Elected officials in Tauranga have unanimously backed a proposal to build a nearly $7 million separated cycling route on Totara St, where a cyclist died last month in a crash.
But a dispute between elected officials over where to find the money for the project led to accusations of "blatant filibustering" in yesterday'sTauranga City Council meeting.
The proposed safe cycle route would start as a 3m wide shared path on the eastern side of Totara St, cross at Kawaka St and become a two-way cycleway to Rata St, with a connection to Coronation Park.
Signalised crossings would be built at Kawaka St and near Hewletts Rd.
Council staff estimated it would cost $6.9m, including associated projects, and it was expected Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency would pay 51 per cent.
The council has money in its budget for cycling infrastructure on Totara St but some of it would have to be brought forward in order to do the whole project in one hit, rather than spread over a few years.
Construction could start as soon as October or November and be done in a year if the funding was secured. The council was working with the NZTA to finalise designs and would also consult with businesses in the area.
Councillor John Robson argued against bringing forward funding from future budgets and "adding to the burden of the ratepayer". He said the council should instead make trade-offs to put "needs before wants".
He argued for scaling back the council's $11m streetscaping project on Elizabeth St, signed off in controversial circumstances last month, and putting the excess towards fast-tracking Totara St.
The "decorating" project would, in his view, see the "creation of a Potemkin village [an external facade to make people feel good about something] that would make Rasputin proud and Catherine the Great jealous", he said.
"We are constrained in our finances. We have to think about where we spend money. We have to prioritise."
Mayor Tenby Powell hit back, saying he was "alarmed" to see the Elizabeth St project being, in his view, "used as a trade-off for the death of a cyclist".
He said he believed the idea to "crib" money from Elizabeth St was "blatant filibustering" that was intended to disrupt progress in Tauranga.
Powell defended the Elizabeth St project, saying it would enhance the Farmers development and help with the revitalisation of the CBD.
Councillor Steve Morris, who also backed diverting money from Elizabeth St, said he did not think Robson mentioned the cycling tragedy.
He said Powell called the council "insolvent" last week, which spoke to the need for trade-offs.
At Morris' request, council staff confirmed the council was not insolvent and could pay its debts. Powell declined to retract his comment, saying it came in the context of a comparison to a business, which the council was clearly not.
A bid to have council staff report back on the feasibility of taking money from Elizabeth St to give to Totara St failed.
Councillors would weigh up funding priorities when they deliberated the draft Annual Plan 2020-21 next month.
Bike Tauranga chairman Kevin Kerr told the Bay of Plenty Times it was great to see the council had unanimously recognised something needed to be done in Totara St.
"To go the whole length of the street is the right decision to make it safe for everyone."
There was caution in his optimism, however, given there were more steps before the project could be given the final go-ahead, including a decision on funding.
"I've been here before where funding has been approved then we lose it."
Earlier in the meeting, he warned councillors against being swayed by the "bikelash" that seemed to follow any proposal to spend money on cycle lanes.
He said the Totara St project would create the first safe cycling connection between Tauranga and its jewel, Mount Maunganui, benefitting tourists and residents and linking to other major cycleways.
Kerr said he was a former triathlete and keen recreational cyclist, but had not used Totara St in 10 years because it was too dangerous.
A spokeswoman for the Port of Tauranga, situated on the west side of Totara St, said the port supported measures to make Tauranga streets safer and easier to use for all road users.
"We've been a longtime advocate for safety improvements, increased capacity and intersection upgrades for Totara St. We want the road designated as a state highway to expedite government funding."
Totara St businesses the Bay of Plenty Times spoke to yesterday did not want to comment on the council's proposal without seeing the finer details of what was being planned.
Brett Hobson, general manager of Dominion Salt, said the safety record for cyclists and vehicles on the road indicated better protections were needed if it was to be a shared space.
"There needs to be safety of cyclists and drivers who use this space, and that needs to be worked on together."
Brian Grey, owner of Decoro Fishing Supplies on Totara St, said his businesses had "been in the dark for the last two years" regarding the council's plan for the street.
He said he would back reducing the speed limit as a place to start.
Another business owner, who did not want to be named, said a lot of his customers were cyclists, and he had also seen college students biking on the road.
"I know it's real dodgy for bikes on that road. But that's also not the truckies' fault, because it's so tight."
He had not seen the council's plans but said his main concern would be the prospect of losing carparks, which his customers needed.
NZTA director of regional relationships Steve Mutton said the safety of all road users was a priority and the agency was working with the council to look at options for making cycling safer on Totara St.
Cyclists allowed on footpaths
Cyclists are being asked to use the footpath on Totara St instead of the cycle lanes, which are considered too small and will be stripped of their official designation.
This was a temporary measure to keep cyclists separated from heavy traffic until the council could build a new route for cyclists the length of the street from Hewletts Rd north, as proposed.
The changes apply to the 1.5m-wide footpath between Hewletts Rd and Kawaka St, which will be classified as a shared path for pedestrians and cyclists.
The council has asked users to share the footpath with care and take extra care at entrances used by vehicles.