A Polaris RZR utility terrain vehicle gets Gabe Meekins through sand dunes, forest trails and around town in Stanwood just fine. He hopes more cities will open their streets to wheeled all-terrain vehicles. (Gabe Meekins photo)

A Polaris RZR utility terrain vehicle gets Gabe Meekins through sand dunes, forest trails and around town in Stanwood just fine. He hopes more cities will open their streets to wheeled all-terrain vehicles. (Gabe Meekins photo)

Monroe approves ATVs on city streets, with rules

It’s part of a statewide effort to boost tourism in rural areas and expand recreation.

MONROE — All-terrain vehicle riders have new terrain to traverse.

Just make sure the rig is street-legal, licensed and registered.

Monroe is the latest Snohomish County city to allow ATVs on its streets. It’s part of a statewide effort to boost tourism in rural areas and expand recreation for the estimated 25,000 ATV owners in Washington. By law, cities can create local rules allowing quads, side-by-sides and four-wheelers, with a 35 mph speed limit. Otherwise, ATVs remain illegal.

Monroe joins Darrington, Granite Falls, Mill Creek, Stanwood and Sultan. Arlington, Bothell, Edmonds, Everett and Marysville do not allow ATVs on their streets.

The Monroe City Council voted 6-1 on May 1 to approve its ordinance.

During the meeting, Councilman Kirk Scarboro said he wasn’t in favor initially. He was persuaded after hearing comparisons to Smart cars and motorcycles, and learning that ATV operators must have insurance.

“Although in my youth, I had the two-wheelers that went too fast and too high and all that jazz, I hope it (the ordinance) isn’t abused,” Scarboro said.

The opposing vote came from Councilman Jeff Rasmussen, who said it came down to a “gut” decision. As a cyclist, he said he empathized with ATV enthusiasts’ desire for a more connected regional trail system. He wasn’t convinced Monroe was a necessary piece of that yet.

“There was a lot more that was in between,” he said. “There was a lot more stuff that had to happen before Monroe, I think, could benefit.”

U.S. 2 bisects the city, and Highway 522 and Highway 203 feed into it. One of the provisions of Monroe’s ordinance is to exclude ATVs from Highway 522 within the city.

Monroe’s code, like those in most cities, reiterates state requirements. Those include wearing a motorcycle helmet, unless it has seat belts and roll bars or an enclosed compartment for the driver and passengers, plus safety features such as headlights, turn signals and a windshield.

Owning and operating an ATV legally is expensive. New vehicles start around $4,000 and can cost almost $30,000.

Washington charges fees for every registered ATV, requiring a plate and tabs. The paperwork for on- and off-road use costs $30, while off-road only costs $18. In 2016, the state Department of Licensing collected $66,892 in on-road ATV fees. Off-road ATV fees totaled $463,429.25 and moped registration fees were $248,700. Snowmobiles fall under a different category.

ATV riders say the expense is why cities should open their roads for more regular use. They take out their ATVs for everyday life: going to the market, cruising into downtown, moving brush off long driveways after a storm.

State law dictates the vehicles can only use designated highways. Cities such as Monroe and Sultan add provisions allowing ATVs to cross highways with speed limits over 35 mph.

Darrington approved similar rules in March. One of the ordinance’s champions is Gabe Meekins, who lives in Stanwood. As a member of Northwest UTV Trail Riders, he coordinates rides for the 5,000-member Facebook group. On his own time, he supports cities’ efforts to open their roadways by contacting council members and offering help drafting legislation. He said riding ATVs is another way for people to be active and social.

“Maybe we’re not hikers, maybe we’re not dirt bikers, but we want to get out in that beauty,” he said.

Brandon Deines (left), of Duvall, rides his ATV with Carl Teunissen (right), of Issaquah, at the Reiter Foothills Forest ORV Trails near Sultan on Oct. 26. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

Brandon Deines (left), of Duvall, rides his ATV with Carl Teunissen (right), of Issaquah, at the Reiter Foothills Forest ORV Trails near Sultan on Oct. 26. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

When the weather’s nice, people might spot him cruising around Stanwood in his electric blue Polaris RZR. He said he’ll buckle in his children and head to the QFC or restaurants, maybe the Dairy Queen for a cool treat.

“It requires less fuel than my big 1-ton truck, which everyone who owns (an ATV) has to have one,” Meekins said. “People, no matter where I go, come up and ask, ‘Where can you ride?’ ”

Sultan in July 2013 was among the first wave of cities to make changes under the then-new state law.

“We’ve had not one incident,” Mayor John Seehuus said. “I talked to our chief of police. We’ve had no citations, no incidents, nothing. It’s been seamless.”

Some Snohomish County roads near Sultan opened to street-legal ATVs in December 2017.

Granite Falls allowed ATVs in March 2015. That has been good news to Chris Marsh, an ATV enthusiast and member of the Facebook group Citizens for Street Legal ATVs in Snohomish County.

Beyond going out on wooded trails, using ATVs around town can be convenient and efficient, he said. Instead of taking his truck to the store, he can hop in his ATV.

“The majority of them have two cylinders or less, so the emissions are less and the fuel economy is better …” he said. “I’d always rather see a (ATV) come into town than a big Ford F-350 fired up once a year.”

In March, the Darrington Town Council approved a new ordinance, opening all town roads with a 35 mph speed limit or less to ATVs. It made a provision to allow for their use on sidewalks to plow snow, among other tasks. Using such a vehicle to tow a sled, toboggan, trailer or anything else without a tow bar is prohibited. People aren’t allowed to be pulled by an ATV at all, with a $100 penalty for each offense.

Meekins and Marsh hope for a connected trail of city and county streets someday. So does Sultan’s mayor, who said his city hasn’t seen much of a noticeable economic boom that can be traced to ATV use. He is hopeful more cities will follow suit.

“Once that happens I think you really will see the economic benefit,” he said.

Until then, the benefit will be for ATV drivers, cruising from their front door to the store, and then maybe a trail.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037. Twitter @benwatanabe.

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