• September 24, 2023

Proponents: Low-Speed Vehicles, Traffic Safety Not Mutually Exclusive – The SandPaper

EXPANSE: Long Beach Boulevard, a county road, runs the length of the Island with seven lanes of traffic at its widest point in Ship Bottom, which funnels all the traffic from the south end. (Photo by Ryan Morrill)

Away from the high-traffic, road-work laden streets at the entrance to Long Beach Island, seven lanes of traffic separate the bayfront from the oceanfront in Ship Bottom. And those lanes are just on the Boulevard, the main thoroughfare running the length of the 18-mile barrier Island.

“It’s hard to get people across that road,” Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck said, adding borough officials are working with Ocean County, which owns and maintains the roadway, but the widest part of the Island is in Ship Bottom, and the Boulevard absorbs the bulk of the width.

His comments came on the heels of borough council approving an ordinance banning neighbor electric vehicles, more commonly known as low-speed vehicles, following a public hearing on the matter Dec. 27 in which some residents argued the low-speed vehicles are safer than other modes of transportation permitted.

“I am voting no,” Council President Ed English said when it was his turn to cast his vote on Ordinance 2022-20.

English, who for years has expressed concern about speeding on the Boulevard, said he believed the town should rethink its position.

“Anything to slow down the traffic,” he said. “People get in a car and drive crazy around town, on sidewalks. I am not going to support this.”

English was the only member of council to vote against the ordinance. Councilman David Hartmann was absent from the meeting, the final one of 2022.

Prior to the public hearing, Councilman Tom Tallon had said in discussions about low-speed vehicles with borough law enforcement he was told Beach Haven has run into issues with the use of what he called golf carts. Tallon is chair of the borough’s public safety committee.

“We have a real problem with motorists stopping for stop signs, parking,” said Tallon. “Put golf carts into that mix … just not a good idea. Ship Bottom streets are just not safe for golf cart use.”

Seventh Street resident Bob Cassidy disagreed.

“The streets can accommodate,” he said during the hearing on the ordinance. “They are better than some of the cars coming down the streets at 70 mph.”

Further, Cassidy said the use of the term “golf cart” to identify a neighborhood electric vehicle is “totally inaccurate.” While he does not own a low-speed vehicle, his sister, who lives in Surf City, where they are permitted, does.

The N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission defines a low-speed vehicle as “a four-wheeled vehicle with an attainable speed of more than 20 miles per hour, but no more than 25 miles per hour on a paved surface. It cannot be powered by gas or diesel fuel and must comply with federal standards.”

Cassidy said low-speed vehicles are licensed by the state and can be operated only with a valid driver’s license as well as proof of insurance.

“They have seatbelts and signals (blinkers),” he said, noting the vehicles are subject to the exact same regulations as any other motor vehicle.

Since state law mandates that low-speed vehicles cannot travel more than 25 mph, allowing low-speed vehicles on roads where the speed limit is more than 25 mph requires an exception to the state law that could be made by an ordinance if “deemed appropriate by the municipality, county, or the NJDOT,” state rules say.

While the speed limit on Barnegat Avenue is 25 mph all year, the speed limits on Central Avenue and the Boulevard vary depending on the time of year and always exceed the maximum speed a low-speed vehicle can travel.

Cassidy said it is his understanding that a low-speed vehicle can cross the Boulevard, but only at a traffic light because the road has seven lanes of traffic. The same regulations would not apply on Central Avenue, a two-lane roadway.

“We have done a lot of research,” Huelsenbeck said. “Beach Haven has its north/south roads they own. We don’t.”

In Ship Bottom, Barnegat Avenue, Central Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard are all Ocean County owned and maintained roads. Eighth and Ninth streets are owned and maintained by the state Department of Transportation since they are considered part of the Route 72 corridor.

“They (the county) control the speed limits. They control all things on those roads,” the mayor said. “So, it’s more or less an east/west (thing). You can’t go from the bay beach to the ocean” without crossing the Boulevard.

The Boulevard is comprised of two travel lanes running north and south as well as two shoulder lanes and a turn lane, Huelsenbeck said. The issue of moving people safely from one area of the borough to another has always been an issue, he said, noting years ago the council put the walkway under the Causeway so walkers could access both sides of town without “getting run down.”

“I support the ban,” said Ken Yankowski, who cited low-speed vehicle rental companies, renters not knowing the rules of the road locally and in each neighboring town among the reasons for supporting Ordinance 2022-20. “My understanding is that Surf City allows them. What happens when they come this way? Do we have the same rules? It’s just a complication I don’t think we need in our town.”

— Gina G. Scala

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