County Commission to have final say on legalizing golf carts in Pinecraft, after Traffic Advisory Council votes ‘No’

County Commission public hearing set for March 14

Amish and Mennonite residents and visitors enjoy gathering at Pinecraft Park, and golf carts are among the conveyances they use to reach the facility. File photo

Although the Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) voted unanimously to deny the request, the Sarasota County commissioners will have the final say on whether golf carts will be allowed legally on designated streets in Pinecraft.

A public hearing on the issue has been scheduled on the commission’s March 14 agenda, county Planner Steve Kirk told The Sarasota News Leader this week.

During the regular TAC meeting on Dec. 11, 2017, council member Morgan Skoegard made the motion to deny the county staff recommendation for golf cart operation on certain streets in the Amish and Mennonite community just east of the city of Sarasota.

“I don’t know what it is about golf carts,” Skoegard said, “but it seems like everybody thinks their grandkids ought to come here, and you see ’em driving around with a 5-year-old kid sitting in the driver’s seat. … Putting a 14-year-old behind the wheel of a vehicle on a public street, to me, just seems absolutely wrong.”

Under the applicable state law, county staff had explained, anyone 14 or older would be allowed to drive a golf cart on the designated streets in Pinecraft.

Skoegard earlier had asked Kirk who would be responsible for enforcing the state criteria for operating the vehicles.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office would do that, Kirk replied, just as it enforces other traffic regulations in the county.

“So this is going to be additional work then for the Sheriff’s Office?” Skoegard asked.

“I would suspect that there may be additional work,” Kirk told him. Nonetheless, Kirk continued, “There are golf carts operating in Pinecraft now. It’s not legal …”

Kirk added that he felt sure the Sheriff’s Office would respond to complaints about golf carts and drivers there violating the state standards for operation. “Right now, there are no rules, and there are golf carts.”

A graphic shows the streets (in purple) where staff recommends golf carts be allowed to travel legally in Pinecraft. Image courtesy Sarasota County

When Skoegard asked who would be responsible for inspecting the golf carts to ensure they complied with the provisions of state law for their legal operation, Kirk told him, “We’re not proposing any kind of inspection program or anything like that. … It would be up to the citizens who operate these golf carts to meet the criteria and understand what they are.”

When Skoegard then asked whether Pinecraft had a homeowners association that could make certain inspections were undertaken, Kirk explained that Pinecraft has no such organization. It does have an appointed board that represents the community, he added, and county staff has discussed the golf cart proposal with that board.

The 2014 Pinecraft Neighborhood Master Plan — which residents of the community commissioned and paid for — does call for some type of “internal policing” of golf carts, Kirk continued, if the county designated specific streets for the vehicles’ use.

The section of that plan dealing with the proposal for legalizing golf carts says, “Another area of concern to the community is the safety of young or irresponsible drivers of golf carts and other low speed vehicles. The Pinecraft Board is pursuing a way to regulate rentals internally, which would hold the owners responsible for ensuring the vehicles are used responsibly.”

The plan adds that each golf cart in Pinecraft “would have a sticker indicating the identity of the owner, who could be contacted in the case of misuse by the driver.”

Rules of the road

A Florida State Statute provides regulations for use of golf carts on designated roads. Image courtesy State of Florida

If the County Commission ultimately agrees that golf carts should be allowed on specific streets in Pinecraft, Kirk had explained earlier, the vehicles would not be allowed to exceed 20 mph; they would have to have safe tires, efficient brakes and reliable steering mechanisms; rearview mirrors; and red reflective warning devices on the front and rear. If they operated at night, he noted, they would have to have headlights and brake lights, turn signals and windshields.

The county would post signage on the streets where the golf carts would be allowed, he added. The streets west of Beneva Road and north and east of Phillippi Creek would be those designated for golf carts, he explained; that area encompasses the oldest section of Pinecraft, whose settlement began soon after the turn of the 20th century.

One road could be used to cross Bahia Vista Street, Kirk pointed out: Kaufman, where a traffic signal already exists. However, no golf carts would be allowed to operate on either Bahia Vista or Beneva Road, Kirk stressed.

Shannon Spence of the county’s Traffic Engineering Division also explained that no golf carts would be allowed to operate on the sidewalks along Beneva or Bahia Vista. Signage would be erected to alert the public to that stipulation, she noted.

Current situations

A chart lists the Pinecraft streets where staff recommends golf carts be allowed to operate legally. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Sarasota County has only one other community where golf carts are legal, Kirk noted: East Venice, which is east of Jacaranda Boulevard.

Pinecraft is predominantly a walking and bicycling community, he said; many of the residents and visitors never use cars.

Moreover, “It is a community that is very seasonal. … It’s a very busy place in the wintertime,” he added.

The county undertook a traffic study on Kaufman Avenue and Clarinda Street in Pinecraft in November 2017, Spence told the TAC members. That found that the average daily traffic volume on northbound Kaufman was 229; on southbound Kaufman, 230. The speed limit on both streets is 20 mph, she added.

The “85th percentile speed” of the northbound traffic on Kaufman, she said, was 25 mph; for southbound vehicles, 26 mph. (The 85th percentile is defined, for the purpose of traffic studies, as “the speed at or below which 85 percent of all vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing conditions past a monitored point,” according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.)

However, she continued, the average speed for northbound traffic was 19 mph; for southbound vehicles, 20 mph.

The average daily volume for eastbound traffic on Clarinda was 184, she continued; for westbound vehicles, 200.

The average speed of eastbound vehicles on that street was 19 mph, Spence told the TAC; for westbound traffic, 21 mph.

Those statistics show golf carts would be able to operate without problems on the streets county staff recommended for their use, Spence pointed out.

A county traffic study of two Pinecraft streets includes these results about vehicle volume and speeds. Image courtesy Sarasota County

When TAC Chair Becky Ayech asked for clarification about how the recommended traffic patterns in Pinecraft would ensure golf carts did not venture out onto Bahia Vista, for example, Spence explained that Kaufman Avenue and Clarinda Street would provide the necessary connections in the community.

After Ayech closed the public hearing and asked for a motion, Skoegard proposed that the TAC recommend the County Commission deny the designation of streets in Pinecraft for golf cart use.

In the gated golf community where he lives, Skoegard explained ,the homeowners association has the responsibility of inspecting each golf cart on an annual basis, and each cart has a number on it. “There’s a group within the association who monitors the carts,” he added. “There’s enforcement that’s done on a daily basis,” Skoegard said, and that does not involve the Sheriff’s Office.

Additionally, he noted, staff’s recommendation to allow golf carts to cross Bahia Vista Street is “just asking for some kind of calamity.”

Finally, Skoegard told his colleagues, “The Sheriff’s Office has plenty to do right now. They’re not going to enforce this.”

Vice Chair Mary Glidden-Williams pointed out that, in Pinecraft, people often walk three to four abreast. However, she continued, many electric and gas-powered golf carts are so quiet, pedestrians would not hear them approaching from the rear. “I think that that could be a problem.”

Glidden-Williams added, “There are no sidewalks [in some parts of Pinecraft]; the streets are very narrow, and I’m scared to death.”

When Ayech called for the vote, the result was unanimous in recommending the County Commission deny the staff recommendation.