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Date of Issue: July 16, 2008

Chief, commission to discuss low-speed vehicles

The use of low-speed vehicles in Bradenton Beach’s historic district is one of the issues scheduled for discussion at the city commission meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, July 17.

The meeting will take place at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Specifically the discussion on the limited use of low-speed vehicles will focus on the use of a tram-like vehicle to carry employees from the Coquina Beach area to the Bridge Street commercial district.

The idea has the support of an advisory committee working to resolve parking problems in the city, the police chief and a number of local business owners who want to allow more parking spaces in the district for customers.

But the idea requires a review of the city’s rules regarding low-speed vehicles, currently not considered street-legal in Bradenton Beach.

“What I want to do is find out if the city commission will draft a limited-use ordinance,” Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said.

The chief said that to establish an employee shuttle the city commission probably needs to pass a measure allowing low-speed vehicles in Bradenton Beach’s historic district, from Fifth Street South to Cortez Road.

State law requires on-road carts to have Florida Department of Transportation-approved tires, a rearview mirror, reflectors, efficient brakes and reliable steering. If operated at night, the cart must also have headlights, brake lights, turn signals and a windshield.

Florida law also states that operation of golf carts is prohibited unless a county or municipality has designated them street legal after determining that “carts may safely travel on or cross the public road or street, considering factors including the speed, volume and character of motor vehicle traffic using the road or street. Upon a determination that golf carts may be safely operated on a designated road or street, the responsible government entity shall post appropriate signs to indicate that such operation is allowed.”

Additionally, Florida allows for carts to cross a state road after the DOT “has reviewed and approved the location and design of the crossing and any traffic control devices needed for safety purposes.”

The employee shuttle would travel alongside Gulf Drive to the Coquina Beach area from the commercial area of Bridge Street.

The chief said he was not advocating widespread use of low-speed vehicles in Bradenton Beach because of safety concerns.

“The city has never allowed them,” Speciale said. “The primary concern is safety. I just don’t feel comfortable.”

The chief added that traffic congestion also is a concern, unless all of Anna Maria Island were to operate under a single, lower speed limit. Speed limits on the Island vary from 35 mph to 25 mph, outside of the school-crossing zone.

“If the whole Island went to 25 mph, it might work,” Speciale said.

Several recent studies underline Speciale’s safety concerns.

A University of Alabama-Birmingham study published in June found that about 1,000 people a month are injured on golf carts. Boys and senior men had the highest rate of injury.

“A lot of people perceive golf carts as little more than toys, but our findings suggest they can be quiet dangerous, especially when used on public roads,” UAB researcher Gerald McGwin said.

Also last month, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that from 1990 to 2006 the injury rate rose more than 130 percent, with people as young as 2 months and as old as 96 suffering injuries in golf-cart accidents.

The number of such accidents during that period, 150,000, is far less than the number of motor vehicle accidents. And the spike, according to the researchers with the Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Policy in Ohio was partly due to more people using low-speed vehicles in more places.

A primary concern for safety seems to be child injuries.

The carts and other low-speed vehicles are not considered on-road vehicles by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and thus not required to meet certain federal safety standards.

“Golf carts are not designed for the safe transportation of children,” said Lara B. McKenzie of the CIRP.

However, officials in a number of communities - and not just warm-weather locales - are considering allowing increased use of low-speed vehicles, which can be gas- or battery-powered.

Some environmental groups also have endorsed increased use of low-speed vehicles, though not over alternatives such as public transportation, walking and bicycling.

But much of the clamoring for increased allowance of carts of late is coming from consumers watching fuel costs rise beyond $4 per gallon. Gas-powered carts can get about 12-60 mpg and electric carts can get about 3-10 hours on a charge, depending on their age and design.

City officials in Lebanon, Ind., and Roanoke, Va., are considering opening city avenues to low-speed vehicles. So are officials in Flagler Beach, Fla.

The Flagler Beach City Commission recently asked the city attorney to look into details on how to increase the number of golf carts on local roads.

“I think it’s a visionary thing. It’s a new paradigm.… You can hop in your golf cart and go to the local store or go to a local function or visit a neighbor or whatever,” Flagler Beach City Commissioner Ron Vath said, according to the News Journal.

Last year, at the request of Lake Helen residents, city commissioners adopted an ordinance opening city roads to golf carts. Drivers, under the ordinance, pay a $25 annual registration fee to drive on city streets, but they cannot cruise on county or state roads.

A number of other communities in Florida also allow limited use of golf carts, including Holmes Beach, where for more than a year Holmes Beach officials have been working with the DOT to establish a golf-cart crossing at the intersection of East Bay Boulevard and Gulf Drive to open up more of the city to low-speed vehicles.

In other business upcoming at the Bradenton Beach City Commission meeting, the board is scheduled to discuss:

  • Anchorage parking. Speciale raised the question earlier this month of whether an area should be designated for overnight parking for boaters anchored near the city pier.
  • Bonuses for the city’s administrative staff. The commission briefly discussed recognizing employees at a meeting earlier this month.