Hamilton cyclist inquest; Cyclists encouraged to ‘take the lane’ at roundabouts to keep safe

The death of retired Hamilton teacher and cyclist Graeme Michael ‘Mike’ Leach is the subject of an inquest in Hamilton which continues today. Photo / Supplied

Cyclists are encouraged to move into the middle of the road at roundabouts and “take the lane” in a bid to keep themselves safe and visible to motorists, an inquest has heard.

The second and final day of Coroner Louella Dunn’s inquest into the death of retired teacher and cyclist Graeme Michael [Mike] Leach began today.

Leach died after being struck by a truck and trailer unit at the intersection of Te Rapa Rd and Sunshine Ave about 11.30am on April 5, 2017.

A Halls Transport truck, being driven by Auckland man Michael Hodgins, was heading north on Te Rapa Rd approaching the Sunshine Ave roundabout at the time as Leach was cycling north.

Hodgins, who was convicted of careless driving causing death in 2018, turned left at the roundabout and collided with Leach on his bike.

The 67-year-old died of severe head injuries.

Simon Kennett, Waka Kotahi principal adviser, told the inquest that taking the lane was the term used for a cyclist moving into the center of the lane at a roundabout, and was deemed the safest option for them as they are more visible to vehicles.

“It increases the likelihood of cyclists being seen and limits the ability for vehicles to take over cyclists at the roundabout.”

However, it was also a more “advanced maneuver”, especially if there was a lot of traffic or if it was moving fast, but it had been highlighted in the 2020 update of the NZ Road Code as an appropriate maneuver for cyclists to make, he said.

Multi-lane roundabouts were more challenging and more of a risk for cyclists which was why most were reluctant to “take the lane”, he said. He suggested “off-road” cycle paths could be a more suitable alternative.

He said raised safety platforms could work – despite opposition from Hamilton City Council yesterday – as it would force the motorist to slow down to about 30km / h.

In questioning from HCC’s counsel Megan Crocket, he accepted any pedestrian or cyclist using the crossing on a multi-lane road would likely be blocked by a large vehicle and therefore put them in a precarious position.

However, he said the risk of death or serious injury would be limited as the vehicle would be traveling at no more than 30km / h.

Narrowing road lanes was also another way of slowing traffic at roundabouts, he said.

As for truck safety and reducing blind spots, he suggested the installation of cameras or a sensor system on trucks as seen overseas.

“Cameras are becoming increasingly common in new trucks and are helping to [pick up on] blind spots. “

However, he said there was currently no common standard among the world’s four main truck builders and New Zealand did not produce its own fleet.

“New Zealand is not in a good position to create its own standards and requirements.”

It was currently not appropriate to mandate the use of cameras or a sensor system on trucks in New Zealand at the moment, he said.

“Road marking change happen fast enough?”

Coroner Dunn also quizzed Kennett about the Hamilton City Council contractor’s error which saw the cycle lane painted all the way to the roundabout, instead of stopping 30m short.

Implementation of the change was made under the Manual of traffic signs and markings (Motsam) rule change in 2011 for New Zealand roads.

The crash scene at the intersection of Te Rapa Rd and Sunshine Ave on April 5, 2017. Photo / Belinda Feek
The crash scene at the intersection of Te Rapa Rd and Sunshine Ave on April 5, 2017. Photo / Belinda Feek

Acting city transport manager Robyn Dennett said yesterday they knew of the update but that new road markings would only be made when there was specific work to be carried out on that stretch of road.

Asked by Dunn if not making changes until the road required it was good enough, Kennett said Waka Kotahi would “certainly support quick changes knowing what we know now”.

“We do a lot more training in the field of safe cycling infrastructure than what we did at the time.”

Kennett recommended Hamilton City Council monitor the Te Rapa Rd / Sunshine Ave roundabout to track cyclists’ behavior and see how they were using the site since it had been upgraded and whether it was sufficient.

That monitoring could involve setting up a camera or tapping into someone else’s CCTV camera.

“Licensing cyclists?”

Shafraz Khan, counsel for Halls Transport, asked Kennett why Waka Kotahi did not use convex mirrors at roundabouts to help motorists identify cyclists.

Kennett said they did not use them because there was too much else for a driver to concentrate on at a roundabout.

Asked by Khan if they had considered licensing cyclists, Kennett said “no”.

Matt Leach asked Kennett if there was any country in the world that licensed cyclists. Kennett also replied “no”.

Meanwhile, Coroner Louella Dunn yesterday explained the scope of the inquest which was focusing on four issues; does the expectation that a cyclist “take the lane” at a roundabout address safety concerns, does recent modifications to the Te Rapa roundabout address safety concerns, how does HCC monitor roadways to ensure cyclists are safe road users and would any modifications to a truck have reduced the truck’s blind spot and are there any realistic recommendations that can be made.

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