DUNEDIN — City officials are teeing up a plan that would allow golf carts to roll off the course and onto designated city streets.
The public and city commissioners get their first crack tonight at the proposed city ordinance and a plan to use $4,000 in gas tax and general public improvement funds to install signs at cart crossings. Commissioners are expected to take a preliminary vote on the ordinance at tonight's meeting. A second public hearing and final vote are tentatively scheduled for April 7.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and city code enforcement officers would have authority to enforce traffic and safety regulations. Those rules would confine the carts to certain 35-mph-and-under streets and require safety measures such as horns and — in order to travel at night — headlights and windshields.
Members of a seven-person Golf Cart Task Force say allowing residents to travel city roads via golf cart would make downtown Dunedin more accessible to locals, free up parking and help residents combat rising gas prices.
"As a business owner, I think embracing a golf cart ordinance is important for us as a business community to keep our businesses local," said Gregory Brady, a task force member and president of the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association. "And it's one more amenity to buying a home."
The task force hopes to expand on a city ordinance enacted in 1983, the same year state legislators banned golf carts from any road not designated by a municipality.
Dunedin commissioners voted to allow golf carts on city streets within a mile of the Dunedin Golf Club. Since then, other Tampa Bay communities, including Highland Lakes in Palm Harbor and Sun City Center in Hillsborough County, also have begun allowing carts to share the roads with other vehicles.
In response to resident queries, Dunedin commissioners last February asked the Community Redevelopment Agency to assemble a task force to study expanding the ordinance.
Using input from engineers, law enforcement and the city attorney, the task force of north, south and downtown residents helped draft an ordinance, which largely follows state statutes on golf cart safety features. If approved, Dunedin's ordinance would require:
•Registration with the city, which includes showing proof of a valid driver's license and liability insurance as well as payment of an annual $10 fee.
•One passenger per seat, no standing while in motion and no travel on sidewalks or other areas that can't be used by motor vehicles.
•Reliable brakes and steering, safe tires, a rearview mirror and red reflective warning devices on the front and rear of carts.
•Headlights, brake lights, turn signals and a windshield for carts operated at night.
Dunedin's proposed ordinance goes a step beyond state law and requires horns, which was recommended by city engineer Joan Rice as a low-cost way to enhance safety for golf cart drivers and the public.
The carts wouldn't be inspected at registration so, as with a boat or car, "it's up to the user to meet the requirements," said Bob Ironsmith, CRA director. "The Sheriff's Office would enforce it."
But what about protecting golf cart users from other drivers?
Golf cart traffic would be banned on roads traveled by 5,000 or more vehicles per day.
Brady and Vice Mayor Dave Carson, a staunch ordinance supporter, pointed out that anyone of any age — no license or special equipment required — can legally ride a bicycle down a major road like State Road 580.
"As long as the person's complying with road rules, has the necessary safety equipment and is on designated roads for the golf carts, we don't see it as being a safety issue," Brady said.
Not all commissioners are so sure.
Mayor Dave Eggers and Commissioner Julie Scales said they're eager to hear more information. Scales specifically wants data on how golf-cart communities of comparable size to Dunedin have fared. "A golf cart, compared to other vehicles on the street, is much lighter, it doesn't typically have the safety features the larger vehicles do," Scales said. "And I want to make sure if we do allow them, the greatest safety precautions are being taken."
Carson said riding around in golf carts is "a cultural thing."
"We've been riding around in golf carts around the golf courses of Dunedin for a long time with no incidences whatsoever, so I think it's a safe form of transportation," he said. "Now will there be an accident at some point? Probably. But that's life," he said. "Cars get into accidents every day."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.