As the popularity of golf carts continues to rev up throughout the county, Carrabelle officials have decided it’s time they put in place rules to govern their use on the city and country roads within the city.
At last week’s regular meeting, city commissioners approved on first reading an ordinance that would allow their use by anyone age 14 or older on any road where the speed limit is 35 mph or below.
The city would not require registration of these vehicles, which are generally incapable of exceeding speeds of 20 mph, and would have to have brakes, turn signals and other safety features, and if used at night, headlights.
Because U.S. 98 is a state road, the city has no authority to allow their use on this highway, but it is seeking permission from the Florida Department of Transportation to create crosswalks at SE Third Street, at the old Dollar General store on the west side of Sands Park, and on Fifth Street at the Fourth Street boat ramp, on the west side of Veterans Park.
The lone nay vote on the ordinance came from Mayor Brenda La Paz, who supported the overall idea of allowing golf carts on city streets, but felt granting them free rein on high-traffic roads, such as Ryan Drive near where she lives, as well as Airport Road, River Road, Timber Island Road and County Road 30 (Gulf Avenue) needed to be considered more thoroughly.
“I live on Ryan Drive; it is wild out there,” she said. “I know we have problems with the speed and volume of traffic. This board authorized flashing radar signals to tell people how fast they are driving.
“I am not in the mood to sign an ordinance that would allow the potential of making pizza pie out of somebody, where I live on Ryan Drive,” La Paz said. “It’s been done illegally for 40 years, and everybody has looked the other way. It’s not our fault it wasn’t done years ago.
“I am just not happy without doing any type of analysis, any type of traffic study,” she said. “Otherwise I like the ordinance.”
In 1983, the state enacted a statute that spelled out the rules for operating golf carts on roadways in Florida. That law says no one under age 14 may operate a golf cart on public roads, and it is because of this condition that commissioners reluctantly went along with a younger age limit, even though many preferred the age be 16.
City Attorney Dan Hartman advised commissioners that a 2002 opinion issued by the Florida attorney general advised that this age 14 stipulation cannot be further restricted.
“It is definitely a gray area whether we can push the age up,” he said. “I would recommend if we wanted an older age we would get an attorney general opinion, and that process would take three to six months once it was submitted.”
La Paz encouraged her colleagues to move forward with the age 14, and perhaps make changes later.
“Some want 14, some want 15, everyone would like to see a higher age around 16,” she said, “I would suggest we take the safe route of 14, and if this board decided we can go out for an attorney general opinion and come back and amend the ordinance.
“By that time, if we’re six months into it, we may see we need to make other changes,” La Paz said. “We want to get golf carts back in operation as soon as possible.”
Commissioner Keith Walden supported moving forward as well. “I don’t know if I would let my 14-year-old on County Road 67 but that’s up to the parent,” he said. “I say let’s open it up and see how it goes. I would like the age to be older and we’re going to work with that, but it’s up to parents.”
Any changes to the proposed ordinance could be hashed out at two upcoming public hearings, on Dec. 15 and Jan. 5.
The ordinances in place in both Apalachicola and Franklin County restrict golf cart operations to licensed drivers, which means they must be at least age 16. Apalachicola requires golf carts be registered with the city; the county has no such requirement.
The county’s ordinance permits golf carts only on roads north of US 98, but does not authorize any crossings on 98, so they are effectively disallowed south of it.
On St. George Island, golf carts are allowed from 12th Street West to 11th Street East, but are not allowed on the multi-use path, or on Franklin Boulevard, which is a state highway, nor on Gulf Beach Drive, which is a long stretch, similar to Bluff Road west of Apalachicola and Alligator Drive. Commissioner Cheryl Sanders has signaled that she would like to re-address the issue of allowing golf carts on certain portions of Alligator Point.
Carrabelle City Engineer Russell Large has estimated it would cost the city about $10,000 to install advisory signs indicating golf carts are allowed, as well as to complete an engineering study to establish data on where the crossings on U.S. 98 could be placed.
“We would be at their (FDOT’s) mercy to satisfy their criteria. If not, we would have additional discussion with them and determine another location is more suitable,” he said.
In public comment on the matter, Julie Distelhorst encouraged the city to consider erecting streetlights on roadways where it is completely dark, and to address the problems of “crazy speeding. We just need to do something about all them speeding people. My golf cart is electric; those gas ones go very fast.”
Vance Pedrick said he’d like to see the city adjust speed limits in areas, such as Ryan Drive, where speeding is a problem.
“I think we have to compromise somewhere,” he said.