Cyclists demand protection after fatal accident

Marion Vialle told SunLive last year that she does “not feel safe at all” when travelling down Totara Street.

Cycling advocates are pushing for more protection following a fatal crash between a truck and a cyclist in Tauranga on a key commuter’s route in Tauranga.

A cyclist died in hospital on Thursday, May 28 after colliding with a truck at the intersection of Totara Street and Maui Street in Mount Maunganui.

Tauranga City Council told SunLive they are now planning a “short-term” three-metre shared path for cyclists and walkers running along part of Totara Street.

But cyclists say this option is a “huge compromise” and they urgently want a protected cycle lane running along the entire street.

Bike Tauranga, Sustainable Business Network and Greater Tauranga issued a joint statement last week saying it is likely the "terrible tragedy" could have been avoided if a safer cycleway had already been in place.

Tauranga cyclist Nick Roozeburg agreed, saying it is “very sad to see this predictable death”.

The cycling advocacy groups have been championing for a safe cycle lane on Totara Street for more than five years. In 2015 it was ranked as the number two priority transport project across the wider Bay of Plenty and allocated funding of $1.5 million.

Bike Tauranga chairman Kevin Kerr says plans for the project have been put off multiple times due to questions around design, cost blowouts and the lack of agreement between key stakeholders.

Last year, Tauranga City Council said the Totara Street cycle lane was not "fit for purpose or adequately safe for people on bikes" because of its width.

The cycle lane varies from 1.2m to 1.5m in width, and the road speed limit is 60 km/h.

NZTA states that the desirable minimum width for a cycle lane next to kerb edge on a road with a 60km/hour speed limit is 1.75m.

Council's general manager of infrastructure Nic Johansson says they are finalising designs for a separate shared path that would run along the eastern side of Totara Street from Hewletts Road to Hull Road.

"It’s not an optimal long-term solution for Totara Street, but it provides a higher level of safety than what is there now."

The new design will be presented to the councillors in a few weeks.

Council are also widening the painted cycle lanes in the remaining section of Totara Street. The new width of the lanes between Hull Road and Rata Street will be from 1.5 to 1.8 metres wide.

Nick, who is on the Bike Tauranga Totara Street project team, says council’s plans are acceptable as a “last resort” to minimise more deaths.

Kevin says the short-term fix is a safer option, but it doesn't address the whole of Totara Street.

"It's not a good solution. As the most used road for cyclists in Tauranga, we would like to see Totara Street fixed properly."

He says an urgent meeting is being held this Friday with Council, NZTA, Regional Council, The Port and other key stakeholders.

“We are hoping that at the meeting we can fast-track and get things sorted.”

Tauranga Mayor Tenby Powell says his heart goes out to the family of the cyclist and urgent action is required to ensure another accident doesn’t happen.

“It is really important that we get on with it, and put the cycleway in on the eastern side of Totara Street. We cannot have another accident, let alone another fatality.”

He says he will look at the remaining area from Hull Road to Rata Street.

"It is deemed to be safer between Hull Road and Rata Street because there are less trucks. I have a duty to look at that part of the road as well and I think we should look at including the cycleway in that part.”

A port of Tauranga spokesperson says they would like to see any cycleway changes be part of a "comprehensive, integrated, long-term solution" that benefits vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

Port of Tauranga has lobbied government agencies for state highway designation for Totara Street for many years, she says.

"Which would expedite funding for safety improvements, increased capacity and intersection upgrades."

Last year, Nick described Totara Street as an "absolute deathtrap for the inexperienced".

Recently, he told SunLive he has had frequent close calls on the road.

"There is usually at least one wheel of a car or a truck in the cycle lane. They are brushing right beside your elbow, and they tend to get closer and closer.”

Kevin says the saddest part of this accident is two lives have been wrecked, both which could have been alleviated if a safe cycle lane was implemented sooner.

More than 100,000 bike trips were made along Totara Street last year from January 2019 to January 2020.

Police say no charges have been laid in relation to the fatal accident and the investigation is ongoing.

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