I'm awed by fellow taxpayers who take action in advance of a proposed government or council blunder. They're folks who try to prevent the next carpark-turned skate park like we have in the Mount, or another roading disaster such as G3 - the Great Greerton Gaffe.
These people have jobs, families, maybe even favourite shows on Netflix. Yet they leave their comfy chairs and Wi-Fi to stand in the cold for causes in which they believe.
They could be called Citizen Underdogs. It reminds me of the American animated TV series I watched as a child in the 70s and 80s. The protagonist, clad in red jumper with a "U", tights and blue cape spoke in rhymes such as, "There's no need to fear, Underdog is here!"
What better project for Citizen Underdogs than the Bayfair underpass? A newly-formed group called the Bayfair Underpass Alliance is staging a protest tomorrow at the Matapihi side of the underpass on Maunganui Rd. They're calling it Hands Off Our Underpass.
BUA member Heidi Hughes, who also represents transport advocacy group Greater Tauranga and is standing for an at-large seat in the Tauranga local body elections, told the Bay of Plenty Times earlier this week she and others were not convinced of the reasons the underpass was destined for demolition next month.
Hughes said the accessway was a critical link in the city's transport network for pedestrians and cyclists. It runs underneath Maunganui Rd at the intersection of State Highway 2 with Girven and Matapihi Rds, providing a safe crossing for pedestrians and cyclists.
Without it, people will be expected to navigate the busy intersection above via four pedestrian crossings.
The New Zealand Transport Agency confirmed last year the underpass was no longer a viable option because, at $33 million, it would cost too much money as part of its $120m Baypark to Bayfair Link (B2B) project. Mind-boggling, how a single under-road accessway could cost $33m. Is there really no way to build it more cheaply? Are we proposing gold-plating?
Let me explain how a new underpass, even at $33m, could pay its way: BUA organisers say 500 cyclists use the underpass every day, along with a steady stream of elderly people, kids on skateboards and other pedestrians.
According to the Ministry of Transport's annual social cost of road crashes report released earlier this year, the loss of each person killed on our roads costs the community $4.4m. That means if more than 7.5 people die at the Bayfair roundabout, the underpass will be self-funding. The number 7.5 matters only if you're a calculating bureaucrat whose days consist of delivering three-tiered wedding cake projects to the country's largest, wealthiest city, while scattering crumbs to the rest of us.
Citizen Underdogs know the underpass will be worthwhile if it saves just one life or spares one person from a lifetime of debilitating pain and injury.
If you're looking to complain, start at the top with Transport Minister Phil Twyford, who could greenlight the underpass if he wanted: email@example.com or 04 817 8704. Good luck getting a response. At least you tried.
BUA organiser Philip Brown says NZTA doesn't plan to hold a public meeting until alternative options are sorted.
"I told them people want to meet so they can hear NZTA's rationale for axing it, understand the costings, and offer their views on that decision. Then they could run a second meeting a month or so later with all the detail around alternative options. They aren't factoring in urgency around the underpass being closed, because they say the drop-dead date has passed for incorporating an underpass into the project."
Ask Tauranga's mayoral candidates where they stand on the issue. Some are silent, while others are just now realising constituents want to keep a vital, potentially life-saving accessway.
Tenby Powell posted a message of support on his Facebook page, saying, "It is inconceivable to me not to include this in the roading plan." Murray Guy, on the other hand, writes, "I'm seriously struggling with the demand on the NZTA spend up to $33m on an underpass at Bayfair. Emotion and significant embellishment seems to be accompanying the emotion, standard practice."
Hughes predicted chaos if the underpass were to disappear. She said lack of safe access will either maroon pedestrians to one side of the road or encourage people to hop in their cars.
Brown says the reason we're in this quandary, "... is because NZTA charges on ahead ignoring everyone.
"The clients of Baylink are the citizens of Tauranga," he says.
"Time is absolutely of the essence in relation to this public meeting and it is unacceptable to me that NZTA plans to sort out its own set of alternatives before meeting with the public."
While NZTA says there is no alternative but to close the underpass, that is simply NZTA's take on things. The project could be stopped tomorrow under the right circumstances.
NZTA last November announced changes to include a new pedestrian and cycle underpass following community feedback at the removal of the existing underpass. So why wait until the last minute, last month, to announce the agency has changed its mind?
There is a fall-back position in the event the underpass is closed and work continues, says Brown. Protesters could clog the temporary pedestrian crossings NZTA installs, "as a demonstration of how poorly the final solution will work".
The protest will end at 2.30pm tomorrow with a mass cycle through the underpass. People are encouraged to bring signs and placards with messages of support. Wearing a blue cape and red shirt with a "U" is optional. Go, Citizen Underdog - maybe you can save the day - and a life or three along the way.
Dawn Picken also writes for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She is a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Papamoa.