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This is the editorial published in this week's (June 29) Tomahawk Leader. The public hearing is July 6 at 7 p.m. at City Hall. The Leader supports more ATV access throughout the county/city, but worries too much is happening all at once. We feel like we're the only ones commenting. Please weigh in on the advantages/disadvantages of having ATV on city streets, including West Wisconsin Ave., Kings Road, North Fourth Street, almost everywhere...
Weigh in on opening all city streets to ATVs Why not slow down a bit?
Come next Tuesday (July 6), the Tomahawk Common Council is positioned to decide on whether to open all city streets to ATV use. The community will have the opportunity to weigh in on the recommendation during a public hearing that will be held before the council takes action on the proposal, all at City Hall starting at 7 p.m.
Area ATV clubs have offered a number of positives that will likely result from the measure, which would make Tomahawk the “hub” for a broader trail system being developed through the designation of a number of county roads that already have been opened as ATV routes – portions of CTH D, CTH B and CTH H and other stretches were recently designated as ATV routes and can be accessed as soon as they are signed. A portion of CTH A will be opened to ATVs if the city moves forward with opening city streets. A stretch of CTH CC to the city limits will also under consideration as a route when the county Highway Committee meets July 1. Nokomis is holding the final reading of its own ordinance July 12 that will open all its town roads, excluding CTH L, CTH N, CTH Y and CTH K.
ATV clubs state the enhanced trail system will attract riders from a greater area, as providing entrance to the city will allow access to hotels, restaurants, service centers and other businesses. ATVing is certainly a growing recreational opportunity across the state and nation. In Lincoln County alone over 5,000 ATVs are registered and 300,000 are registered around the state. That’s a significant number to draw from, not to mention the economic impact that might result from the new trail system.
While there is an obvious upside, a number of concerns have been raised and still need to be addressed before the city swings open its doors to full-scale ATV use. Keep in mind, all city streets other than portions of STH 86, CTH S, CTH A, the Highway 51 overpass and designated walking and biking trails, and parks would be opened to ATVs, as well as snowmobiles during the winter. The Tomahawk Police Department hasn’t so much as come out and said it for obvious reasons, but enforcement of the new policy would be a challenge, to say the least. Tomahawk Police Chief Don Johnson and Director of Public Works Mike Tolvstad did recommend specific (limited) routes be designated when the proposal was first raised. Those recommendations were given little discussion, if any, as the ordinance made its way through the Parks and Recreation Committee and on to the Common Council.
Johnson and Tolvstad presented a second opinion in writing offering recommendations and citing concern over, among other areas of interest, allowing ATVs access to West Wisconsin Avenue. According to how ATVs will be required to travel in the city, they will need to use the far right portion of the road on the pavement, a dangerous intermingling of motorists backing out of angled parking stalls and ATV users traveling directly behind would be created in the downtown. Those who have parked next to a larger vehicle on Wisconsin Avenue already know the difficulty that exists trying to back out into oncoming traffic. Add the ATV traffic that would be required to travel next to vehicle bumpers, and backing out of a parking stall would become a safety hazard for both motorists and ATV users alike.
As of the first reading of the ordinance last month, the concerns and proposed solutions posed by Johnson and Tolvstad had not been discussed. They need to be addressed.
Concerns raised don’t end with the police and public works departments, as a number of questions still need to be asked by the community. We wonder, no, we worry about the following:
•ATVs will be required to travel at 10 mph in the city and 35 mph outside city limits. Will this cause significant traffic flow problems when vehicles are required to slow for ATVs in areas where passing is not permitted?
•Since ATVs will be required to stay to the far right of pavement and ATVs are not required to be street legal to be driven on designated routes, how will ATV riders make a left hand turn without crossing through traffic on a busy street like North Fourth Street or on CTH A?
•According to state statute, citations written for driving under the influence while operating an ATV or snowmobile do not go against the operator’s driving record. The city ordinance would specifically address OUIs, but it again goes back to being able to enforce the ordinance. Plus, is it in the best interest of public safety to enable the practice as the state currently considers changes to the statute?
•Also under state statute, children age 12 and over will be allowed to operate ATVs on county roads if they are certified and have passed a safety course. ATV clubs have said they will encourage parental supervision on county roads (the city ordinance requires the operator must have a valid driver’s license). Do we want youngsters unfamiliar with the rules of the road traveling on designated county road routes, even if they are chaperoned?
•Who will pay for the inevitable damage to roads and streets that will result from riders traveling in the shoulders or areas where there is no curb? Sure, 99 percent will comply with the policies, but there is that 1 percent that will ruin it for the rest.
•Do we want time restrictions on when ATVs can be operated in the city? As the ordinance is proposed, none exist, which means ATV traffic at all hours of the day and night.
These are just a few concerns that residents of Tomahawk and Lincoln County need to ask. Opening county roads and city streets to ATV use will be a good addition to the overall trail system and will benefit the local economy. But before moving forward too fast and opening almost all city and county roads to ATV use (Why not try a few designated routes in safe areas as a trial?), we must make sure it is done right, and done right the first time for the betterment of those who support opening the roads for ATV use. Let’s make sure all questions are answered and issues are addressed. Whether for or against or undecided, attend the July 6 public hearing at the City Hall in Tomahawk (and the July 12 hearing at the Nokomis Town Hall) and help shape a future of Tomahawk that is representative of the majority.
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