DU QUOIN – It was a pleasant Thursday evening, with the weather having offered a slight reprieve from the July heat. Fourteen-year-old Skye was salivating with anticipation about what was to come. His tail wagging, the Siberian Husky excitedly jumped into a red golf cart between mom and dad – otherwise known as Mayor Guy Alongi and his wife, Rose – to join them on their evening cruise through town.
Du Quoin’s first family then headed out from their house on Solitude Drive, waving along the route to passersby, to Keyes Park where they met up with another couple -- also in a golf cart -- and chatted for a while. “Hi guys,” Guy Alongi said as Brenda and Doug Toney approached with their 3-year-old Wheaten Terrier Coco Chanel perched in between.
Du Quoin is one of a growing number of municipalities in Illinois, including those in downstate counties, that are moving to allow golf carts on city roads where it is deemed safe. An idea that largely began in retirement golf communities has spread in popularity across the United States, and has been legal in Illinois since 1998. That year, the General Assembly gave the OK for municipalities to open up streets to golf carts by a vote of the council.
While slow to catch on at first, now dozens of municipalities have taken that step, including regionally the towns of Pinckneyville, Goreville, Sesser, Breese, West Frankfort, Eldorado, Galatia, Golconda, Goreville and Du Quoin.
The issue is expected to be on the agenda at the Benton City Council’s next meeting on Aug. 10, making that Franklin County community the latest in a long line of towns looking to open up options for people who want to use golf carts to run short errands to the store or a restaurant or, as the Alongi’s like to do, for a recreational activity in the evening that gets them, and the dog, out and about.
On Thursday, the talk among friends at the Du Quoin park quickly turned to their rides – the Alongi’s Club Car and the Toney’s Easy Go – both shiny “Du Quoin red” and custom designed to incorporate the school’s signature cartoon Indian mascot.
“A few years ago, we had a BMW, and now look at us,” Brenda Toney said with a laugh about her golf cart, allowed in the municipal streets of Du Quoin for several years now.
Alongi, sworn-in a few months ago, said he remembers that when talk several years ago first came up about allowing golf carts on municipal streets, the thought was it would save folks money on gas.
“If you figure what we’ve got into them, I’m not sure there’s much savings, but they are a lot of fun,” he said. The four also discussed safety issues that people have brought up over the years, but said there’s been no serious problems in Du Quoin with golf carts. Driving one in Du Quoin requires paying a $35 city registration. There have been 89 stickers sold, he said, of which 67 of them are actively utilized.
Before the two couples parted to enjoy the rest of their evening cruise, they promised to meet up in short order at the Ye Olde Country Store ice cream and fudge shop on Main Street.
State law only allows the golf carts or other low-speed, all-terrain vehicles to be driven on streets with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less. A driver must be 16 and have a valid drivers’ license, and the vehicles must be equipped with the required safety features that include brakes, steering, turn signals, seat belts, a “slow-moving vehicle” warning sign visible in the rear, headlights and rear view mirrors.
The law prohibits the vehicles from being driven on state highways, and requires municipalities to institute crossings for golf carts where a city road intersects with a state road. Vehicles classified as “low-speed vehicles” by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which excludes most golf carts, also require registration by the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, where a title is $30 and registration is $19.
Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz, also newly sworn in, said he’s been approached repeatedly in recent months by residents wanting to ride golf carts and low-speed vehicles on Benton streets. It was brought up some time ago, but previous city leaders weren’t interested, he said.
Kondritz said, looking around at other regional towns that allow it, he believes it’s been positive for them and can be for Benton as well.
“It’s not just for the elderly who jump in and want to go to Hardee’s, but for leisure drivers, too,” he said, noting others are interested in utilizing low-speed utility vehicles for yard work, and may be, for example, transporting limbs or other yard debris along a city street from one property to another a few blocks away.
Kondrtiz said that because of the high traffic on the Benton square, they will not be allowed there because of congestion.
While a growing number of cities and towns are signing off on golf cart ordinances, it’s been a tougher issue for rural county boards. The Johnson County Board of Commissioners several months back debated the issue at the request of some residents living in rural areas who were not so much interested in golf carts as they were in work/utility ATVs – often called side-by-sides – and four-wheelers, regularly used by hunters, farmers and homeowners with lots of acreage to upkeep, as well as recreationists.
But the issue has largely been dropped, at least for now, said Commissioner Ernie Henshaw. That’s because it was going to require the town to purchase speed limit signs and post them on unmarked roads where, without any marking, the default speed limit is 55 mph.
State law requires a speed limit of 35 mph or less on roads allowing low-speed vehicles. Henshaw said a study pegged marking a variety of applicable roads could have cost upward of $80,000 and the county doesn’t have the funds right now. In rural counties, there are roads where it would be considered reckless to travel 55 mph but that remains the default speed limit because they are unmarked.
Henshaw said county staff surveyed other rural counties in Illinois and found ordinances of this type allowing low-speed vehicles on rural county roads to be rare.
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI