The moment news of the recent shocking accident at Onetangi hit social media, amplifications, vilifications and distortions began. The victim was a child who had gone under a bus, their injuries were terrible, they had died…
And immediate blame was directed at the driver. It was the fault of double deckers, buses weren’t needed on the island, there was even one person who claimed bus drivers were OK but taxi drivers drove dangerously fast while talking on their cellphones. Facts are, the incident wasn’t caused by a taxi driver or a double-decker.
It is now clear the victim of the accident was not a child. Fortunately, they survived the traumatic incident without a bone broken. And the bus was a single-deck vehicle.
It now seems the cyclist may have attempted to overtake the bus when it was turning right. But until a full report is made public, any attempt at apportioning blame is baseless, unnecessary speculation.
What is clear is that our roads are increasingly unfit for purpose and that the problem isn’t double deckers, service buses or cyclists but simply the sheer volume of traffic on a network that is, in many cases, a cobbled-together patchwork of small roads. I understand that before the cycles of amalgamation that led to the not-so-super Super City, the former Waiheke County Council used a higher-grade base (at considerable expense) for local roading. The sedimentary rock used these days breaks down, especially during wet winters, leading to recurring potholes and endless patching.
The corner where the accident occurred is a heavy-vehicle driver’s nightmare.
Coming off Onetangi Road, turning right into Waiheke Road, the gradient suddenly steepens, the road narrows and the kerbing disappears. It has a reverse camber, no footpath and people often walk on the left-hand side of the road. If a vehicle approaches, there is little room to manoeuvre, especially when several tonnes of inertia is pushing the heavy vehicle towards a drop-off into a wetland. That’s why drivers have it drummed into them during training that slow and cautious is best on that corner.
But it isn’t the only difficult spot on the island. There are lots of them. Places where you have to factor in the probability of a tourist who has left their brain back in Auckland and – drunk on sea air and sunshine – walks in front of you. Or places like the corner past the intersection of Okoka and O’Brien Roads when you’re heading for Rocky Bay, or Karaka Road.
There seems to be a belief in some circles that cyclists are always right. They’re not. One sailed through the turn-off from Ocean View Road into Mako Street on the wrong side of the road, then cut straight across Ocean View in front of my bus so I was forced to panic brake. Another enforced his right of way at the Donald Bruce roundabout. It was dark and raining. Dressed in black, with no light on his bike and only a tiny beam attached to a sweatband, the cyclist was all but invisible. I picked up the little light moving in the reflections from my instrument panel on the driver’s-side window and braked. He’s lucky to be alive. Every driver has similar horror stories. That there haven’t been more accidents involving buses and bikes on the island is a miracle – of training. Buses do their utmost to avoid contact with cyclists, motorcyclists and cars.
But there’s no doubting cyclists also have a raw deal. From Mātiatia they share the road with a swarm of buses, cars and taxis, then briefly share a footpath with pedestrians, followed by an even shorter stint in a cycle lane on Ocean View Road, which all too quickly leads into the Kororā Road intersection, then a bus stop. There’s potential nightmare No 1. It’s the first of many for cyclists, all the way to Onetangi. Yet despite its unsuitability, Waiheke is still being promoted as a cycling destination.
What’s the answer? Removing parking spaces in Oneroa will help to some extent if they’re replaced by cycle lanes. But without taking those lanes at least as far as Little Oneroa, which would involve major road works, what’s the point? And what will the lack of car parks do for retailers, the frail elderly or those with mobility challenges? Where will people park in Oneroa? Will lowered speed limits really reduce congestion? Or will they lead to more instances of driver impatience and dangerous manoeuvring?
Rebuilding our bus routes with footpaths and cycle lanes would work, but given the time the Donald Bruce roundabout works have taken, there could be years of delays. Removing buses from the island, as some keyboard warriors call for, is counter to common sense, especially since the fleet will be fully electrified in a few short years. We’re trying to reduce carbon emissions, not increase them, aren’t we? Future transport will probably entail a mix of e-vehicles, pushbikes, public transport and improved roading. But it will be a long time coming. • Jim Mahoney