Golf carts to be allowed to operate legally on certain Pinecraft streets but not on any Beneva Road and Bahia Vista Street sidewalks

Sheriff’s Office and county’s Traffic Advisory Committee had recommended the County Commission deny the request

A map shows the streets (in red) where golf carts will be able to operate legally in Pinecraft. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Sarasota County Traffic Advisory Committee (TAC) and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office both recommended against legalizing golf carts in Pinecraft because of concerns about safety. Nonetheless, the County Commission voted unanimously on March 14 to approve the operation of the vehicles on specific neighborhood streets in the predominantly Amish and Mennonite community whose primary boundaries are Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road.

Both Chair Nancy Detert and Commissioner Michael Moran referred to, as Detert put it, the “historically well-known, law-abiding” nature of the area’s residents. That was a major factor, they indicated, in their supporting Pinecraft leaders’ request for the legalization of golf carts.

However, just before the vote, Detert told a member of the Pinecraft Steering Committee, who had addressed the board, “The responsibility is on your community to make sure that people do keep the rules.”

That committee, a March 14 staff memo said, consists of 12 individuals who were nominated by Pinecraft residents to represent them in sessions with county planning staff regarding a variety of initiatives.

County Planner Steve Kirk explained during his March 14 presentation, “Pinecraft is a community that looks to alternatives to the automobile for transportation,” and those options include not only walking and bicycles, but also the use of golf carts.

He and Robert Fakhri, manager of the county’s Transportation Engineering and Operations Division, pointed out that the golf carts would be restricted to streets with 20 mph speed limits that “carry low volumes of vehicular traffic,” as the March 14 staff memo noted. As a result, they told the commissioners, they believe use of the vehicles would be appropriate.

People routinely drive and ride on golf carts in Pinecraft. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

However, replying to commission questions about the TAC’s Dec. 11, 2017 vote recommending denial of the Pinecraft Steering Committee’s request, Kirk said TAC members voiced worry about the lack of a county provision for inspections of the golf carts to ensure the vehicles comply with the applicable state rules.

“They don’t inspect … vehicles anymore,” Detert responded, referring to state law.

Another TAC concern focused on the potential for harm to pedestrians walking along the streets where the golf carts will operate, Kirk noted.

Additionally, Fakhri said, one TAC member, who lives in a private golfing community, pointed out that the golf carts that operate on streets in his neighborhood are numbered and registered. Therefore, Fakhri continued, if anyone lodges a complaint involving a golf cart there, the neighborhood association is able to identify the owner of that vehicle.

Moreover, Fakhri explained, TAC members “were very concerned about the golf carts continuing over to Bahia Vista Street,” which has sidewalks that are 6- to 8-feet wide. Many pedestrians and bicyclists use those sidewalks, he added.

The resolution the commissioners approved on March 14 prohibits any golf cart use on the sidewalks on Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road, Kirk said.

Finally, Fakhri explained, TAC members were worried about enforcement of the vehicles’ operation, so golf carts would not travel beyond the designated streets.

As for Sheriff Tom Knight’s concerns: After Kirk notified Knight by email that the issue would be on the March 14 County Commission agenda, Knight responded by email and copied the commissioners.

A graphic shows the locations where signs will be erected about golf cart use in Pinecraft. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“As you and staff know,” Knight wrote, “Bahia Vista is a heavily travelled roadway and I don’t believe the analysis of ‘low volume’ with considering speed, volume and character of motor vehicle traffic is consistent with what my deputies deal with regularly in this area. I’m not an engineer, so won’t dispute the direction your staff analysis utilized in justification of you recommendation.”

However, Knight continued, because the staff recommendation also will allow golf carts to cross Bahia Vista street at the Kaufman Avenue intersection, where a traffic signal exists, that “will certainly expose citizens driving those [golf carts] to all forms of traffic (including heavy and commercial vehicles).”

Thus, Knight wrote, “The Sheriff’s Office concurs with the TAC recommendation.”

The only member of the public to address the commission about the issue on March 14 was David Swartzentruber, a representative of the Pinecraft Steering Committee.

“As you know, many of the people that come down [to Pinecraft from other areas] come on buses, and they don’t have cars,” he said. “They need alternative transportation,” such as bicycles and golf carts. In fact, he continued, visitors routinely use golf carts “to haul their luggage to and from the buses. If you ever get a chance, watch that sometime. It’s amazing how much luggage they bring.”

Legalizing use of golf carts on the interior roads in the historic area of Pinecraft, as recommended by staff, “[would] be a good thing for that community,” Swartzentruber told the commissioners.

Nonetheless, he said liability insurance should be a requirement in conjunction with the golf cart use.

Laying the groundwork

Kaufman Avenue crosses Bahia Vista Street at a signalized intersection. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During his presentation, Kirk pointed to requirements under state statutes for legal operation of golf carts: The vehicles are not allowed to exceed 20 mph; they 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 operate at night, he noted, they have to have headlights and brake lights, turn signals and windshields.

A driver would have to be 14 years of age or older, he added.

However, driver and/or operator insurance is not a requirement under the Florida statute.

“The state also defines and regulates low-speed vehicles,” Kirk noted. Those vehicles are allowed on any street in the county “with a posted speed limit of less than 30 mph,” he said.

The Florida Statute regarding golf carts also requires the posting of signage to let the public know when streets have been designated for use of the vehicles, Kirk explained.

The Florida Statutes regulate the legal operation of golf carts on roads. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Fakhri added that such signs will be attached to the speed limit signs on the streets where the golf carts will be allowed to operate legally in Pinecraft. Further, Fakhri noted, the backs of those signs will indicate the end of the legal limits for golf cart usage. “They cannot go beyond that limit,” he stressed.

Following Swartzentruber’s remarks, Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to approve the staff recommendation to allow golf carts on specific streets, as denoted in the resolution staff had prepared. After Commissioner Moran seconded the motion, Maio asked Kirk to show again a slide Kirk had used earlier in his presentation; it listed the requirements for golf carts, under state law, if they are to operate legally on designated roads.

“This, I think, lays out the parameters of this [county] permission,” Maio said, adding that he was asking the Pinecraft Steering Committee to circulate that information to people in the community and to emphasize the necessity that people abide by those requirements. “Adherence to this is critical.”

Moran added that he had seconded the motion because the proposal “just makes a lot of sense for that community,” even though the TAC and the Sheriff’s Office opposed the measure. Given the nature of Pinecraft, he said, “I think it’s worthy of some latitude to move this forward.”

“I think it should work,” Chair Detert agreed, “if everyone keeps the rules.”