By Dan Moffett
For many years, police in Briny Breezes diplomatically looked the other way when a golf cart zipped down the sidewalk on A1A or drove the wrong way down a one-way street.
Those days are ending — and soon.
The Boynton Beach Police Department has told the town it has no choice but to start enforcing state statutes, and that means some serious changes for the roughly 130 golf cart owners in the town.
Soon, if you are operating a golf cart that is “street legal” — one converted to comply with state standards for a modified low-speed vehicle — you essentially are driving a small Ford or Chevy. Police will require you to follow the same rules of the road that would apply to the family car.
If you own a cart that looks like it just came off the golf course and hasn’t been modified for street use (no headlights, seat belts, turn signals, state registration etc.), then your options for operating it legally in Briny will be extremely limited. In fact, there’s virtually nowhere in the town you can go, except on the internal private streets, without risking a violation.
One critical warning to all golf cart operators comes from Boynton Police Capt. Chris Yannuzzi: “Operating a golf cart along A1A has been illegal. Whether you’re going straight across A1A or up and down the sidewalk, it doesn’t matter.”
Yannuzzi says officers will immediately begin an education campaign to inform residents about the rules for golf carts and the penalties for violations. For the short term, police will issue warnings. Later, officers will write citations that have fines.
“We really did try the best we could to figure out some kind of compromise,” Yannuzzi said during the Town Council meeting on April 26. “Unfortunately that did not happen.”
Town Manager Dale Sugerman said he spent the last three months trying unsuccessfully to negotiate a solution with Florida Department of Transportation officials.
“No matter how hard we looked at the issue of changing directions of internal streets,” Sugerman said, “that would never result in all golf carts being able to completely avoid using at least a portion of the sidewalk on SR A1A.”
That sidewalk has become an insurmountable problem. It is state property and governed by the FDOT. It is 5 feet wide and designed for pedestrians only. The town would have to expand the sidewalk to 8 feet to get FDOT’s blessing to allow both pedestrians and golf carts to use it.
With an 8-foot sidewalk, FDOT would be willing to install a golf cart crossing at the intersection of Cordova Avenue and A1A, the essential link needed to make cart travel feasible in the town.
But widening the sidewalk would cost Briny hundreds of thousands of dollars, Sugerman said, because utility lines would have to be moved and perhaps even new FPL power poles would need to be installed. The state isn’t willing to share the cost.
“There is no FDOT funding to widen the sidewalk,” Sugerman said, “as the FDOT sidewalk is meant for pedestrians and not for golf carts.”
Council President Sue Thaler said there is no timetable for when police will switch from the education campaign to enforcement.
In other business, council members have a busy agenda set for May 17. Beginning at 3 p.m., they will hold a special meeting to discuss proposals for providing legal services to the town, then at 4 p.m. they will join corporate board members for a workshop on preparations for the hurricane season.
Thaler says current Town Attorney John Skrandel and five law firms have submitted proposals to handle the town’s legal work.