People power forces underpass rethinkSave
By Kiri Gillespie
Mounting community pressure has prompted transport authorities to hire an expert to consider extending the Bayfair roundabout underpass instead of scrapping it as originally planned.
In emails released to the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act, New Zealand Transport Agency revealed they were now revisiting the proposal to keep the Maunganui Rd underpass and artist sketches have already been made of the potential future accessway.
In December 2016, this paper published a story revealing the agency's plans to demolish the underpass as part of construction works for the Baypark to Bayfair Project (B2B). Pedestrians and cyclists were expected to navigate up to 11 lanes of traffic with controlled crossings instead, sparking strong opposition from many residents including community cycling groups.
Bike Mount's Heidi Hughes submitted 56 pages of concerns from nearly 1000 people who signed a petition for a revised plan offering safe passage for locals.
The concerns included comments such as "... the likelihood of someone getting hurt or killed trying to cross in the traffic is very high. I don't want to be that person". And the removal of the underpass would be "reckless and showing no responsibility or regard to the lives of many who use it on a daily basis".
Other submissions included a letter from a Bayfair Estate resident who said the proposed design would not provide any form of safety, especially for older people with limited mobility and the agency need to "retain the underpass at all costs".
Glen Crowther who represented BikeNow, a cycling advocacy group working in consultation with the agency, submitted strong opposition to the plans after identifying "a number of significant concerns".
In response to the community concern raised, the agency agreed removing the underpass was not ideal and employed a consultant to explore the feasibility of an underpass - either retaining the existing, or provision of a new one.
Sketches of a preferred underpass option showed it would span nearly 190m, 70m of which would include the existing underpass. Access to it would require permission from Bayfair Shopping Centre landowners.
Bayfair manager Steve Ellingford could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Highways and network operations senior project manager Greig Stephen said this main option followed a review of available space on either side of State Highway 2, pedestrian and cyclist desires, and overall ability for construction.
"We are also exploring other options such as extending the existing underpass, and providing a pedestrian overpass instead."
The original idea of removing the underpass came from concerns regarding vandalism and personal safety. However, after community concerns were raised, the agency employed a consultant to assess the options as part of its review.
Ms Hughes told the Bay of Plenty Times she was now looking forward to the decision which was expected in about a week.
She said the option of an overpass at Concord Ave was not ideal, as users would have to dog-leg to use it.
"The most optimum option for us would be the underpass and an option that people could cross above ground still, if they wanted to."
Ms Hughes acknowledged people might feel unsafe at night walking through a long tunnel and crossings above ground at off-peak times could help address this, she said.
Construction is expected to begin mid-2017, with the completion of the project in 2020.
Tauranga City Council transportation manager Martin Parkes said it wanted to make it safe and easy for people of all ages to ride bikes around Tauranga as each person was potentially one less car on the road.
"We have been holding workshops with Tauranga schools as part of our Cycle Action Plan, and we will be speaking more widely with the community later this year about how we can help get more people riding bikes."