6 Dec 2023

New Plymouth councillor complains cycle lane separation barriers will ruin his sports car

9:16 pm on 6 December 2023
New Plymouth District Council's Murray Chong with his car, which he says cannot handle cycle lanes.

New Plymouth District Council's Murray Chong with his car, which he says cannot handle cycle lanes. Photo: Robin Martin / RNZ

A New Plymouth councillor says separation barriers for a proposed $14 million cycleway in the city would prevent him pulling his sports car out of the way for emergency services vehicles in a timely fashion.

At an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday, the New Plymouth District Council voted in favour of submitting a route connecting the city centre to State Highway 45 to the New Zealand Transport Agency / Waka Kotahi for approval.

As well as four kilometres of protected cycleway, the route will feature raised pedestrian crossings, in-lane bus stops and the removal of about 210 car parking spaces.

Murray Chong, who voted against the proposal, said his Chevrolet Corvette was just 160mm off the ground and would bottom-out on the 100mm-high concrete separation barriers.

"If they are 100mm high and you've got the curvature of the road, which might be 20mm either side, you're getting damned close to the limit.

"My vehicle is on the limit. It's legal, however, you know, I could rip the bottom sump out of my vehicle and all that."

A former ambulance driver, Chong said he would have to pull into a private driveway to get out of the way of emergency service vehicles which could cause delays.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom.

Mayor Neil Holdom Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

"Because that's a driveway I'd have to slow down and turn at right angles. You can't just verge off. It will slow emergency services vehicles down and I know - I used to be part of that service."

Chong wondered who would pay for repairs to low-riding vehicles like his damaged in encounters with the separation barriers.

Waka Kotahi had committed to paying for the cycleway as part of its $305m Transport Choices programme, but last month it signalled it was putting funding on hold until it got advice from the new government on its transport funding priorities.

Mayor Neil Holdom told the meeting the transport agency told him the council should go ahead with its planning processes as if the funding was still in place.

The council had to submit its final proposal to the transport agency by tomorrow.

Proposed cycleway.

How part of the proposed cycleway might look. Photo: New Plymouth District Council / supplied

Holdom - a keen mountain bike rider - initially looked like he too might vote against the protected cycleway proposal over reservations about in-lane bus stops, which he thought would cause congestion.

But at the last moment he voted in favour of the proposal.

"As somebody who has been run over twice and experienced some pretty hostile behaviour, if we want to get people on bikes - and in particular protect our young people - we have to take the decisions that are going to result in that change and make it safer.

"But I'm not a fan of in-lane bus stops. I'm yet to be convinced and I felt that was a bridge too far, but the reality is that if it came down dealing with the bus stops or we don't get the project, I think the view is what's more important and there're six schools along the corridor and the safety of those kids is paramount."

Chong also railed against the raised pedestrian crossings, sharing with councillors he was a passenger in a four-wheel drive vehicle that had driven over one and "you couldn't feel a thing".

He reckoned speed cameras would bring down speeds more effectively and be a source of revenue.

The council received more than 1500 submissions on the original cycleway proposal and a petition against the idea with 7000 signatures.

Many businesses were upset about the loss of car parking, while other submitters thought the cycleway would cause congestion and even put cyclists at risk.

New Plymouth District Council's Murray Chong says cycle lanes will make it more difficult for him to move out of the way of emergency vehicles.

New Plymouth District Council's Murray Chong says cycle lanes will make it more difficult for him to move out of the way of emergency vehicles. Photo: Robin Martin / RNZ

Council officers, who took questions today, told councillors the research showed cycleways would help reduce emissions over time and could actually boost provide a boost to local businesses.

Councillor Anneka Carlson, who championed the cycleway, said getting it approved was the right thing to do.

"I'm really stoked that we got the numbers and we are setting the direction for government that this is where we want to take our roads. It's making our roads safer, but also more connected for all different modes of transport."

Carlson said that would show to young people they were being listened to.

"I think the voice of young people gets lost in central and local government and part of the reason I stood was to give a voice to people younger than me and my age.

"Young people I've spoken to want safer cycling and they want public transport, and that's a lot to do with their own independence, being able to do what they want to do without mums and dads having to drive them everywhere."

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