NORMAL - Electric "neighborhood vehicles" now are legal in Normal. A majority of the City Council approved a new ordinance Monday night allowing them on any streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. | Normal OKs move of uptown's Commerce Bank
Councilmen Adam Nielsen and Jeff Fritzen voted "no," and Councilwoman Sonja Reece was absent.
"It would be great on the golf course or the ISU quad, but I really do think it may pose a safety hazard," said Nielsen. "I can't support this."
Neighborhood vehicles, which are more than golf carts but less that full-sized cars, can't go faster than 35 mph.
Fritzen agreed with Nielsen, saying that because the vehicles look like gasoline-powered vehicles but don't go as fast, they could pose a problem on the roadways.
"It's a safety issue. When you come upon one of these, they look like a regular vehicle. When you realize they're not, you might be too close for comfort," Fritzen said.
Fritzen suggested the council adopt an ordinance for limited use, such as around the university campus.
"It's obviously a forward-thinking vehicle; it's cleaner," said Councilwoman Cheryl Gaines. "But I'm concerned about some roads like Vernon and College (avenues)."
City Manager Mark Peterson said that because of the cost - the "Mega" drop-side truck displayed Monday night at City Hall costs $19,000 - limiting where it could be driven would render a purchase impractical.
"We're interested in seeing these," Peterson said.
Councilman Jason Chambers suggested if neighborhood vehicles were banned from the streets, then perhaps bicycles should be banned for the same reasons.
"You can't see them (bicycles), and they move slow," he said.
Councilman Chuck Scott, who also is executive director of facilities management at ISU, said he was encouraged by the vehicle.
"I'm sold on them," he said. "I think there is a lot of value to this type of technology."
Scott said one ISU department has money available to purchase one of the vehicles but was waiting for the town to pass an ordinance allowing them on public streets.
Jim Sheahan, allied products manager for Wiese Planning & Engineering Inc., the company that brought the model to City Hall, said there's been an "explosion" of interest in the vehicles in the last six months. The company, which has an office in Bloomington, focuses on sales to municipalities and colleges and universities.
The University of Illinois has used similar vehicles for three years. Pontiac has an ordinance allowing them, but Bloomington has not adopted one yet.
The vehicles which now have permission to run on most Normal streets:
• Run solely on electricity
• Have a top speed of 25 mph
• Require about 30 cents of electricity for an eight-hour battery charge
• Can use regular household outlets
• Have batteries that last three to five years. A new battery costs $1,000.
• Have to have working headlights, turn signals, stop lights, tail lights, red reflectors, parking brakes, rear view mirrors, windshields and seat belts
• May be driven only be people with insurance and driver's licenses