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Buchanan discusses golf cart ordinance

January 9, 2013
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Pine Island Eagle

Although the golf cart ordinance, which was drafted by Dr. Phil Buchanan last year, was largely accepted by Lee County staff, there were a few portions that were denied because of safety issues.

Buchanan said he had a meeting with the Lee County Department of Transportation and Lee County staff on Aug. 15 to discuss its findings.

"Everything they objected to was stuff we thought was going to be problematic anyway," he told the crowd at the Elks Lodge Thursday night during the Greater Pine Island Civic Association meeting.

Buchanan said Lee County staff agreed that golf carts could be safely used in downtown St. James City, Bokeelia, Pineland, Alden Pines and side streets off Stringfellow Road.

"They also agreed with our findings that golf carts would not be safe on Stringfellow Road or Pine Island Road," he said. "The cut-off points, which we suggested, were approved, which is St. Jude Boulevard, next to Froggy's in St. James City, and the Jug Creek Bridge in Bokeelia."

Although golf carts are allowed anywhere in town south of Froggy's in St. James City, they are not allowed south on Jug Creek Bridge in Bokeelia.

Buchanan said Lee County staff did not approve Matlacha.

"Understandably, making a finding that golf carts could be safely added to the thick and confusing traffic in Matlacha would be a difficult if not impossible finding to make," he told the crowd.

Buchanan said if some things are straightened out in Matlacha, the county might reconsider allowing golf carts, but for the time being only low speed vehicles are permitted.

Another portion of the ordinance that was denied was the use of golf carts after the sun goes down.

"The county staff was also unable to make a finding that driving golf carts on public roads at night would be a safe thing to do, so that will be prohibited," Buchanan said. "Sunset to sunrise is the way the rule reads."

Gulf District Capt. Joe Poppalardo also attended the meeting Thursday night and provided some background information about Captiva's golf cart ordinance, since he worked on it when it was in the process of being drafted.

A few individuals questioned why night driving of golf carts was not allowed on the island.

Poppalardo said that Captivans were not initially allowed to drive at night.

"DOT has to look at it and see what happens," he said, adding that over time Captiva was granted to drive golf carts at night with the right equipment.

Poppalardo said they do want to look at it because they are putting golf carts where they weren't before.

Another portion of the drafted ordinance that was turned down was allowing individuals older than 16 years old with a disabled permit to drive golf carts on the streets without the possession of a driver's license.

"The county staff said no, and a driver's license will thus be required of all golf cart drivers on public streets," Buchanan said. "Again, they were unable to make a finding that the mere possession of a disabled permit means it is safe to drive on the streets, an understandable determination, which we had also expected."

The ordinance also asked permission for disabled individuals to be able to use the bike path, shared use path, to drive their golf carts, which was turned down by the county.

"They advised us that much of the bike path was built with so-called 'iced-teas funds,' federal interstate transportation funds, which prohibit use by golf carts," Buchanan said. "The county staff had no choice but to say no. Therefore no golf carts will be allowed on the bike path."

Poppalardo said that motorized vehicles with bicycles and pedestrians are deemed not safe and it is a public safety issue.

"It is not a cart path, not for golf carts, that is something we do have to enforce," he said.

Poppalardo said he is more than willing to work with the community to make it a better place, and he is more than happy to assist and do whatever he can, but there are still restrictions.

Buchanan said that come next fall the road will be moved over in St. James City past 8th Avenue to include four feet of bike path on each side of the road, which will go all the way to the end of the island.

The extra space will allow individuals to pull their golf carts over to let traffic pass, Buchanan said.

"This will be very beneficial for golf carts," he said.

A concern that was brought up during the meeting dealt with insuring golf carts.

Buchanan said that Florida state law does not require an individual to have insurance for golf carts or bicycles. He said that it is rare for a bicycle or golf cart to do much damage to a vehicle.

Poppalardo disagreed with Buchanan because of an accident that occurred with a young kid driving a golf cart causing significant damage to a brand new Mercedes that was hit.

Poppalardo said that is why he is an advocate of low speed vehicles because you have to register them, as well as having them insured.

"To me it's much safer to have on the roads than golf carts," he said.

With that said, Poppalardo commended Buchanan for the job he did with the golf cart ordinance.

"He did an amazing job," he said of Buchanan. "We left out a lot of things that he put in. You try to find a happy medium and do the best you can. You can't make everyone happy unfortunately. You do the best you can and that's what he did. And again did a very good job."

Once Buchanan went through the ordinance he told the crowd that the things that were turned down were denied for reasons that were strong.

"I think the changes are pretty much as we expected," he said.

Although county staff approved the ordinance, it still has to go before the Lee County Commissioners for final approval.

"I have no indication that any county commissioner will say no to this," Buchanan said of the ordinance.

There will be two hearings held for the golf cart ordinance, which will most likely start in March.

"I want to remind everyone that use of golf carts on the designed roads is not legal yet, not until the County Commissioner's vote," Buchanan said.



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