ATVs legal on Granite Falls streets after City Council vote

Editor’s note: Information provided to a reporter for an earlier version of this story was incorrect. After the March 18 Granite Falls City Council meeting, the deputy city clerk told The Herald that the council had voted to allow all-terrain vehicles on city streets only after the county decided to permit them on county roads. That is not what happened. The City Council considered waiting on the county, but instead voted to allow off-road vehicles on city streets immediately. The new rule took effect Monday.

GRANITE FALLS — People can now ride wheeled all-terrain vehicles on city streets here.

The Granite Falls City Council voted 3-1 in favor of letting people ride off-road rigs such as quads and side-by-sides on city-owned roadways in the future. Councilman Tom FitzGerald voted no and councilman Tom Collins was not at the meeting.

It still is illegal to ride all-terrain vehicles on county roads. The city council also considered an ordinance that would have allowed the vehicles on city streets only after the county permitted them.

At this point, the county is not planning to allow wheeled all-terrain vehicles on its roads, engineer Owen Carter said. The public works department looked at reports from areas where all-terrain vehicles are allowed on streets and at details from vehicle manufacturers. They have concerns about the safety of riders and other drivers, he said.

“All-terrain vehicles aren’t designed to be on paved roads,” Carter said. “We have looked into it and we have decided that we’re not going to pursue it.”

Any policy changes would have to go through the County Council, he said.

Cities have control over their own roads. Granite Falls planning commissioner Chris Marsh brought the issue up in his town. He’s been trying to get all-terrain vehicles permitted on local streets for nearly a year.

Marsh compared riding a wheeled off-road vehicle to traveling by motorcycle. He often rides with friends from Granite Falls to Sultan. They stop for food, gas and supplies.

“We see an economic value to it,” he said. “There’s millions of dollars people invest into equipment they never get to ride around here. Ideally, we want to get our recreation back in Snohomish County.”

Granite Falls is the second city in the county to approve off-road rigs on the road.

The Sultan City Council in 2013 passed a similar ordinance, though they didn’t wait on the county. The decision came shortly after the Legislature changed state law.

Proponents envision a network of scenic byways to let people drive all-terrain vehicles between towns like Sultan and Granite Falls. They want access to forest service roads, as well.

“We’re trying to create a pattern and an example that other counties and other forests can utilize,” said Ted Jackson, who fought to get the state legislation passed. “You have that option of creating a travel and tourism economy. If you look at Granite Falls, there’s the opportunity to connect to forest roads and scenic routes.”

Opponents say the street is no place for vehicles designed to plunge through mud puddles and bump over rugged terrain. They cite safety, noise and enforcement as key concerns.

Under state law, local leaders can opt to allow all-terrain vehicles on public roads with a 35 mph speed limit or less. The rigs must be registered and licensed specifically for on-road use, and operators must have a driver’s license.

To be street-legal, a quad, three-wheeler or side-by-side needs a headlight, tail light, turn signal, mirror, horn, muffler and brakes. Liability insurance, required for driving a car on public roads, is not needed.

Former Gold Bar City Councilman Chuck Lie worries about legal problems cities, counties and individual drivers could face in an accident involving an off-road vehicle.

The Gold Bar City Council in 2013 considered allowing all-terrain vehicles on local streets, but ultimately voted it down.

“I’ve never seen city hall so packed,” Lie said. “I think these guys have chosen a hobby that’s controversial, and now they expect everyone to be OK with it.”

The state needs a cultural change to adjust to the notion of off-road vehicles on public streets, Jackson said. He thinks a shift in mind-set is possible, and he expects a boost to local businesses and tourism.

Lie disagrees.

“It’s a weird thing that they’re promising economic development, but we’re making these compromises with traffic safety,” he said.

Proponents continue to work with state and county leaders to open more roads for all-terrain vehicles, Marsh said. They plan to ask the county council to adopt an ordinance similar to those passed in Sultan and Granite Falls.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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