August 6, 2010

Golf carts are the way to go on Ocracoke
and are catching on in Hatteras village


Summertime drivers in Hatteras and Ocracoke villages have long struggled with navigating the narrow, congested streets that, during vacation season, are filled with cars, off-road vehicles, delivery trucks and RVs, and are flanked on all sides by scooters, pedestrians, runners, and cyclists.

Particularly on Ocracoke, where the village streets are especially narrow, parking is at a premium, and a large number of people choose to cruise around the compact village on foot or bike, driving through the heart of the village is almost certain to make your blood pressure spike.

But now, thanks to new measures approved by both Hyde and Dare county governments, there is a way to avoid driving, biking, or walking through the villages— golf carts.

That’s right, those electric-powered, four-wheeled wonders that so nimbly whisk you from fairway to green, can now just as deftly—and just as legally—carry you and your buddies from Howard’s Pub to the lighthouse, to your house, and everywhere else in between.

The Hyde County Board of Commissioners recently amended the ordinance that permits golf carts within the confines of Ocracoke village—you can’t go past Howard’s, you can’t go on the beach, and you can’t get on the ferries—so long as they are operated by a driver 16 or older.

Golf carts in Ocracoke were already required to have headlights, but the new law requires them to have taillights also.  It limits the number of passengers to the number of seats and restraints and requires that seats must be fastened to the frame of the cart. Children under 8 must be in weight-appropriate seats.

The new ordinance does not take effect until Oct. 1 to give owners of golf carts time to upgrade their vehicles.

Golf carts are already in high demand on Ocracoke.  Several rental companies and hotels have carts they rent to their patrons, and many other businesses, including the Community Store, the Surf Shed, and Ocracoke Island Carts, rent to any qualified driver.

Cherie Ely of Blue Heron Realty, one of the companies that rents to its patrons, said that the guests really seem to like them, and that they have lots of inquiries. She said that renters are reporting that parking is one of the biggest advantages of driving a golf cart.

“We are a parking-challenged island,” she explained, “and guests say [the golf carts] make parking a lot easier.”

Some locals, though, are still skeptical.

“Personally, I’m not nuts about it,” said Frank Mills, who runs the Surf Shed, which rents out carts. “I think something bad is going to happen.”

Noting the already overcrowded streets, with their plethora of people and numerous other modes of transportation, he said the thought that throwing golf carts into the fray was unnecessary.  He also said he didn’t think golf cart use was regulated the way it should be.

His business rents only to licensed drivers age 25 and up, and he instructs all renters, before they pull away, to remember that a golf cart, for all intents and purposes, is the same as a car, reminding them to obey all traffic rules and to use hand signals as they would on a bike.

But for many visitors to Ocracoke, like Robert Cox, the new ordinance is much more a blessing than a curse.

Cox, 67, flew his private plane from Decatur, Ill., to Ocracoke with his wife and his granddaughter in tow.  It was their first visit to the island. With no car, Cox said he and his family had been trying to walk everywhere they needed to go, but the heat and humidity was starting to get to them, and his wife was no longer able to ride a bike. 

So, for Cox and his family, and many others in a similar situation, the ability to rent golf carts on the island proved to be a great benefit—one that surely enhanced their stay on the island.

Despite their popularity on Ocracoke, golf carts have been slower to catch on in Hatteras village.

The Hatteras Village Civic Association, upon the request of Hatteras resident Buddy Swain, presented a measure to regulate the golf carts to the Dare County Board of Commissioners a few months ago, and the ordinance was passed on July 19, with only two commissioners voting no.

According to Allen Burrus, vice-chairman of the commission and a Hatteras village resident, the commissioners’ meeting went very well, and the two who voted against the ordinance did so only because they thought the carts should be “street legal.”

Burrus says he thinks the carts will be good for Hatteras village, saying that, in his opinion, the carts will add character to the village and will hopefully help boost the economy.

“I think it will be good for everyone,” he said. “Good for the economy, good for the people coming down—it’s a win-win.”

Swain, who introduced the idea, says he sees only benefits from the use of carts in the village.

“It will help slow the traffic down some in the village,” he said. “And we need to slow it down.”

Compared with Ocracoke, the streets of Hatteras village aren’t anywhere near as narrow or congested, and the majority of the traffic is vehicular.  Unfortunately, a lot of those vehicles treat the 25 mph speed limit as more of a passive suggestion than a law, making it dangerous, at times for the pedestrians and cyclists who also use the road.

Swain also said that he thinks golf carts will provide guests and residents with a more environmentally sound way to get around the village.

“Environmentally, it’s much friendlier,” he said.  “All the running around I do in the village, from here on out, I’m doing it in my golf cart.” 

The Hatteras village ordinance allows operation of golf carts only within the village, during daylight hours, and stipulates that carts must not be capable of exceeding 20 mph and that they must be operated by a driver 16 years of age or older.

Carts may only be operated between the hours of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. when daylight savings time become effective in the spring until Oct. 1. After Oct, 1, they may be operated only during the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. until daylight savings time is over.

“I think it will be pretty beneficial to the village,” said Dennis Robinson, president of the Hatteras Village Civic Association. “Mine arrives on Friday.”

Robinson and Swain are among a handful of village residents who currently own and use a golf cart, but they hope that will change.

As of right now, however, there is no where to rent a cart in Hatteras, a fact that Robinson attributes to the late-season approval of the ordinance. In the future, though, several local rental-based businesses say they plan to have golf carts available for rent.

The Hatteras Sailing Company said it is currently working with a company to try and get some carts for rent, and Island Cycles plans to eventually be renting carts, though it would most likely be next year before there would be any available. Burrus also said he was looking into getting some carts that he could rent from his store, Burrus  Red & White Supermarket.

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