The official Blog for bikewalklee.org. BikeWalkLee is a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County, FL.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Moser Column: The problem with golf carts on roads and pathways
Moser's column focuses on Fort Myers' recent decision to enforce laws prohibiting golf carts on roads and sidewalks, and also highlights two recent Fort Myers road projects that were missed opportunities for a complete streets approach.
Seemingly out of the blue and after decades of looking the other way — at least in certain parts of town — the city of Fort Myers decided it’s time to enforce laws prohibiting most golf carts from the public roads and sidewalks. According to those who know more than me about this change of policy, the decision came about due to an increase in complaints.
Indeed, these electric (and sometimes gas or propane powered) vehicles are a problem when operated on sidewalks intended for pedestrians. Even bicycles, in many cases, are a menace on pathways when operated with little regard for pedestrians. However, most golf cart operators I’ve observed and encountered on McGregor’s sidewalks have been quite cordial, frequently pulling over and stopping while pedestrians pass. A problem with that, however, is the damage done to the grass the carts cause when pulling off the sidewalk. So too, the wear and tear created by wheels that hang over the narrow sidewalk all along McGregor, which leads to grass dying and erosion becoming a problem around the royal palm-tree-lined roadway. Dead grass and erosion is one thing, but even if only a few inconsiderate cart operators are out there they clearly put vulnerable sidewalk users at risk of injury. Bottom line: these motorized machines don’t belong on sidewalks.
Carts operating on neighborhood roads, however, are quite different, from my perspective. They are an excellent example of “rolling traffic calming.” When roads have plenty of pedestrian and bicycle users on and around them, motorists tend to behave better and keep their speeds down. Unfortunately, like some scofflaw bike riders, not all cart operators follow the rules of the road, thereby creating the same kind of unpredictable dynamic as cyclists who disregard traffic laws. It’s quite disappointing to witness adult cart operators — and adult cyclists, for that matter — routinely ignore stop signs and other traffic control devices when in their carts, something I’m pretty sure most wouldn’t even think of doing when behind the wheel of their cars, especially when kids are in tow. Also, like those boneheaded cyclists, cart operators who think going against traffic is the safe thing to do create even more dangerous conditions for themselves and others.
When kids are operating carts on our roads and sidewalks, my observations over the years lead me to the conclusion that most are courteous and treat the opportunity to be behind the wheel as driving practice. They are grateful to have access to a vehicle and usually follow the rules. However, because they don’t have any experience as a driver they’re prone to making poor decisions (for example, going against traffic). But when the cart is loaded up with young people and no adult is among them, the operator tends to do what kids do: show off, get distracted, and drive more recklessly than he or she otherwise would. Florida law requires golf cart operators to be at least 14 years old but I’ve seen much younger kids behind the wheel.
Whatever comes of this expected enforcement action is anyone’s guess, but one can only hope it’s done fairly and consistently. Perhaps as part of this effort police will finally enforce laws prohibiting illegal sidewalk obstruction, which is much more common and more problematic than golf carts. You can find the Florida law related to illegal sidewalk parking in FSS 316.45 and golf cart operation on public roads and pathways in FSS 316.212.
Continuing on the subject of the city’s section of McGregor Boulevard and its neighborhoods, in a few weeks or months most of it will have its road and sidewalks torn up and “reconstructed.” Unfortunately, bike lanes will not be added even though there’s clearly a need. According to the city’s own announcement, removal and replacement of royal palms, landscaping, mailboxes, medians and sidewalks are all included in the work — yet another opportunity to turn our signature street into a Complete Street is missed. The same missed opportunity just occurred on Second Street, between Evans Avenue and Seaboard Street, where the whole street was reconstructed but left without bike lanes. Both of these slights are disappointing but not surprising, considering the city’s track record on following its own policies and its so-called commitment to making Fort Myers a bike-friendly community. Maybe hiring a new city manager with vision and experience in managing a forward-looking community will make the difference.
Call for volunteers
“I Will” Mentorship Foundation, which is organizing bicycle ride-alongs that pairup at-risk neighborhoods’ youth with Fort Myers Police officers, is in need of volunteers to help repair bikes that will be used by the kids for these rides. If you are mechanically inclined, consider spending some time this coming Saturday, Dec. 5, at the SW Florida Enterprise Center. Details can be found at iwmf2.org.
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways. ¦
— Dan Moser is a long- time bicycle/ pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org 334- 6417.