By Rachel Brown Hackney
During a recent SKA meeting, Sgt. Paul Cernansky of the Sheriff’s Office faced a barrage of questions about a number of issues related to traffic.
First, SKA Director Erin Kreis told Cernansky that she and her husband manage a vacation rental property on the Key. The previous Sunday, she said, she saw a deputy on an ATV come onto the grounds and drive around. She was curious about the incident, she added.
He was the officer she saw, Cernansky replied.
“Do you do that on all the properties,” she asked.
Yes, he told her. Officers check on properties on a varied schedule, he added, indicating that they do not want people who might be contemplating crimes to get accustomed to seeing law enforcement officers on a regular schedule.
“I’m trying to be out and about at all different times,” Cernansky said.
SKA member Marcia Wallace then told Cernansky that she had observed an increase in the number of golf carts in use on the island. “Are they legal?” she asked.
“Yes, they are legal,” he responded, but only in certain areas. As slow-speed vehicles, he pointed out, golf carts legally should be operated only on roads with posted slow speeds. He was not certain of the cutoff point, he said, adding that he would check on it.
Questions about golf carts on island roads have arisen for years. During a May 2013 County Commission meeting, Paula Wiggins, manager of the county’s Transportation Planning Division, explained that golf carts may be allowed on a road with a speed limit of 35 mph or less if they are “street legal,” meaning they are equipped with headlights and other safety features.
Moreover, Cernansky told the SKA members, if a golf cart is registered, so it can be driven legally on roads, the drivers of those golf carts have to have drivers’ licenses.
Wallace pointed out that she sees “a lot of kids” at the wheel of golf carts on Siesta.
The Sheriff’s Office addresses those situations, Cernansky said, just as it would if an underage person were driving a regular vehicle.
Wallace then noted that she even has seen people in golf carts on the Key using bike lanes to pass vehicles on the roads.
Another person asked Cernansky about how to deal with gridlock on the island. “Is there anyone to call when you’re at a standstill?” the woman asked.
Then she explained that, one recent day, she was trying to turn north onto Midnight Pass Road at the Beach Road intersection when she encountered a traffic backup. Vehicles apparently had stopped, several drivers tried to turn into the entrance to St. Boniface Episcopal Church, where they could make a donation to park and then go to Siesta Public Beach.
She characterized the situation as having “a green light to go nowhere.”
“If it’s a traffic control situation,” Cernansky responded, “we’ll address it on a case-by-case basis.” He suggested that in such a situation, she call the non-emergency number for the Sheriff’s Office, which is 316-1201.
“Sometimes we can do something,” he added. “Sometimes we can’t.”
SKA Director Kreis also asked whether bicyclists are supposed to travel in the same direction as motor vehicles. “We see an awful lot going the opposite way.”
“Bicyclists have to go in the direction of traffic,” Cernansky told her. “It’s a never-ending battle [for law enforcement officers].”
Kreis then asked whether the island bicycle rental shops should have an obligation to provide each customer a copy of the law.
That would be a regulatory issue, Cernansky said, not a law enforcement issue.