EAST MANATEE -- The sight of golf cart drivers smiling and waving cheerily as they travel along the sidewalk from neighborhoods such as Terra Siesta, Ellenton Gardens and Colony Cove, headed to the grocery, drug store or library, could soon be a thing of the past.
After receiving several complaints about golf carts on the sidewalks along U.S. 301 North, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office has begun handing out warning citations and educational fliers to cart drivers.
"We went on a public education campaign," Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said Monday.
Golf cart use in Ellenton "went on for a while, and now we're cracking down on it. It's against the law and it's dangerous," Bristow said.
The danger comes from motorized carts sharing the sidewalk with pedestrians and bicyclists, and from cars and trucks turning off U.S. 301 North onto side roads where golf carts cross, Bristow said.
Golf carts may continue to use the streets within the Ellenton neighborhoods, but not the sidewalk along U.S. 301, Bristow said.
County Commissioner Larry Bustle has been working on the issue with residents for several years, but says it is more complicated than it would appear.
"We are going against all the odds," Bustle said.
Even if the county were able to provide a waiver or an exemption to allow golf carts on the sidewalk, the measure would still need state and federal approvals.
"If the sidewalks were built with federal funds, you can't use motorized vehicles on them," Bustle said.
The problem is bigger than just in Ellenton.
County neighborhoods that have roads adopted for golf cart use include Tidevue Estates in Palmetto, Trailer Estates, El Conquistador, Tara, Palm-Aire, and River Club.
"If we can get this through, we will have to have some safety and insurance standards," Bustle said.
In September, the Manatee County Commission had a work session on golf cart use on sidewalks. County staff reported multiple golf cart-related crashes throughout the county, and several on U.S. 301 near Victory Lane. One involved a pedestrian and one involved a motor vehicle exiting Ridgewood Plaza.
Attorney Karla Owens is working with Ellenton residents in a quest for an ordinance to provide a waiver to use the sidewalks along U.S. 301 North between Erie Road and 60th Street West.
She knows the county will also need state and federal approvals to allow golf carts use of the sidewalks.
"We are trying to do this is an organized manner," Owens said.
Jerry Porter has lived six months a year in Ellenton Gardens since 1998, and the other half of the year in Madison, Ind.
"We have four or five people in this park who have no means of getting around without a golf cart," he said. "We were told the sidewalks were made 8 feet wide to accommodate golf carts and people."
Dorothy and Paul Treece have wintered in Terra Siesta for six years.
The ease of using golf carts for running neighborhood errands was a major factor in choosing Terra Siesta, Dorothy Treece said.
"Why now? What has brought this on?" Dorothy Treece asked of the recent ticketing of golf carts. "A lot of people are going to be affected by it. I think it will cause some hardship. They need to notify people and let them know the law will be enforced before giving out tickets. I don't feel it's fair to give someone a ticket and not warn us."Colony Cove, the largest of the Ellenton communities with about 3,000 residents, has an estimated 800 golf carts in use.
Colony Cove resident Pete Shields said the communities hope to obtain needed waivers.
"We are willing to go to safety classes. We are trying to be law-abiding citizens," Shields said.
Sheila Wayne, an 18-year resident of Colony Cove, said the impact on older residents is huge.
"Our independence would be taken away from us with the sidewalks. We would have no way to go to the doctor, to the drug store, the supermarket or the library," Wayne said. "People who have lost the ability to be independent have lost part of their life."
Ironically, Rocky Bluff Library, a prized part of the Ellenton neighborhood, has reserved parking for golf carts, neighbors say.
Still, residents are taking heed of the tickets.
"I can't afford the ticket and have tried to avoid the sidewalk," said Colony Cove resident Mike Brewer.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.