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Tarpon Springs officials debate idea of golf carts on street

TARPON SPRINGS — In retirement communities like the Villages and Sun City Center, thousands of golf carts zoom along city streets. In environmentally conscious municipalities like Dunedin and Temple Terrace, neighborhoods have recently accepted golf carts as alternative transportation.

Could golf carts puttering along city roads in Tarpon Springs' historic district add to its "small village" charm?

It's a "futuristic initiative," City Commissioner Townsend Tarapani said.

"A delightful concept," Mayor David Archie dubbed it.

And unsafe, City Manager Mark LeCouris flatly warned.

Caution tempered enthusiasm at last week's Tarpon Springs City Commission meeting as officials explored allowing golf carts to drive on city streets. Several commissioners seemed open to considering it but agreed to hear a staff report, expected in October, before moving forward.

Tarapani touted golf carts as a way to encourage residents to shop and eat locally. He also promoted them as cheaper and environmentally friendly alternatives to cars.

"There's a reason that surrounding communities have established this policy," he told a reporter.

Golf carts are allowed on certain city streets in Dunedin, Crystal Beach and Pinellas Park. But other nearby cities, including Largo and Clearwater, haven't taken up the issue.

Tarpon Springs officials, Tarapani said, need to address any safety concerns to "meet in the middle and make this a doable project for the city."

But LeCouris. the former police chief, cited his decades of experience in public safety and worried that golf carts wouldn't include safety features such as seat belts, brake lights or turn signals.

"The simple fact is that golf carts are not safe for the street," he told commissioners.

Last weekend, a 70-year-old passenger died after falling out of a golf cart turning in a roundabout at the Villages, a community northwest of Orlando famous for its masses of golf carts.

That followed a similar incident from June in Land O'Lakes, when a 27-year-old woman died after being thrown from a golf cart onto the road. In February, a man suffered a fatal fall from a golf cart at a Palm Harbor car dealership.

LeCouris later called the Villages accident a "perfect example" of why golf carts aren't suited for city streets.

"It's not worth it," LeCouris said, hypothesizing about possible golf cart crashes. "I don't want to have it on my conscience."

City Attorney Jim Yacavone said Tarpon Springs would not be liable in the event of a golf cart accident.

City Commissioners Jeff Larsen and Susan Slattery expressed interest in pursuing the idea, with the caveat of safety considerations.

Another possible hurdle could be negotiating with the Florida Department of Transportation for golf cart crossings on county and state roads.

Local resident Linda Crismond, who owns a golf cart accessories business, presented the golf cart idea to commissioners. She said she drives a low-speed vehicle through the streets of Tarpon Springs.

Often looking similar to golf carts, the larger and more expensive low-speed vehicles are legally allowed to drive on streets. Like cars, low-speed vehicles are registered and tagged by the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles and include safety equipment.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Tarpon Springs officials debate idea of golf carts on street 08/16/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 16, 2012 6:04pm]
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