State Politics

Legislators hope to help frustrated golf cart users

ELLENTON — Lynn Gould doesn’t play golf, but a golf cart sits in her driveway at Colony Cove Hometown America retirement community.

She would like to be able to use it on the sidewalks around her home, in lieu of a car, to go to the grocery store, the nearby Prime Outlets-Ellenton mall and the dentist.

But according to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, such use is illegal on the sidewalks paralleling U.S. 301, and she could be issued a traffic citation for a moving violation, with a fine of $166.

That’s why last fall, she was among a group of residents who treated state Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, to a golf cart ride, urging changes in state law governing where the carts can be used.

Reagan and state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, both plan fixes as the Florida Legislature convenes Tuesday, they said.

Gould thinks of her golf cart more like a bicycle, except it is motorized and has four wheels.

“A lot of people rely on their golf carts,” explained Gould, 62, a former Brooklynite who has lived in Florida for 20 years and doesn’t own a car. “They’re easier, they’re really economical to get from one place to another for older people who don’t want to drive or can’t drive.”

According to state law, Colony Cove residents may not legally use golf carts on the sidewalks along U.S. 301, explained Dave Bristow, a spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Reagan, who holds one of the House’s top jobs as speaker pro tempore, plans to amend another bill to allow golf carts on the eight-foot sidewalks near Colony Cove, he said.

He has asked the Florida Department of Transportation to do a study focusing on safety, and is awaiting its results, he said last week.

“I don’t have a problem with it as long as we can do it safely, and for both the people that are walking on the sidewalk as well as people using their golf carts, and safety is the focus there,” he added.

Bennett filed a bill Thursday, SB 2448, that authorizes local governments to enact ordinances permitting the use of golf carts on sidewalks, according to the Florida Senate Web site.

The Manatee County Commission supports “flexibility” for golf cart use along certain state or county rights-of-way on its 2010 list of legislative priorities, according to a commission document.

“Our biggest concern is making it legal, so we can ride on the sidewalks,” said Lynn Mercer, past president of the homeowners association for Colony Cove, who stopped using her golf cart on the sidewalks last year after she learned it was illegal.

She hopes her legislators can help her.

“We have a lot of seniors who have given up their automobiles because they didn’t feel they would be safe to be on the highways, but they do need transportation to get to doctor appointments, grocery stores, restaurants, in the area safely,” she said.

“We have hundreds who were using the sidewalk before — not all depend on golf carts for their only transportation — but it’s one thing that draws people to Colony Cove to live because it’s fun.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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