Cycling complaints gaining traction

By Laurilee McMichael

Taupo cycling advocates say a traffic survey conducted on Poihipi Rd this month has reinforced their view that safety on the road is an issue for all its users.

Representatives of the Taupo Cycling Club, the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, Bike Taupo and the Taupo District Council stationed themselves at the intersection of Poihipi Rd and State Highway 1 from 7am until 7pm on Saturday, November 3, to conduct the traffic survey.

Each vehicle using the road was counted and the results showed that in the 12-hour period surveyed, 3779 cars and trucks, 10 buses, 19 motorbikes and 162 cyclists used the road.

In addition, seven motorists were using cellphones and one was even seen swigging on a bottle of beer.

The Poihipi Rd traffic survey followed a Cycle Summit and survey held in Taupo in September where safe cycling, particularly along Poihipi Rd, was highlighted as an issue. The aim of the survey was to collect data on the road's use to seek government funding to help improve the road's safety.

The road, which was originally designed to service the rural community, has seen an increase in traffic in recent years. It provides access to the Te Mihi Power Station site, to the expanding lakeshore settlement of Kinloch and to lifestyle blocks, an international golf course and mountain bike trails.

Despite its growing use, and its importance as a link between State Highway 1 and State Highway 32, it is only seven to eight metres wide, and the sealed shoulder, which is often used as a cycle lane, varies from 75cm to only 25cm.

Cycling advocates would like to see a consistent shoulder of about 1m in width.

In May, Taupo couple David Joyce and Sirpa Lajunen were knocked off their bikes on Poihipi Rd and seriously injured by a 17-year-old driver, Jordan Lee Dobbyn, who later pleaded guilty to two counts of careless driving causing injury.

Figures show that in the first 5km of the road there have been four traffic deaths, two serious injuries and 12 minor injuries and countless unreported near-misses.

Taupo district councillor Keith Crate, who organised the Great Poihipi Traffic Count says it was intended as a snapshot of the road's use and that he and others were astounded by the results.

``People were estimating that there would be less than 1000 [vehicles] per day and we were staggered when it was almost 4000.''

The Taupo District Council has $300,000 set aside in its Long Term Plan for improvements to Poihipi Rd which Keith says would pay for about 1km of the road to be widened, although the most dangerous parts of the road will be targeted rather than widening being done in one stretch.

``We're not spending money on cycling, we're spending money on lives ... what's more dangerous than a vehicle overtaking a cyclist and meeting someone coming the other way? It's to make everyone safe.''

Andrew Wilson of the Taupo Cycling Club says the club has been lobbying for 12 years to have Poihipi Rd widened as it is one of the most heavily-travelled and narrowest roads in the district, with lots of corners and hills and not many straight areas to pass safely. He says it's an issue for all road users, but especially cyclists.

``Poihipi Rd continues to be the most dangerous road for us to ride on, and unfortunately it's one of those roads that flows into many of our training rides further out ... when the club goes riding, we do everything we can to avoid Poihipi Rd, but it's one of those where in some cases we have to get on it.''

The club rides other Taupo roads which are narrower, such as Palmer Mill Rd and Forest Rd, but because they are also quieter, they are safer, Andrew says.

He has cycled extensively around New Zealand and overseas and says he feels ``incredibly uncomfortable'' cycling on Poihipi Rd.

``I'd hate to think what inexperienced cyclists or visitors to Taupo think, and I'd be very uncomfortable if my child was riding on that road.''

Taupo is trying to position itself as a cycling destination and Andrew says that doesn't sit well with the amount of concern over safety on Poihipi Rd.

``How can we say we're cycling-friendly when in reality, from a road cycling perspective, we're not?''

- Rotorua Daily Post

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