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An editorial in the June 1, 2010, Tomahawk Leader:
As the Tomahawk Common Council prepares to take up an ATV ordinance recommended by the Parks and Recreation Committee, the number one concern that should weigh on city officials’ minds is can it be done without putting motorists and ATV users in harm’s way.
Without question, opening the city to ATV use will benefit any number of businesses. Providing access to hotels, gas stations, taverns and services centers is, after all, the reason area ATV clubs have worked to have a number of county roads designated as routes. They want Tomahawk to serve as the hub of the overall expansive system of trails and new routes. Particularly in a time when economic conditions are less than favorable for these businesses, including during the upcoming North Fourth Street replacement project, providing any additional incentive to attract tourists to town should be viewed as a positive. You need only look at the numbers, 5,000 ATV owners exist across the county and more than 300,000 people across the state own ATVs. There’s no doubt creating an attractive trail system with the amenities the city would provide would bring in much appreciated business.
As proposed, the ordinance would restrict ATV traffic to 10 mph in the city and require users to travel on the far right side of paved streets. The proposal would also open all city streets, excluding parks and trails designated for bicycles and walkers, for ATVers 24 hours a day. The committee has also requested a one-year sunset on the ordinance so policies can be reviewed after a “wait and see” approach has been taken over the period. Herein is where some of the safety concerns lie. The Tomahawk police chief and city director of public works recommended designating specific routes through the city and restricting vehicles from parking on those streets. The reason behind their proposal was to prevent vehicles traveling at speeds 25 mph or greater from using the same portion of a road an ATV user would need to drive around a parked vehicle. Mixing ATV users and vehicles traveling at different rates of speed in the same lane of traffic creates a public safety hazard.
Mixing ATVs and vehicles on any city street creates a potential safety hazard, for that matter. In a community official’s handbook, created by the state Department of Natural Resources to help communities come up with safe ATV ordinances, it states, “The more automobiles and ATVs mix the higher the risk to each party.” It states ATVs are intended for off-road use, and operating them on pavement can pose a threat to the driver. It further notes most ATVs built today are not equipped with brake lights (they have tail lamps), which could be difficult for young riders to navigate – considering they might need two hands to handle the vehicle and therefore would have trouble making hand signals to turn while the vehicle is moving.
The handbook also suggests taking into account the inevitable additional law enforcement time that will be required to enforce the new regulations. Due to officer injuries, the local police department was forced to stop overnight patrol because it was short staffed earlier this year. Police Chief Don Johnson already noted the department would again have to eliminate overnight patrol later this year because one of the officers will be gone on an extended leave. All city streets would be open to ATV use 24 hours a day. ATV use on West Wisconsin Avenue also would be a logistical nightmare, as vehicles backing out of parking stalls would need to also look for oncoming ATVs, which would be required to stay to the far right of the pavement. This intermingling of ATVs and motor vehicles in such close proximity to each other would seem a disaster just waiting to happen.
There’s no doubt allowing ATV use in the city would create an economic benefit in a time when local businesses need to make as much hay as possible to assure they’ll be around after the pavement is laid on North Fourth Street and Veterans Memorial Bridge is replaced. But before all city streets are opened to ATV use, safety must be strongly considered and taken into consideration – particularly if the only reason all roads are being open is to make accessing the extended trail system more convenient for ATV users who live inside city limits.
Whether it’s opening all streets, designating routes or preventing ATV use altogether in the city, a decision that will have long and lasting good or bad impacts on the community will soon be made. Let’s make sure everything is put on the table when discussing this issue and the right decision is made in the end. Hopefully discussion will begin tonight (Tuesday), when Ordinance 2010-04 concerning ATV use in the city goes before the Common Council at City Hall, where a date and time for a public hearing will likely be set at 7 p.m.
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