RIDGEFIELD — Mike Bonebrake’s joy is palpable as he cruises around downtown Ridgefield in a bright red golf cart — and for good reason.
A few weeks ago, this jaunt around the city would have a struggle for Bonebrake, a 57-year-old computer repairman who was diagnosed 20 years ago with multiple sclerosis. Beginning June 1, however, it is now legal to drive a golf cart in downtown Ridgefield.
Bonebrake’s ride is admittedly not the sexiest vehicle on the road, but the new mobility is a lifesaver. Bonebrake’s MS has left him with limited use of his right leg, making driving an overwhelming and even dangerous prospect. The open cab of a golf cart allows Bonebrake to use his left foot to accelerate and brake, resting his right leg more comfortably to the side.
“It’s a newfound freedom,” said Bonebrake, a nearly 50-year resident of Ridgefield. “It allows me some independence.”
Bonebrake, who owns and operates Ridgefield Computer from his home, began fighting for the right to ride his golf cart around town in February 2014.
“This is my little bubble,” Bonebrake said. “I’m losing contact with the people of Ridgefield.”
The wheels of government — perhaps appropriately, given the speed limitations of a golf cart — moved slowly. Under the leadership of Councilors David Taylor and Don Stose, however, the city voted in April to move forward with creating the zone.
“People are generally excited about the forward thinking of the council in helping out our citizens that need a little extra helping hand or boost, like Mike,” Stose said.
Golf carts must be outfitted with seat belts, reflectors and rearview mirrors, and operators must have a driver’s license and liability insurance for their cart. The Ridgefield Police Department will complete safety inspections and issue registrations for cart drivers.
The zone boundaries run from North Main Street and south to Shobert Street, and east to North Ninth Avenue. New signs are up alerting drivers of the golf cart zone.
City officials say the golf cart zone is unlikely to create any slowdowns or traffic hazards. Golf cart drivers can only use streets where the speed limit is 25 mph or lower — the average peak speed of a golf cart — and there is no need to re-stripe streets or parking lots.
“We’re actively innovating,” City Manager Steve Stuart said. “We want to be a community that tries things for the benefit of its citizens.”
As for Bonebrake, he’s enjoying the simple things: trips to the hardware store, seeing a mural his daughter painted on the wall of the Starliner cafe with Ridgefield High School, and shouting greetings to his many friends and neighbors.
“I just find ways to adapt as this disease progresses,” Bonebrake said. “Having a golf cart is going to make it so much more fun and enjoyable.”