Bikes must take their place on Rocks Rd

It is not just the unfortunate cyclist who had a scrape with a truck on Rocks Rd at the weekend who should be thanking her lucky stars that the incident wasn't far worse. She reportedly escaped the collision with cuts and bruises, and a wrecked bicycle; witnesses are amazed that she was able to walk from the scene.

Even as a minor incident the episode raises questions about how the waterfront highway is being managed in its current reduced state. If it had been more serious, it seems that the Transport Agency would have some awful consequences to answer for, given the reports that there were no signs in place to warn about the unsuitability of the road for cycling following the recent slip damage.

But at risk of feeding yet another round in the cyclists-versus-motorists culture war, the weekend accident also needs to be heeded by the cycling community in Nelson. It should be the only evidence necessary of the dangers that face cyclists on the waterfront road at present. Even in its normal state, Rocks Rd can be a hairy journey under pedal-power; nevertheless, cyclists have every right to use it, and to expect motorists to respect their presence.

The current situation is far from normal, however. The slips which closed the road completely for periods over the holidays, and which have forced the Transport Agency to use a row of shipping containers to protect a stretch of it from further rock falls, have left the highway barely fit for purpose – and definitely not a place where cyclists can take a business-as-usual approach. At the very least, they should be prepared to dismount and wheel their bikes along the footpath at the narrowest points. Where possible, they need to consider alternative routes into town.

Yet there is anecdotal evidence that some cyclists are still, whether through ignorance or arrogance, treating the restricted route as if it is a cycleway first, a state highway second. The Mail has received reports of cyclists holding up traffic as they negotiate the partly-blocked stretch in front of a stream of cars; of near misses and abusive exchanges between cyclists and motorists; and of some bike-riders who are riding at speed on the footpath without regard for pedestrians.

It's all got a weary sort of familiarity to it, and while cyclists deserve sympathy for the fact that a key route into town has been curtailed, the minority within their number who are militant about their road-use rights need to think again before they try to turn Rocks Rd into some kind of battlefield.

But while personal responsibility is currently the priority on Rocks Rd, the highways authority needs to maintain public confidence that it is on top of the problems caused by the slips. It is disturbing to hear that there haven't been warning signs in place for cyclists. That in itself feeds suspicions about whether the transport agency is as sharply focused on the current difficulties along the waterfront as it needs to be. It would go a long way towards addressing any doubts if the NZTA could outline a firm plan for the restoration of normal service on Rocks Rd – and a long-term plan to ensure that every traveller, whether under diesel, petrol or pedal power, has a safe route to negotiate.

From Nelson Mail