Port St. Lucie Council to hear draft ordinance as part of Trails Master Plan

PORT ST. LUCIE – The City Council decided to include its much-debated Golf Cart Ordinance as part of the city’s Trails Master Plan and limit the operation of such vehicles to its eight-foot-wide multimodal pathways during a special workshop held June 17.

The Council previously debated the ordinance last October but postponed its decision at the insistence of Mayor Gregory Oravec who wanted a clearer consensus among its divided membership on how to proceed. Port St. Lucie Police Chief John Bolduc moderated both the Oct. 15 and more recent June discussions and demonstrated a cutting-edge interconnectivity map showing all the city’s various sidewalks and multimodal pathways.

“We have been meeting on this for quite a while and each time we get together we learn a little more about golf carts,” he said. As you recall, we presented to you several months ago… and there was some discussion on legality, driver’s license and insurance and liability, and you asked us to look at some case studies.”

As part of his latest presentation, Chief Bolduc highlighted the differences between golf carts and low-speed vehicles. While the former is described by state statute as a vehicle can be driven by anyone over the age of 14 on sidewalks at least eight feet wide, the latter must have seat belts and other safety equipment but can legally operate on city streets designated at 35 miles an hour or less.

“A low-speed vehicle is essentially a golf cart that’s capable of more than 20 miles per hour, is fully equipped with all the required lighting just like a motor vehicle, requires an operator’s license to drive it and has to be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles,” he explained.

Chief Bolduc, along with a Golf Cart Committee composed of several city staffers, studied how several other Florida communities were handling the same issue in order to formulate requirements for Port St. Lucie’s ordinance. While the municipalities of Tallahassee, Bay County, Winter Haven, Dunedin, Vero Beach and Clewiston require all golf cart operators to have driver’s licenses, others require the owners to have liability insurance.

“One we’re very familiar with is The Villages in the middle of the state,” he said. “The others were Peachtree, Georgia, the Western Riverside Council of Governments, Calif., and Linton, Ind. These communities made considerable investments in infrastructure to accommodate low speed vehicles and golf carts. They still have had some issues where golf carts interact with motor vehicles. After all the consideration and all the reading, your staff’s recommendation is to have you direct us to come up with an ordinance for golf carts on multiuse paths eight feet or wider and leave the operation on roadways to the low speed vehicles, which state statute authorizes.”

For her part, Vice-Mayor Shannon Martin believes Port St. Lucie requirements should be somewhat stricter than the Florida statute but also wanted to be fair to golf cart owners on the east side of the city where there are very few such pathways.

“I’d hate to see us allow 14- or 15-year olds on golf carts out there,” she said. “I think you should at least have to have a driver’s license or be 16 years old. I do also have an issue with golf carts being on our roadways that don’t have some of the safety equipment, so I’d be open to the golf carts on the eight-foot multimodals and possibly golf carts on certain roads out east to make it fair if they’re converted to a low-speed vehicle.”

In the discussion last fall, Vice-Mayor Martin emphasized there was already an issue with golf cart operators outside the official boundaries of Tradition, where they’re legal on all the private roads of that community. Members of that neighborhood and other golf communities around the city have been asking for legal status on other roadways as well.

“In the case of Tradition Parkway, that’s a 40-mile-an-hour road, and we know there are several golf carts that travel down that road from Town Park and from The Lakes in Tradition to pick up their children at the Renaissance Charter School,” she said Oct. 15. “When my kids were there, I used to see eight to 10 of them traveling down Tradition Parkway.”

Mayor Oravec insisting during the latest meeting the city needed to take a firm stance on such vehicles because the state had already addressed the issue.

“They allowed low-speed vehicles with all these safety features on roads 35 miles an hour or less, and that’s the way it is right now unless we take action and prohibit it,” he said. “Why allow golf carts outside of the private communities, outside of multimodal paths? Why do it? And I think that’s the question.”

Councilman John Carvelli, who’d balked at making a decision last October without first seeing the city’s interconnectivity map, worried about dangerous delays by such vehicles potentially hindering automobile traffic.

“Have you ever ridden behind a scooter on St. Lucie West Boulevard that’s just sitting there putting along and people are trying to weave around him?” he asked. “What happens at intersections chief? Do they have to obey the rules for crossing an intersection?”

“Basically, if they were authorized to use a golf cart on a sidewalk, they would have to operate it like you do with a bicycle on a sidewalk,” Chief Bolduc answered.

Councilman Carvelli also wanted to know about the cost of signage advising golf car operators where they could and could not operate, especially since roadways constructed with federal funds such as Crosstown Parkway are not authorized for such usage.

“We have to tell people this road is allowable and some of the roads aren’t allowable, and I would assume the first place people want to drive is Crosstown Parkway to the fitness stations installed there, because that’s what I’d be thinking,” he said. “So, there’s enforcement, there’s application. It has to be clearly marked so people realize they’re not supposed to be off those trails.”

Chief Bolduc admitted he didn’t have a definitive cost on signage as of yet.

“Without knowing where we’re going to do it, it’s hard to say,” he explained. “But we know it costs $125 a sign, so it depends what area we do.”

Mayor Oravec then confirmed from his fellow Councilmembers that they had no taste for either legally allowing golf courts on city roads or imposing a ban on the state’s low-speed vehicle usage and offered them more time to process all the information.

“So, then we’re really talking about the use of golf carts on eight foot or greater paths, and staff has asked for direction to come back on that,” he said. “I’d say why not package it as part of our Trail Master Plan. I wouldn’t even ask you to do it beforehand: :et’s have the conversation as part of our greater trails.”

Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo agreed but wanted to ensure staff would consider some of the alternative pathway construction methods she’d seen utilized on a recent trip to Georgia.

“When I saw those multimodal paths going in, I saw a variation between sidewalk paths, and it looked like asphalt was just poured onto the grass, and we saw so many different types of methods for them to get it done,” she said. At this point, I’m ready to get it done. So how do we do it? As quickly and feasibly as we can.”

Councilwoman Caraballo also wanted assurances the Golf Cart Ordinance as part of the Trails Master Plan would include eastern Port St. Lucie, which currently has the least number of eight-foot-wide pathways or sidewalks in the city.

“Well it has to,” Mayor Oravec assured her. “To that point, right now, thanks to the citizens, we have these great sidewalk projects and sales tax projects going on.”

For his part, the mayor expressed disappointment with a six-foot sidewalk currently under construction near his own home, along a former golf course in the Sandpiper neighborhood.

“We’re building a beautiful sidewalk in a golfing community, and if we’d just poured two feet more of sidewalk, we would have had it and we would have solved this challenge,” he exclaimed. “I mean part of what’s driving this conversation is the use of golf carts in Sandpiper, we had a solution right at our fingertips and it totally made sense.”

Vice-Mayor Martin agreed.

“If we’re talking about making sure we’re meeting the citizens’ goals with regard to mobility and transportation and different methods, why would we build anything less?” she asked. “If we want this multimodal community to live up to the expectations, we should be building everything right the first time.”

The Council then voted unanimously to include the Golf Cart Ordinance as part of the city’s Trails Master Plan.

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