Dunedin looks at adding golf carts to roadways

DUNEDIN — Kris Gray fires up her golf cart. Her daily commute begins.

Her black, "street legal" Tomberlin cart rolls off the driveway of her home in Stirling Heights, drives 1.2 miles on the street and stops at her work on Bayshore Boulevard. Along the way she might flash her blinkers, or wipe her windshields, or wave at a passerby.

It's a slow, unprotected and uncommon commute, yet she loves it. Gray and her husband own one car and two carts, which they take for trips to visit friends, buy groceries, see art shows downtown — "virtually anywhere," she said, except for golf, which the Grays don't play.

"When you get in a car and go from point A to point B, people don't interact, people don't talk to each other," Gray said. "We all need to just slow down and smell the roses a little bit, and this is one way of doing it."

Gray's way of travel may soon be more encouraged across downtown Dunedin, where city leaders are considering the electric vehicles a possible answer to potential future parking woes.

The Community Redevelopment Agency on Thursday began assembling a seven-member "golf cart task force," from southside residents near Douglas Avenue to those in the north near Fairway Estates. Until June, when the task force plans to present its ideas to the City Commission, members will discuss cart-friendly options like a linking path to the Dunedin Golf Club that could boost the city's growing downtown.

The city has catered to cart drivers before. In 1983, when state legislators forbid golf carts from the road, commissioners voted to allow carts on city streets within a mile of the club. Other Tampa Bay communities followed: Ozona, Crystal Beach, Highland Lakes in Palm Harbor and Sun City Center in Hillsborough County all allow carts to share the roadway.

The carts in those areas can't drive on roads with speeds above 30 mph, can't switch to sidewalks, can't drive in the dark and must be outfitted with brakes, reflectors and a rearview mirror. Yet that hasn't fazed residents who, Mayor Dave Eggers said, see the open road as a nice perk of close-to-course living.

"The golf carts buzz through the cut-throughs and go across the parks to get to the course," Eggers said. "People have just kind of accepted them."

Some carts, like Gray's Tomberlin, are classified by the state as "low-speed vehicles," with stricter requirements but a wider range of open road.

Those vehicles can drive downtown; the carts legally can't. Expanding the club's policy to downtown would change that.

Not all city leaders are convinced yet that that's a good idea. Though downtown maintains a 15 mph speed limit and is relatively compact, mixing cars with vehicles that have less armor, are harder to see and slower to escape from danger could be unsafe, some said.

Commissioner David Carson thought differently. "I feel much safer in a golf cart than on a bicycle," he said Friday.

City leaders say they're awaiting the task force's information before taking a side on the specifics, like the potential link, or the idea, which some feared could harm the city's "walkable" reputation.

"Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Dunedin looks at adding golf carts to roadways 02/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2010 7:59pm]

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