Those with disabilities may soon be able to drive golf carts on city of Yorkville streets and sidewalks if the City Council approves a measure recently discussed at the committee level.
The City Council's Public Safety Committee discussed an ordinance at its Sept. 7 meeting that would amend the city code to state that it "shall be unlawful to operate any non-highway vehicle on any public road or on any city property... except as operated by individuals with mobility disabilities in accordance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990."
After the discussion, the committee agreed to put it on the agenda for the Sept. 26 City Council meeting.
Yorkville resident Andy Graham spoke to the committee about the change. Graham has insisted that the Americans With Disabilities Act allows those with disabilities to use golf carts on city roads and sidewalks.
In January, the City Council ruled that the ADA does not allow the exception.
“While the ADA requires a public entity to afford a disabled person an equal opportunity to participate in any service, program or activity, the use of mobility devices in public thoroughfares is not mandated by this law,” wrote City Attorney Kathleen Field Orr at the time.
Graham said the city had been in the wrong since he first brought the issue up to Police Chief Rich Hart last October.
"It's been almost a year of me being worried about being able to take my kids to the bus stop and things of that nature," Graham said.
According to a memo from City Administrator Bart Olson, an organization advocating for those with mobility disabilities gave information to the city that golf carts and other vehicles would qualify under the ADA.
"For individuals with a qualified disability under ADA, use of a golf cart or other power driven vehicle would be allowed on sidewalks and city properties," Olson wrote.
During the discussion Alderman Chris Funkhouser questioned if the city has the right to verify if someone has an ADA disability.
"We have the right to request verification of a disability of a person - they don't have to specifically say what type it is, but if they verbally communicate or provide us a placard, that's allowable," Funkhouser said. "If they're looking to use the public way for a mobility device that is non-traditional, do we have some rights in terms of verifying?"
Olson said the city does have that right to ask for verification.
Funkhouser also asked if the city could put restrictions on the type of vehicles, such as speed or size. He also expressed safety concerns for pedestrians.
"There is a legitimate concern there - you put a 600 or 800 pound vehicle moving down the sidewalk, that is a vehicle that could do some damage," he said.
Olson said the city attorney's position is the city has the right to ask for verification of a disability but without exceptions for vehicles. He said the only way the city could do that would possibly be after a study of the weight and other factors of the vehicles.
"Until you've gone through the act of determining all the things we'd look at in a study and say, 'Golf carts aren't safe, therefore, you can't use them even if you have a disability,' the way the ADA is drafted gives the benefit of the doubt to the person using the golf cart," Olson said.
Alderman Arden Joe Plocher said he would be opposed to the city doing such a study on an issue that affects few residents.
"I don't want to do a study on something that affects two or three people, when you won't even pay $15,000 to do a study on a train horn," he said. "That is ridiculous."
Funkhouser said he didn't want to do a study but just wants to ensure that residents are safe.
"I'm not saying I want a study," he said. "I want to make sure that if we put into place an ordinance that allows a mobility device for somebody that we have control to make sure that the vehicle being used is safe, that the environment it's being used in is safe for that user and the general public."
Hart said he didn't see it any different than parking spots for people with disabilities in town. He said occasionally officers will ask to verify if a person has a parking placard. He said he only sees two or three people riding disability devices around town and they are typically motorized scooters. He also said that he does not see them riding such scooters on sidewalks.