HONEYSUCKLE resident Nick van Veld was on his morning ride around the city and the beach when he came a cropper crossing the light rail tracks on Scott Street.
He broke his right knee in two places and spent five days in hospital. His leg will be in a brace for 12 weeks.
Corey Crooks, the owner of Scott Street cafe-bar The Grain Store, said his bike accident, which broke his right arm in three places, happened after he rode across onto the light rail lane of Hunter Street to avoid aggressive motorists who had been “whizzing past him” as he rode along the road.
Cycling advocates say such serious accidents have been happening in unacceptable numbers on the city’s main road since it was reopened to traffic.
They fear for the consequences of a city-wide revamp that was designed to get people out of their cars and onto public transport and bikes, but which lacks dedicated cycling facilities despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent it cost to build.
As the Newcastle Heraldreported on Thursday, Newcastle Cycleways Movement president Sam Reich and Newcastle cycle shop owner Bernard Hockings went public with concerns held by many cyclists over the movement of people through the city after failing to convince Revitalising Newcastle of the gravity of their concerns.
The state-run organisation is still saying that cycling is a local government responsibility, and that traffic will flow properly and safely on Hunter Street and Scott Street if people adhere to the rules of the road.
But the cycling advocates and the riders recovering from their accidents say the potential for the light rail to cause problems should have been obvious before the project was built, and that the failure to install a dedicated cycleway during the main construction period is a huge oversight with considerable flow-on consequences.
Mr van Veld, 53, said the only reason he was on Scott Street on the morning of his accident of Friday, October 26, was that the SuperCars installation had closed off his usual route through the East End.
“I’m not a lycra rider, it was just my morning ride, a steady cruise around,” Mr van Veld said.
“It was about 6.30 and I was riding west down Scott Street coming to the corner of Pacific Street, where the light rail lines cross over from the Customs House side of the road to finish up on the right hand side of the road outside the Joy Cummings building. I knew not to ride parallel to the lines but there was dew on the track and the front tyre went from underneath me.”
As a photograph at the top of this article shows, Mr van Veld was treated by ambulance paramedics on the side of the road before being taken to hospital.
As well as the damage to his knee, he suffered serious bruising to his right hand, which he stuck out instinctively to break his fall.
“I was in the trauma ward from Friday to Tuesday. All I can say is that I am very thankful I had private health insurance. I’m laid up at home now and with 12 weeks in a leg brace, and needing pain killers to deal with the pain, it’s going to be a while before I am up and about properly again.”
Newcastle photographer Edward Cross, whose studio is in Hunter Street near Pacific Park, is a regular sporting and commuter cyclist who was at the 2300 Cafe on the corner of Pacific Street and Scott Street when Mr van Veld had his accident.
“My wife Wendy and I were at the cafe and I heard the noise and turned around and saw him hit the gutter,” Mr Cross said.
“That section where the light rail goes across from one side of the road to the other is really nasty for cyclists. You have to make sure you cross the tracks at an angle and there’s a deviation that you have to get through there to negotiate the section.
“Nick had the green light there to go through. He’s not going fast, he’s an experienced cyclist, but he clips the track and comes down hard.
“I’ve seen three accidents there since the road reopened and it really is a problem.
“I don’t know what they are going to do but personally I wouldn’t be surprised if they have to say that cyclists can’t ride through there. It’s not safe because of the rail line crossing the road and with the slippages and the accidents that have happened. It’s a difficult space to get through.”
Five days after Mr van Veld had his accident, Mr Crooks was riding east along Hunter Street on Wednesday, October 31, when a motorist began tailgating him and he moved over towards the gutter to let it pass.
“A couple of cars went whizzing by almost taking my handlebars off so with no trams running I decided to move over into the rail lane. I was aware of the hazard, I was trying to be careful, but as I was riding back out of there again on to the road it grabbed my front wheel and the bike jacked and threw me straight over the handlebars.
Mr Crooks said he was taken to the Mater, where x-rays showed his right arm was broken in three places.
“I was in a half-cast for a week because of the swelling and now it’s full cast for another six weeks.”
Like the rest of the cyclists, Mr Crooks cannot understand how a project that showed dedicated cycleways in the early artwork changed to the point where there was no cycling infrastructure at all despite an intended outcome of encouraging more people to ride.
“It’s all very well to say ‘take the lane’ but it’s not that easy when you have cars on your tail wanting you to hurry up,’ Mr Crooks said.
“There were cycleways in the early drawings and now they say there isn’t room. Well there is room, because we don’t need five metre footpaths either side of the road.”
While not everyone agrees that converting a footpath into a cycleway is a solution, all of the cyclists that the Herald has spoken to insist that Revitalising Newcastle’s suggested alternatives – King Street, Wharf Road or the shared harbour pathway – are not the solution.
The two roads are crowded, and for the most part too narrow, while the shared path is creating the same tensions between cyclists and pedestrians that exist on the road between cyclists and cars.
While these tensions could be reduced by cyclists ensuring they don’t spring up on pedestrians, the slow nature of such a strip meant it was less than practical for commuting on.
Mr Reich says the obvious solution to the problem is to put a cycleway on the old rail corridor.
“The policy had been to put a cycleway on Hunter Street but we suffered a setback when light rail was announced and the council decided not to do anything before the route of the light rail was finalised,” Mr Reich said.
“But we can still salvage it. There is room beside the light rail along the western end of the corridor and there is nothing built on the corridor east of Worth Place, so there is nothing to stop it being put in along there.”