Hit and run in bus tunnel (updated)

Local residents have been warning of the dangers of cars illegally using the Pirie Street bus tunnel for months. In the early hours of this morning, our worst possible fears were realised when a pedestrian was hit in the tunnel by what appears to be an illegal tunnel runner. The man is in a serious condition in Wellington hospital, and – as has been the case with too many car/pedestrian accidents – the driver didn’t stop.

Police forensic investigators have spent most of the morning in the tunnel, and are looking for the driver of the vehicle. Any residents with information that may assist the Police are requested to call the Wellington Police Station.

While some may think that the pedestrian took a needless risk by walking through the bus tunnel, we think there’s ample blame to go around.

• A few weeks ago the Wellington City Council re-sealed the tunnel, and in the process the contractor removed the speed bumps that were a significant deterrent to boy racers. Local residents rang the Council to ask when the speed bumps would be reinstated, only to be told by the contractor that it wasn’t a priority. No timeline was given by the contractor for when the work would be done, despite residents warning of the safety issues. As a result, there has been a noticeable upswing in cars speeding through the tunnel.
• The pedestrian hit in the tunnel is just one of many, many people who use the bus tunnel late at night or early in the morning; many pedestrians know when the last bus has gone for the night, and as a result don’t expect to be confronted by a speeding motorist. According to local residents, the primary reason pedestrians use the bus tunnel is because the air quality is so poor in the main Mt Victoria tunnel – as anyone who has ever walked through can testify. Pedestrian advocacy groups have been requesting an upgrade to the main Mt Vic tunnel for years – most notably as part of the Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan – yet the NZ Transport Agency (formerly Transit), the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Wellington City Council have been ignoring them for (literally) decades. If the main tunnel was safer, far fewer pedestrians would take the risk of using the bus tunnel.

This is not an “accident”. This is a completely avoidable tragedy that never needed to happen.

Updated: Within 20 minutes of the Police finishing their work and re-opening the bus tunnel, motorists were seen illegally running the tunnel again – one of whom we captured on film:

It seems high time the Police had a long, hard look at their enforcement policies regarding the Mt Victoria bus tunnel.

Dominion Post reports on Tunnel Runners

The Dominion Post has run a story about the proliferation of “tunnel runners” using the bus-only tunnel at the top of Pirie Street, including publishing photos of offenders taken by local residents.

We’re gratified to see Wellington’s paper of record taking an interest in these local issues, and hopefully the publicity will help reduce this dangerous driving behaviour.

Council campaign says pavements are for people

The Wellington City Council is urging motorists to think twice about parking on the footpath – a common habit around the city that creates hazards for pedestrians and can cause accidents. The Council is launching a campaign to change drivers’ attitudes to footpath parking today with a series of radio adverts and flyers.

In the suburbs, especially the older suburbs with very narrow streets, the Council is taking a more pragmatic approach to get the message across – generally issuing educational flyers rather than tickets for the time being. Parking wardens will also continue to crack down on motorists who park on footpaths within 250 metres of primary schools.

If you see vehicles parked on the footpath, Parkwise staff can be informed by calling the Council on 499 4444.

“Tunnel Runners” a growing problem

Local residents have noticed an upswing in the number of motorists using the bus-only tunnel at the top of Pirie Street over the summer period. Rather than the occasional lost tourist or cheeky driver, the tunnel is rapidly becoming the thoroughfare of choice for a growing number of impatient motorists.

The tunnel itself is single lane, badly lit and quite heavily rutted due to the number of buses that travel through it. Under the Greater Wellington bylaw governing the tunnel, it is “No Entry” to regular traffic, with use restricted to scheduled bus services only. The restrictions are being completely ignored by this small group of motorists, who in many cases are also running the red traffic light that controls the one-way flow in the tunnel.

A 4WD running the red light through the bus tunnel, whilst ignoring the “No Entry” signs

The danger from the current spate of poor driver behaviour is obvious. The park and the Bowling Club at the top of Pirie Street are heavily used by families, walkers and recreational cyclists at this time of year, most of whom don’t expect to be confronted by boy racers speeding in and out of the tunnel. Local residents have seen a number of near misses, when people driving out of the car park by the Bowling Club have had narrow escapes from unexpected tunnel runners, and when oncoming buses have forced tunnel runners to reverse out of the tunnel!

The spread of camera phones and digital cameras is proving useful in documenting and prosecuting illegal use of the tunnel, with the Police happy to take action against drivers when a complaint is accompanied by a photograph. Local residents are encouraged to photograph and report any driver ignoring the “No Entry” signs, or to report the activity by calling Police Communications on *555 from a cellphone.

Nominations open for LTCCP Residents Panel

As part of the process for setting the Long Term Council Community Plan, the Wellington City Council is establishing a Residents Panel to provide input into the LTCCP.

Image credit: Johan Koolwaaij via Flickr, some rights reserved

According to the Council, “The aim is to establish a panel comprising a wide cross-section of the community to discuss the pros and cons of a range of options and ideas before the Council develops its draft LTCCP in April.” Members are expected to attend four meetings of about 2-3 hours duration.

Nominations are now open, and anyone can nominate themselves or someone else. This can be done by filling in the form on the Council website, but nominations must be in by 10 January 2009 – so if you would like to be part of the process, take action today!