Monday, July 13, 2020
July 13, 2020

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Golf cart zone solves Clark College staff’s crossing issue

City’s plan long-awaited solution for back-and-forth travel across Fort Vancouver Way

By , Columbian politics reporter
4 Photos
Interim custodial supervisor David Abts drives a campus golf cart to Gaiser Hall at Clark College.
Interim custodial supervisor David Abts drives a campus golf cart to Gaiser Hall at Clark College. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

It only took seven minutes for the Vancouver City Council to push forward a solution seven years in the making. Despite its lengthy journey, the solution is relatively simple: designate a golf cart zone to allow the electric carts to travel back and forth across Fort Vancouver Way. But for Clark College — which uses golf carts to ferry equipment and staff back and forth between the two halves of campus — the solution has been a long time coming.

The problem first started seven years ago when Clark College had to park its carts until a way around a city ordinance preventing the carts’ use could be found.

The solution just took longer than anyone anticipated.

Bob Williamson, vice president of administrative services, said he’s not sure how long Clark College has used the small electric carts but the problem first arose when Vancouver police noticed staff driving a cart across the Fort Vancouver Way. Although handy for moving garbage, equipment and the occasional person from here to there, the carts are not street legal.

“We had to put a kibosh,” Williamson said. “It created a huge inconvenience and inefficiency for us. We’ve been fairly creative and inventive, but whatever we’ve come up with has been less efficient than taking a golf cart across the street.”

Tim Petta, director of facilities services, said he started investing in different kinds of carts, but that too came with a high cost. Instead of $3,000 or $4,000 per vehicle, Petta was spending $20,000 or $25,000 for street-legal electric vehicles to get staff from Point A to Point B more quickly.

Williamson even tried using a “rickety old pickup truck,” but in the end, golf carts were the best way to go — if only the city and Clark College could come to a compromise.

The largest roadblock wasn’t a willingness or interest in finding a solution, but Fort Vancouver Way itself and its roadway classification. Clark College could fit the golf carts in the pedestrian crossing, but they also aren’t allowed in pedestrian areas. Essentially, the carts were quarantined to Clark College’s network of parking lots.

“I’ve visited many other campuses in the state and I can’t think of another that’s bisected by a four-lane road,” Williamson said. “It creates all sorts of challenges.”

Eventually, the city proposed a golf cart zone. The college’s carts will be allowed to cross Fort Vancouver Way between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. All portions of the public street and right-of-way with a speed of 25 mph or slower will be accessible, except for sidewalks, bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks.

Violating the rules of the new zone comes with a maximum $250 fine.

If Clark College wants to extend the zone to allow carts on side roads near the campus, the ordinance could be amended, according to Chief Assistant City Attorney Jonathan Young.

Williamson jokingly said that to celebrate the zone’s approval, the college would host a parade of golf carts crossing back and forth. A public hearing to consider final passage of the ordinance is scheduled for Jan. 7.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said the city is eager to move the ordinance forward — and speaking for herself, fully supports a golf cart parade.