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Golf carts in Soulard are growing in popularity

Golf carts in Soulard are growing in popularity

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ST. LOUIS • The outhouse behind Luann and Joe Denten's historic Soulard home is spruced up and in use again after a lengthy hiatus.

Not as a powder room, but as a garage for the couple's new purchase: a golf cart.

The Dentens bought the cart about three months ago, joining a growing number of neighbors who use the vehicles once limited to the links to get around.

On any given weekend, golf carts can be seen parked outside Soulard Market, the community garden, or stopped in the middle of the street for an impromptu visit with a neighbor.

No official golf cart association has been organized here - yet - but residents say about 25 of the vehicles are in this neighborhood, known for having the oldest farmers market west of the Mississippi River, taverns on seemingly every corner and an annual Mardi Gras parade.

Welcome to Soulard's version of keeping up with the Joneses.

"Over the years, having one has become almost a prerequisite to move to Soulard," said Cathy Weldon, who runs The Porch, a popular spot for golf cart owners to pop into for live music and wine on a Saturday afternoon.

Luann Denten says driving a golf cart is a great way to get to know your neighbors.

"It encourages social interaction and is a lot of fun," Denten said as she steered her green cart toward the neighborhood recycling center. "If you're in your car, you honk, wave and keep going. This is open. You stop and talk."

The golf carts are also environmentally friendly, especially those that are electric-powered, Denten and other proud owners point out.

"We park our car on Friday and don't move it until Sunday unless we have to leave Soulard," said Lisa Clark, who heads the Soulard Restoration Group. "It lessens our carbon footprint. And parking is easy."

Parking is not exactly loose and fast, but golf carts have more options. They are pulled onto sidewalks wide enough to keep a path open for pedestrians. Or up next to the side of a building. Or in a street parking space too tight for a car.

"You can always find a spot for them," said Jim Price, who is on his third cart since 2000. He commutes to his insurance office 31/2 blocks from home. He also takes it to the bank to make deposits and run other errands. The only time he and his wife, Julie, take it out of the neighborhood is for Cardinals games. Busch Stadium is a few minutes north, down Seventh Street.

Price's first cart went kaput. The second one was destroyed in 2006 when a drunk driver hit it while Price was driving on Broadway and hanging "no parking" signs along the Mardi Gras parade route.

The rules of driving a golf cart are basically the same as driving any other vehicle on a public road. The best guide to follow is the state statute regulating low-speed vehicles, which includes golf carts.

The carts are not to be driven on any road where the posted speed limit is greater than 35 miles per hour (although another section of the state statute says 45 miles per hour). Those sliding behind the wheel must have a valid drivers license and insurance on the cart. Even though not required under the low-speed law, some drivers have retrofitted their carts with lights and blinkers. Others use hand signals when driving.

"Nothing in this section shall prevent county or municipal governments from adopting more stringent local ordinances," the statute says. So far, city leaders have found no reason to create their own rules. Alderman Phyllis Young, who represents most of Soulard, says the state law is adequate for now.

Neal Thompson says the neighborhood follows an unwritten code of conduct to assure that further restrictions do not have to be imposed.

"I think we all realize that we don't want this positive addition to our ability to move around the neighborhood compromised," Thompson said. "Drive responsibly, follow traffic signs and stay on the island."

The island he refers to is Soulard. It's how some residents here look at their neighborhood, a part of the city but definitely a self-contained community.

Residents say the carts are great for hopping from bar to bar. But they also say the carts are not a license for reckless abandonment.

"It's a motor vehicle, and with that comes drinking responsibly," Clark said.

Across the country, the number of carts being used off golf courses is rising, although the exact numbers are not available. Two of the largest makers of golf carts - Club Car and E-Z-GO - are marketing new models specifically for use on residential streets. They come with improved brakes, turn signals and headlights.

The increased use of golf carts on streets also can be seen in the number of accidents. A 2008 study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham estimates 1,000 golf cart accidents a month nationwide, with half occurring off golf courses.

Robert Edwards, executive director of the National Golf Cart Association, said golf cart drivers sometimes get lost in the fun and forget the dangers.

Clark said the carts are a nice addition to the neighborhood, promoting social interaction and keeping fewer cars off the streets. Her advice to those driving carts is simple.

"If you use common sense and common courtesy, you'll be all right."

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