Ocala City Council blesses ordinance allowing golf cart traffic on certain streets

The Ocala City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday that will allow golf carts to operate on certain streets – some still to be decided – within the city.

The ordinance, which takes effect in six months, would regulate the use of golf carts, low-speed vehicles and mini-trucks on designated streets that are bordered by major thoroughfares on every side. Those streets fall into an area west of S Pine Avenue (U.S. Hwy. 27/441) to the west, SE 25th Avenue to the east, State Road 40 to the north and State Road 464 to the south. Additionally, carts would be restricted from driving on SE 3rd Avenue and SE 22nd Avenue, as well as a collection of streets along South Magnolia Avenue (see map below).

City Councilman Brent Malever

Councilman Brent Malever adamantly opposed allowing golf carts in the downtown area, citing concerns for everything from safety to parking issues. Former Councilman Mike Finn took it one step further and said the best bet is to “forget it.” He added that golf carts should be used on golf courses, not city streets.

Assistant City Attorney Robert Batsel reminded council members that going forward, they still can alter the boundaries and streets where the golf carts will be allowed to operate. That seemed to be enough an assurance for Malever, who joined in the unanimous approval of the measure.

Prior to the first and second readings of the ordinance, an assessment of roadways in that area was done to determine suitability for golf cart use by considering speed, volume and character of motor vehicle traffic. State roads weren’t included in the assessment.

The ordinance, which will take effect on March 3, 2020, was first introduced during a regularly scheduled City Council meeting on Nov. 19. This past July, councilmembers held a workshop where they debated the pros and cons of approving such a measure.

The ordinance makes it clear that golf cart traffic won’t be allowed on city sidewalks. Signs costing about $45,000 will be posted on roadways where golf carts, low-speed vehicles and mini-trucks are allowed to travel.

Golf carts traveling on the designated roadways between sunrise and sunset must be equipped with efficient brakes, reliable steering apparatus, safe tires, a rearview mirror and red reflectorized warning devices in both the front and rear. Those operated at night – between sunset and sunrise – also must be equipped with headlights, brake lights, turn signals and a windshield, the ordinance says.

Unlicensed drivers won’t be allowed to operate golf carts on city streets unless they comply with the following conditions:

  • Must be 18 years of age or older or possess a valid state-issued learner’s driver license.
  • Must be accompanied at all times by another person who holds a valid state-issued driver’s license, is at least 21 years of age and occupies the closest seat to the right of the unlicensed driver of the golf cart.
  • Cannot operate a golf cart between sunset and sunrise.
  • Except for the licensed occupant, shall not operate a golf cart occupied by passengers.

Golf carts, low-speed vehicles and mini trucks also will be required to park in designated parking stalls and otherwise comply with all regular parking regulations. Those vehicles can’t be parked or left unattended on city streets, in rights-of-way, on sidewalks, in public parks or on private property that is not owned or leased by the owner of the vehicles.

Mayor Kent Guinn

On Tuesday night, as he did in October, Mayor Kent Guinn stressed the need for safety while addressing the possibility of the golf cart ordinance being adopted.

“One of the things I’ve always said is that I want everyone to be safe. Whatever we do or however that ordinance ends up looking, my primary concern is that people know what they’re doing and aren’t careless,” he said.

Guinn reiterated the age restriction of 16 over 14 and emphasized that only residents “that are of age and know how to drive” golf carts should be in operation of the vehicles throughout the city.

With the passage of the new ordinance, Ocala joins many other cities and towns across the state that have regulated golf cart traffic within certain geographical areas, including Crystal River, Ocoee, and Winter Garden, where golf carts are allowed to operate from sunrise to sunset and vice versa. In those cities, carts are restricted to roadways with posted speed limits of 25 mph or less.

Ocala also sits just north of The Villages, a mega-retirement community that is located in Marion, Sumter and Lake counties. The sprawling community, which is in a growth mode and eventually will reach as far south as Bushnell, bills itself as a golf-cart community and allows use of the vehicles 24 hours a day, with similar regulations in place as those enacted by Ocala councilmembers.

This proposed map shows were golf carts, low-speed vehicles and mini-trucks could be allowed to travel on city streets in Ocala. The crossings are marked with signs. Green lines indicate golf-cart-friendly roads, while the red lines show where they will be prohibited. The blue lines represent private roads.