'Senseless loss of life' - Cyclist safety in the spotlight after Auckland death

Along a busy stretch of Lake Road in Auckland’s Belmont, a spontaneous memorial has appeared with flowers and messages of love, at the site where a cyclist was killed this week.

A note reading, "We are so so sorry for your loss... love from our family to yours" is left on Lake Road after a cyclist was killed. Source: 1 NEWS

"Aroha. Goodbye dear friend." "We are so so sorry for your loss."

The simple messages, left beside flower tributes, are a community's response to a tragedy.

Police are still investigating the circumstances of Tuesday's crash, which saw a cyclist die after an incident involving a truck at the intersection of Lake Road and Montgomery Avenue.

Lake Road is the busy main route out of Devonport peninsula and connects through to Takapuna and the Northern Motorway. 

There have been 28 serious crashes in the area over the last 10 years, 10 of them involving pedestrians or cyclists, according to Auckland Transport.

It's primarily a two-lane road, one lane in each direction, though it expands to more lanes at various points. There are painted cycle lanes most of the way but no physical barriers.

It's often a bottleneck for traffic and officials are already grappling with the best way to upgrade it — including how to keep walkers and cyclists safe at the same time.

Flowers left by the site of a cyclist v truck crash on Lake Road, Belmont. Source: 1 NEWS


Last June, members of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board passed a resolution committing to upgrading Lake Road but saying the proposed design did not adress congestion, public transport and safety concerns.

It asked Auckland Transport not to defer funding for the improvement plan while asking it to address issues raised.

The plan had been developed in conjunction with Auckland Transport and would lead to $47 million in funding by Auckland Council's Long Term Plan.

It would see transit lanes alongside the busiest parts of the road and improved cycle lanes.

But deputy chairman George Woods, one of four board members who voted for the resolution, told 1 NEWS he did so because the proposal wasn't what had been previously discussed.

"I think our community wanted Lake Road to be two lanes for vehicular traffic in both directions from Belmont to Esmonde Road and we've been steadfast in that decision," he says.

"[The plan proposes] around 25 per cent of Lake Road as a transit lane. It will be just one lane [for regular traffic]. We don't agree with that.

"We also don't agree with the way they're going to deal with the intersection at Belmont, then at Eversleigh Road and Hauraki Corner."

He says the current proposed improvement plan "won't satisfy anybody", adding: "Motorists will be spare when they see the fact they've only got one lane right along Lake Road in both directions."

It's a difficult challenge for the community: make it easier for cars, or make it easier for other transport methods?

Toni van Tonder was one of the two board members who voted against the resolution. A cyclist herself, she admits she "probably [has] a different way of thinking".

"Ultimately it's around safety and safety of movement... I also believe that the future isn't building wider corridors or roads," she says.

"It's actually getting more people through the corridor on their push bikes and walking and scooters, and utilising the bus service and things like that."

Flowers left by the scene of a crash on Lake Road, Belmont, where a cyclist died. Source: 1 NEWS

Tuesday's death will bring an immediacy to the discussion, van Tonder says.

"I'm absolutely heartbroken that someone has died [on Tuesday]," she says. 

"This should make it very clear to everyone who was in doubt that we absolutely need to push forward on this upgrade because safety is paramount.

"I think for those who sit in their cars and get upset about being stuck in traffic, would probably willingly do so if they knew it was about saving lives."

Even if the improvement plan had been passed last year, it wouldn't have been remotely near completion by this week. 

Regardless of the cars versus bike debate, Woods wants to continue discussion with Auckland Transport around the proposed improvements.

"There's got to be a better give and take."

Auckland Transport says stakeholder support — including the local board — will be among the considerations for prioritising the upgrade.

In 2017, 29 per cent of public submissions wanted better cycling infrastructure. Less than seven per cent complained the proposal focused too much on alternative modes of travel such as cycling and walking.

Making it safer was cited as the main reason for how to increase people cycling. Meanwhile, the most common road space suggestion was to add more lanes.

The 2017 local board's recommendation focused on bus and transit lanes and a direct cycle route. At the time, it didn't recommend adding extra lanes for regular drivers.

Lake Road has a painted cycle lane at the intersection with Montgomery Avenue, where a cyclist died. Source: 1 NEWS


John Ellington cycles the main road most days to get between his Milford home and Devonport workplace.

He says he's had hundreds of near misses on the road.

"Every day is a gamble. Every day there's cyclists or motorists making mistakes," he says.

"Yeah, we've just gotta keep our wits about us and try and get home safely."

He's not sure whether upgrading existing road infrastructure is the way to go, saying the painted white cycle lanes should be enough.

"I don't think there's an easy fix. Driver attitudes are a big thing," Ellington says.

"If people don't cross the line, that white line is adequate. But drivers do it every day."

He wants to see more driver education around cyclists, making sure people know they need to check for cyclists or other vehicles before turning across the road.

Flowers left by the scene of a crash on Lake Road, Belmont, where a cyclist died. Source: 1 NEWS


Avid cyclist and Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter says her heart goes out to all affected by Tuesday's death, calling it a "tragic and senseless loss of life".

She's criticising infrastructure design that doesn't "put people first", calling it a "basic right of residents".

"It is unacceptable that our cities still haven’t provided safe infrastructure for walking and cycling," she says. 

"Our streets shouldn’t kill people for travelling around their communities without a car."

She wants central Government to contribute more and says local boards shouldn't be able to veto developments.

"Central government can certainly do more; safe cycling infrastructure is one of the most cost-effective transport projects, and has health, climate and mobility benefits," Genter says.

"On that basis they deserve a higher funding rate."

A note reading, "Aroha, goodbye dear friend" left alongside flowers at the site of a crash between a cyclist and a truck on Lake Road, Belmont. Source: 1 NEWS


Even if the Lake Road improvement project was approved last year, that doesn't mean it would've made a difference on Tuesday.

Infrastructure upgrades take years to progress even after they've been given the green light.

In December, the Auckland Transport Board approved the business case for the upgrade and hoped to progress once funding is confirmed in the upcoming regional land transport plans.

"Safety and network productivity on Lake Road need to be dealt with," Planning Committee chair and North Shore Councillor Chris Darby said at the time.

"Our proposal also includes safer pedestrian crossings and intersections and targeted transit lanes, physically protected cycle lanes.  

"We will back that up with better travel information, greater bus and ferry integration and support for school cycle improvements."

For the Devonport and Takapuna community, the latest death has shone a spotlight on the oft-argued issue of the Lake Road upgrade.

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