Do We Need Rules or Responsibility?
By Trevor Ammundsen.
The few weeks ago a guest of ours went for a walk and was sauntering along the walking path on the Tapatapatea Reserve when a young lad on an electric scooter came around the corner at a high speed and took her out. She went flying into the bushes beside the track and, dazed as she was, tried to pick herself up. The young lad, to his credit, did stop and asked if she was okay. She struggled up and said she was. As she told us later, there was nothing he could do to help, so why say anything. She is a lovely lady (in her forties), and she made her way home gingerly while the young culprit carried on at the same pace.
The next morning, our guest’s many bruises were surfacing. She was not in a good state. Nothing seemed broken however, and a few champagnes helped her with the pain - we are caring hosts. I write this, not to get at the young fellow, but I do hope he recognises this story and realises he did cause real harm. It may temper his future behaviour. My purpose in writing is to initiate discussion on the use of our walkways, what is permissible, what is not, what is sensible, what is not?
When we were younger, what is now called by various names was always called a footpath. Its’ purpose was clear and understood; it was for foot traffic only, keeping pedestrians safe from vehicles of various types including bicycles. The only wheeled device allowed on a footpath was a pram or a wheelchair. Traffic was slower and less numerous in those days, so riding your bike on the road wasn’t an issue for us; generally keeping off the main roads if we could.
Today things are a little bit more complex. The current fetish about climatic doomsday has generated a proliferation of personal electric vehicles that have no suitable infrastructure available for them to travel on. We also have the situation where the roads have become more crowded with vehicles, and those vehicles can be faster than in the days of my youth. The result is this traffic of personal electric vehicles, along with standard bicycles ridden by those who feel nervous on the roads, are making the footpaths a challenge for those of us who prefer to walk and enjoy the vistas.
How do we address this situation of conflict? One way is to have rules, but the problem with this is politicians need to have meetings to come up with rules and that takes time; and does not guarantee sensible outcomes. Besides, I thought we did have rules and they seem to be blatantly ignored and are not enforced by authorities. An example of this that I have been told is a local authority rule - cyclists who wished to use the footpath to cross the Taputapuatea Bridge had to dismount and walk their bike across. This would seem to be a sensible rule and I must admit I have seen people do this.
I have also seen many more just ride their bikes across and expect pedestrians to step onto the road from the footpath to get out of the cyclist’s way. The worst such case that I witnessed was an elderly gentleman trying to get out of the way of two cyclists approaching him from behind, with bells ringing, and falling to the road. This could have been a fatality but fortunately no vehicle struck him. As a side issue, I do find those bike bells annoying; the cyclists can just ride around me. The tingling demand that I get off the footpath to provide them undisturbed passage is an irritation.
The Government attitude seems to be to build designated lanes for bicycles and personal electric vehicles to use but this is not practical in Whitianga, so we must address this problem on our own. The Council could help, by posting signage to state what behaviour is expected, such as dismounting to cross the bridge. We cannot be sure how long this will take unfortunately, so I guess that leaves us relying on common sense and personal protection.
Common sense means that if you are on a wheeled device on the footpath, you are a guest, not the owner. Be respectful. For personal protection, I suggest pedestrians are best to replace their walking stick with a baseball bat. Now let’s be friends.
Caption: Give way sign.