required equipment, load limits, and the hours and methods of operation of golf carts. No person less than 16 years of age may operate a golf cart on a public street, road, or highway. (2009-459, s. 3.)

  • The Town established its local golf cart program in October 2010, and began registering golf carts as of January 1, 2011. A copy of the Town’s current golf cart ordinance is attached.

  • The Town established the program to make it easier for people to access the beach, to allow an alternative and convenient mode of transportation, and to promote the resort / tourism image.

  • The Board of Commissioners’ primary concern when the program was established was safety, and the Board specifically included several safety requirements (discussed below).

  • The golf cart ordinance does not apply to “street-legal” golf carts with NC license plates, and they are treated similar to other motor vehicles and allowed to operate everywhere in Emerald Isle except for the 45 mph zone on NC 58.

  • The golf cart ordinance also does not apply to golf carts operated exclusively in private subdivisions with private streets.

  • A permit is required to operate a golf cart under the Town’s program, and the annual permit fee is $75 (handicapped permits are free).

  • The speed limit on all Town streets, other than Coast Guard Road (between NC 58 and Ring Street) and NC 58, is 25 mph.

Significant Safety Requirements Included in Town Ordinance:

  • Golf cart operators must be at least 18 years of age.

  • Golf carts must not have been modified to travel at a speed greater than 20 mph.

  • Golf carts must be equipped with several safety features, including seat belts, headlights, tail lights, and more, and are inspected annually by EIPD personnel.

  • Golf carts are permitted to operate on all Town streets, with the exception of Coast Guard Road and NC 58.The NC 58 prohibition is rooted in NCGS 160A-300.6, which does not allow golf carts to be operated on streets with a speed limit higher than 35 mph.In Emerald Isle, NC 58 has a 45 mph limit everywhere except between the Welcome Center and Fire Station 1, which is 35 mph.In order to promote safety and to eliminate confusion, the Town ordinance was written to simply prohibit golf carts along the entire length of NC 58.

  • Other NC traffic laws, including NC laws for driving while impaired, alcohol consumption, etc. also apply to golf carts.

Increasing Popularity of the Golf Cart Program

  • The program has continued to increase in popularity since it was first initiated in 2011, and as of August 4, 2016 there are a total of 691 golf carts registered for calendar year 2016.

  • Historical data is presented below (note that data is for fiscal year, July 1 – June 30, but is comparable to calendar year data):

FY 11-12               216 permits                           $ 16,200 permit fee revenue

FY 12-13               308 permits                           $ 22,650

FY 13-14               435 permits                           $ 31,875

FY 14-15               530 permits                           $ 39,600

FY 15-16               655 permits                           $ 49,725.

  • The number of local golf cart companies serving Emerald Isle has increased from 2 to 3 during this time, and 2 companies have now established storefronts in Emerald Isle.

  • The number of rental golf carts registered during this time has increased from 14 to 61.

  • In an effort to expand the ability of property owners in central Emerald Isle to use golf carts, the Board of Commissioners specifically amended the golf cart ordinance in April 2013 to allow golf carts to use the 5 short “bicycle path connectors” on Ocean Drive (near East Summer Place, Sea Crest, Periwinkle Drive, Santa Maria Drive, and Seagull Drive).This action legally allowed a golf cart to travel from the Ocean Drive “dog-leg” to the Emerald Plantation area, and was well-received.

    Golf Cart Parking Spaces

  • As of March 2016, the Town has created a total of 48 golf-cart only parking spaces at public beach access locations in Emerald Isle. A complete list is attached.

  • Town staff generally honor all requests to create golf-cart only spaces, as time and funds permit, and if sufficient public right-of-way exists.Town staff make every effort to locate the new spaces in a location that is not offensive to adjacent property owners.

    Most Common Violations, Enforcement Issues

  • EIPD has always aggressively enforced alcohol-related laws for golf cart operators, and has revoked / suspended the golf cart permit (for a period of up to one year) for 3 such violations since 2013.

  • EIPD has also revoked / suspended golf carts with three or more golf cart ordinance violations.There have been 5 golf cart registrations revoked / suspended since July 2015 for this reason.

  • Town staff have consistently received complaints about golf carts traveling illegally on Coast Guard Road, NC 58, and the bicycle path since the program was initiated.Because the Town has a relatively small Police force, it is impossible to catch all violations.

  • Increasing signage has been installed along Coast Guard Road and the bicycle path to remind golf carts they are not permitted in these areas.

  • Initial enforcement efforts focused primarily on public education, both by the Police Officers in the field and by Town staff via official publications.

  • Due to the increasing number of golf carts permitted, and the lengthy period of “friendly enforcement”, the Police Department is now being more aggressive in golf cart enforcement and is issuing more citations.

  • I have attached a brief memo from Police Chief Waters, along with summary of golf cart citations issued over the past 25 months.

  • EIPD will continue to be aggressive in its enforcement of golf cart violations in the future.

    There are Certain Areas Where Golf Cart Usage is Limited or Simply Not Possible Due to Geographic Constraints and the Restrictions on Golf Cart Usage on NC 58, Coast Guard Road, and the Bicycle Path

  • Town staff made it very clear when the golf cart program was established in 2010 that golf cart usage would be limited or not possible due to the nature of the street network in Emerald Isle and the restrictions on NC 58, Coast Guard Road, and the bicycle path.

  • There are essentially 4 areas that are limited or where golf cart usage is simply not possible:Coast Guard Road area, eastern Emerald Isle, the Welcome Center area, and NC 58 property owners whose only access is via NC 58.

Coast Guard Road Area

  • The only connection between Reed Drive and residential areas along Coast Guard Road is Coast Guard Road itself, and the bicycle path.This means that no golf carts registered to property owners along the Coast Guard Road corridor can access the Emerald Plantation area and other commercial areas.

  • Prior to summer 2016, it was possible for golf cart operators in Osprey Ridge, Deer Horn Dunes, Sea Dunes, Ocean Oaks, and Cape Emerald to take a circuitous route through a private street in Bell Cove Village (residential and commercial) to travel legally to Reed Drive.(See attached maps.)However, that route is no longer feasible due to a change in gate codes in the Bell Cove Village residential subdivision.Town staff have been contacted by several golf cart operators concerned about this issue, however, because it is a private street those property owners have the right to prevent golf cart traffic if desired. (Map 1, Map 2)

  • There are a total of 93 golf carts registered in the Coast Guard Road area that are now limited to travelling only within that area.Many in the Coast Guard Road area use golf carts primarily to access the beach.

  • There are approximately 2,200 property owners in this area of Coast Guard Road.

Eastern Emerald Isle

  • The only connection between 25th Street and the Ocean Drive “dog-leg” is NC 58 and the bicycle path.This means that no golf carts registered to property owners in this area can access any points west of 25th Street.(See attached maps.) (Map 1, Map 2)

  • There is only 1 golf cart currently registered to a property owner located east of the Ocean Drive “dog-leg” (presumably used for beach access).

  • There are approximately 1,000 property owners in this area of eastern Emerald Isle.

  • There have also been requests by golf cart operators to access the Flip Flops store and Dollar General in this area.These stores are only accessible via NC 58 and the bicycle path, and thus a golf cart cannot be legally used to access these stores.

Welcome Center Area

  • Prior to 2015, some golf cart operators would travel through the Merchants Park lot to access the Dairy Queen and other nearby businesses.In 2015, the Town was informed by the owners of the mobile home park on Lamroc Drive / Block Drive that Block Drive was private, and that the Town could not direct the public (in cars, golf carts, or other means) onto Block Drive without paying a significant annual fee.Because the Town was planning the new Welcome Center at that time, and had no practical need for an eastern driveway to Block Drive, the Town decided not to pay the fee and simply abandoned that driveway connection.This had no negative impact on the Welcome Center project, and a single driveway was installed off East Seaview Drive.

  • Golf cart operators who previously used the Merchants Park “cut-through” (to access the Dairy Queen, and also residents in the mobile home park off Lamroc Drive / Block Drive) could no longer cut-through, and blamed the new Welcome Center for this issue.Town staff explained the private nature of Block Drive, and suggested that an alternate connection could be pursued in the future but that it would require cooperation from the owners of the mobile home park.Town staff offered to assist in any way.No efforts by the golf cart operators ever progressed.

  • Golf cart operators have been advised they could park in the Welcome Center parking lot and walk to the Dairy Queen if desired.

  • Golf cart operators in the Lamroc Drive and Block Drive area can potentially travel across private property over to Bogue Inlet Drive to access other areas of Emerald Isle via Sound Drive.This would require permission from the Ocean View Inn or Bogue Inlet Pier, as they appear to be the only potential routes.(See attached map.)

NC 58 Property Owners Whose Only Access is Via NC 58

  • There are approximately 530 property owners between Black Skimmer Drive and the Indian Beach town limits who can only access their property via NC 58.Because golf carts are not permitted on NC 58 or the bicycle path, these property owners cannot utilize a golf cart in Emerald Isle.(See attached example map, and map of property owners impacted.)

  • There have been a few instances where individuals in this situation purchased golf carts, only to learn they could not be used.There is also at least one instance where that issue led the property owner to sell his home so that he could live in an area where a golf cart could be used.

Ideas to Consider if Adjustments Are Desired

The Board should note that I am not advocating for or against any of the ideas presented below, but rather attempting to put forth ideas for the Board to consider if you determine that any adjustments to the Town’s golf cart ordinance are desired.

  1. Amend the Town’s ordinance to allow golf carts to travel on Coast Guard Road.  This would allow every property owner in the Coast Guard Road area to travel to the main commercial areas and also allow others to access The Point.  The speed limit on Coast Guard Road is 35 mph, and the maximum permitted speed of golf carts is 20 mph.  The Board has consistently expressed safety concerns about mixing cars travelling at 35 mph (or greater) with golf carts only travelling 15 – 20 mph.  Some golf cart proponents have suggested that the speed limit on Coast Guard Road could be reduced to 25 mph in conjunction with any decision to allow golf carts on Coast Guard Road. 

  2. Amend the Town’s ordinance to allow golf carts on the bicycle path.  This would allow every property owner in the Town to utilize a golf cart, and would eliminate the concerns from the 4 areas highlighted above.  The bicycle path is often very crowded with bicyclists, walkers, runners, etc., both young and old, and the addition of golf carts would likely create a significant safety concern. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee is opposed to this idea, and Town staff also have serious concerns about this idea.

  3. Amend the Town’s ordinance to allow golf carts to use NC 58 in the 35 mph zone between the Welcome Center and Fire Station 1.This would open this area up to nearly all golf cart operators, and may assist some of the local businesses in this area.  This would eliminate the concerns discussed above in the Welcome Center area.  This change likely also presents safety concerns by mixing cars travelling at 35 mph (or greater) with golf carts only travelling 15 – 20 mph.  This change could also create a perception that golf carts are allowed on the other areas of NC 58 that have a 45 mph speed limit.

  4. Construct new golf-cart only dedicated paths along Coast Guard Road and NC 58.  This approach would likely satisfy nearly everyone, however, it comes with a significant cost.  To put this in perspective, each mile of the Town’s bicycle path cost approximately $300,000.  The total length of golf-cart only path needed along Coast Guard Road would be approximately 2 miles, and the cost would likely be at least $600,000. The Town could certainly pursue this approach in shorter segments, at a reduced cost.  Similarly, the length of golf-cart only path needed to connect the Ocean Drive “dog-leg” with 25th Street is approximately 0.4 mile, and could potentially be constructed for approximately $120,000 +/-.  Unless a golf-cart only path is constructed along the entire length of NC 58 between Black Skimmer Drive and the Indian Beach town limits, it would still not be possible for property owners whose only access is via NC 58 to use a golf cart.

    As noted earlier, golf cart registration fees now generate nearly $50,000 annually.  These revenues support the General Fund, and are intended to cover the cost of Town staff administering the program (administration, inspections, etc.), the construction of the golf-cart only parking spaces, and Police enforcement.  The Board could potentially earmark a portion of this annual revenue for “future golf-cart only path construction” if desired, and begin to reserve funds for this purpose or construct small golf-cart only paths incrementally over time.  Additionally, the Board could consider increasing the annual golf cart permit registration fee from $75 to $100 annually, and earmark the additional $25 for this purpose.  An additional $25 annual fee would generate approximately $17,500 annually for this purpose.

  5.  Make no adjustments, and continue to advise our property owners that there are some areas where a golf cart can simply not be operated.  Despite the restrictions and limitations described above, the local golf cart program continues to increase in popularity.  In the end, there are simply situations where it’s just not possible to accommodate everyone’s concerns.  Additionally, the option to purchase a street-legal golf cart remains an option for many of our property owners.  The Board should note that street-legal golf carts can be operated on Coast Guard Road and also on NC 58 in the 35 mph zone, but are not permitted on NC 58 in the 45 mph zone, and thus would not be legal for the property owners whose property has access only via NC 58.  The cost of a brand-new, street-legal golf cart ranges from $10,000 - $15,000.  This compares with a cost of approximately $4,000 and up for a golf cart outfitted to meet the Town’s local golf cart program requirements.

We look forward to reviewing the Town’s golf cart program with the Board at the August 9 meeting, and we are also happy to explore any other ideas the Board or the public may have regarding golf carts.