CITY FOCUS DESIGN: Safety issues revealed

By Matthew Martin

BARE: The next phase of construction will begin next month.PHOTO/FILE
BARE: The next phase of construction will begin next month.PHOTO/FILE

Multiple dangers for pedestrians and cyclists and the risk of frequent crashes are among concerns in a new report around the safety of the City Focus' new design.

But a Rotorua Lakes Council official says the concerns are not significant and any changes made to the final design would be minor and would not add a lot, if anything, to the final cost of the project.

Critics of the controversial City Focus upgrade say the report is proof of hasty decision making and poor planning, the whole project is a waste of ratepayer money and work should stop before it's too late.

The Rotorua City Focus Safety Audit Report, dated April 12, was put together by Harrison Transportation, the same company that conducted a safety audit for the Green Corridor. That resulted in the addition of four new pedestrian crossings in the central city after safety concerns around that project were revealed post construction.

According to the report, designs for the City Focus supplied by the council do not show any provision for the recently implemented Green Corridor cycle route through the intersection area.

It went on to say that larger vehicles using the new intersection "will track over the path of other vehicles approaching the intersection" and "this could potentially result in frequent low speed minor crashes at the intersection".

Regarding turning areas on Hinemoa St the report stated eastbound traffic would track over the centreline potentially resulting in more "low speed minor crashes at this location".

"It is also noted that there are no signs or road markings proposed at the intersection to indicate the priority of movements at the intersection."

A lack of signage in shared spaces, and the location of bench seats next to the roadway provided additional risks to pedestrians, including small children, who could "inadvertently step out into the path of a vehicle while walking around the bench seat".

Concerns regarding the Green Corridor where "the drawings give no indication of the route of the Green Corridor across the shared intersection area ... could lead to conflict between cycles and pedestrians if the cyclists choose to use the footpath, or conflict between cycles and cars if cyclists choose to use the vehicular carriageway".

Former Rotorua mayor Grahame Hall, who has been critical of changes to the City Focus, said in his view it showed a lack of planning by the council.

"Why put a cycleway into the middle of an intersection when you are adding cars into the mix?

"We said at the time the mix was not good and sadly it's costing ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"I hope they have a total rethink of the process. It's not too late to consider other options, but I think pedestrians will evacuate the area and find a safe haven, like the [Rotorua Central] mall.

"There is no other place in New Zealand that is re-introducing cars to their central cities, they are all doing the opposite," Mr Hall said.

Councillor Peter Bentley said the whole project was "a great waste of money".

"Once the City Focus becomes a central city roundabout there will also be flow on effects with the future loss of more car parks. All we needed to do was turn the CBD into a 30km-40km zone throughout."

Mr Bentley said he was not surprised by the report's findings.

"It's all been a big rush and an embarrassing position to be in as a councillor who has not voted for any of this. The impression is this is an all of council decision when it's not," he said.

The council's transport solutions director, Stavros Michael, said it was good engineering practice to evaluate new roading designs pre and post construction and the contents of the report would be acted on before the final design was approved.

Mr Michael said if any changes were to be contemplated they would involve "fine-tuning of the physical space between the edge of the defined vehicles path and the adjacent street furniture, as well as some attention to the installation of appropriate signage to guide users of the Green Corridor".

"The salient point is that this pre-construction safety audit has not highlighted any significant or serious concern at the design phase and any changes to the design would be minor in nature and are not anticipated to materially change the scope nor the overall cost of the project."

The design aimed to provide a shared space environment where vehicles moved at low speed, pedestrians enjoyed an open space and cycles/scooters/mobility devices could also "meander" through this shared space, Mr Michael said.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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