DUNEDIN — Cars could begin sharing the roadway with golf carts as early as July 1 under a plan that received preliminary approval from city commissioners Thursday.
The commissioners, who supported the proposal with a 4-1 vote, plan to spend $4,000 to install signs at cart crossings. A second public hearing and final vote will be held April 7.
Meanwhile, commissioners have asked city staffers to do more research on several issues, including adding a golf cart "code of conduct" and expanding the list of roads to be designated for the carts' use.
"With gas prices fast approaching $3.50 and above, more people are concerned," Mayor Dave Eggers said. "It's nice to have some alternative transportation choices."
If this is approved, Dunedin would join a growing number of Tampa Bay communities that allow golf carts on city streets.
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 roads. They also would require safety measures such as horns and — in order to travel at night — headlights and windshields.
Golf cart drivers would have to show proof of a valid driver's license and liability insurance to register their vehicle with the city's planning department at a cost of $10 a year.
The city is targeting July 1 to put the new law in effect because officials expect to have a registration system in place by then.
The proposal prompted a lengthy discussion by commissioners and community members, much of which centered around safety.
Carts are already allowed within a 1-mile radius of Dunedin Golf Club. To avoid banning golf carts from streets they can already use, commissioners want to add five busier streets that weren't initially recommended by the city's Golf Cart Task Force. The original draft of the ordinance recommends banning carts from streets traveled by 5,000 or more vehicles a day.
Commissioner Julie Scales cast the lone dissenting vote, saying she wanted more information from city engineers on how golf carts — which top out at 20 mph — would affect travel on those already-congested roads.
"I'm certainly willing to support a small pilot program," Scales said. "But the safety requirements are not at this time agreeable to expanding those boundaries or allowing golf carts on heavily traveled streets."
Commissioners Ron Barnette and Dave Carson countered that statistical data would have meant bikes never would have been allowed on roads.
However, Dunedin resident Ross Long, one of two people to speak out against the plan Thursday, wasn't convinced.
Long criticized the task force for failing to study golf cart-related injuries. He gave commissioners packets containing nationwide news articles about injuries and deaths, mostly involving teens. He provided statistics from the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, showing there were an estimated 148,000 golf cart-related injuries between 1990 and 2006.
If the law is passed, Long said, "I want somebody on this commission appointed to be the person responsible to go to the home of the first person killed on a golf cart and explain how it happened."
"Do we take responsibility when somebody chooses to drive a really small car and get run over by a truck? … No one but the person driving that small car takes the risk," he said. "This is another tool people can use to get around our community."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.