Observations: Sun City Center without golf carts?

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Golf carts have a legal right to be on many of the streets in Sun City Center and are granted the right to cross highways at designated points. And, they generally have the right of way. Mitch Traphagen photo.

Golf carts have a legal right to be on many of the streets in Sun City Center and are granted the right to cross highways at designated points. And, they generally have the right of way. Mitch Traphagen photo.

Can you imagine Sun City Center without golf carts? The two seem to naturally go hand in hand, with many businesses offering golf cart parking, with a huge golf cart parade at Christmastime, with golf carts running to and fro throughout the community. Golf carts and Sun City Center have gone together probably for as long as the community has existed but certainly since 1988, when they were officially granted the legal ability to operate on specific streets and highway crossings.

But, of course, things were different in 1988, or even 1998. Back then, Sun City Center was largely on its own, with sleepy Wimauma to the east, nearly as sleepy Ruskin to the west and not much of anything to the north. It’s likely that prior to 1988, not many people much cared about where people drove golf carts in the community.

The law made it legal for golf carts to operate on designated community streets between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Golf carts are allowed to cross S.R. 674 at designated intersections but are not allowed to drive down the highway. More recently, in a rare move, golf carts are now also allowed to cross a federal highway, U.S. 301, at a designated point offering access to the Walmart in Wimauma.

And now, today, things have changed as large housing developments have nearly surrounded the almost-built-out retirement community. Sun City Center is no longer out there on its own and these days, Sun City Center Boulevard, also known as S.R. 674, now carries an incredible amount of traffic from those new developments. Driving through the community, particularly during the winter months, is an exercise in patience. It’s not uncommon to have to wait for lights to change two or even three times to make it through an intersection.

For those of us who have lived here through the years, seeing golf carts, usually sans actual golf clubs, whipping across Sun City Center Boulevard at Pebble Beach or tooling down the avenues and parking lots is no surprise. It’s a retirement community, after all, and golf carts provide seniors with an extended measure of mobility, or they are preferred simply because they are quick and easy to use to drive around the community.

But with the new housing developments come new people and, in some cases, new ideas. Not everyone, particularly those now forced to use Sun City Center Boulevard on a daily commute (who would even have thought that a decade ago?), are all that happy to see the golf carts on the streets.

The Ruskin Folks Facebook page, with more than 4,300 members, was recently the source of a debate over allowing golf carts on the streets in Sun City Center. In a post that garnered 112 “Likes” and 110 comments, one woman complained about almost hitting three golf carts on her way to the Sun City Center Post Office. She ended the post saying that, in her opinion, golf carts should be banned from the streets because there is simply too much traffic in the community for them to be safe.

At some point in the conversation, another (apparently younger) person chimed in that she was disturbed about golf carts taking up parking spots for regular cars at the Walmart when they had their own parking near the front of the store.

On both counts, arguments ensued.

People from Sun City Center chimed in, and there were reminders to the younger people that, God willing, they too might grow old and want to drive a golf cart someday. There were tangents about cell phones and texting and some positions softened on golf carts while others seemed only to harden.

One woman said that people who have been here for a long time are just used to seeing them and that it’s important to keep a lookout for them as it is simply part of living next to a retirement community. She added, “We as a community have to keep an eye out for each other.”

Another young-looking woman added, “Here’s a wacky idea, be alert and drive the speed limit.” She added that she drives through Sun City Center daily and has never had an issue with golf carts.

One man from Ruskin said that he grew up with golf carts on the streets in Sun City Center, he was used to seeing them, and his opinion was to treat them as pedestrians.

In the end, the arguments and conversation were surprisingly civil for social media, where things often tend to get dragged into the mud in a hurry.

The reality is that it’s not Sun City Center’s fault that thousands of people have moved into what used to be cow pastures around the community. The reality is, it’s the county’s fault by not planning properly.

Yes, there are certainly dangers for drivers of golf carts these days. For automobile drivers, there can be no argument that driving through Sun City Center can be a nightmare. It is slow and tedious. It is not a place to find yourself if you are in a hurry to get anywhere. Unfortunately, for many of the thousands of people, it is the only way to reach I-75. Where else can they go? To Big Bend Road? That would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

And that is a problem that was foreseen more than a decade ago by a man named Jim Hosler, who sat on the Hillsborough Planning Commission. In the early 2000s, he warned about what he saw as a future need for freeway ramps on 19th Avenue N.E., along with massive improvements on that same street to accommodate what he predicted would be growing traffic problems.

And now the issue of traffic and golf carts has been raised. Is there a new way to plan to improve things?

I often have reason to visit Sun City Center. I can sympathize with those who get stuck in traffic daily. I sympathize with the residents, too, who have to deal with the ever-worsening traffic through their once-isolated community. For me, the solution lies in simply not being in a hurry. Live and let live and all that. Golf carts aren’t the problem; too many cars are the problem. Florida used to be known for its laid-back lifestyle and perhaps collectively we need to work on that again. As singer Jimmy Buffett might say, when you change your latitude, change your attitude.

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