THE widow of a cyclist killed while crossing the Newcastle light rail tracks has written to the NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance, saying the government needs to do more than improve "education and awareness" to stop crashes and save lives.
The letter from Jodie Egan was sent around the same time Andrew Constance acknowledged there were road safety risks to cyclists along the section of the light rail where her husband had crashed.
Danny Egan, a father of three and an experienced rider, died in July after falling off his bike at the corner of Scott and Pacific streets in Newcastle East. The tragedy followed a number of cycling crashes at the junction since the installation of the light rail tracks.
After the fatality, Transport for NSW commissioned a safety review of the light rail line. Mr Egan's death is also the subject of a coronial inquest.
In August, Mr Constance responded to questions about cycling safety from Opposition MPs at a budget estimates committee hearing.
"It doesn't take particularly much to work out that the laying of rail on a roadway poses a challenge for cycling, and ... we are going to have to educate cyclists increasingly about the dangers of putting your bicycle tyres into a rail, because you can obviously get jammed and fall off," Mr Constance said.
After that, Jodie Egan wrote to the Transport Minister.
"It is insulting for you to suggest that his accident occurred due to lack of education, and lack of awareness!," Mrs Egan wrote, explaining her husband had more than 20 years' experience riding along Hunter Street.
"You indicate that cyclists need to be educated and aware of the dangers of riding down Hunter Street. Do you think that education and awareness will stop accidents and deaths caused by the light rail tracks!? Well I'm writing to inform you that it will certainly not!"
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In her letter, Mrs Egan asserted, "The blame should not be directed at cyclists. It is time to fix this."
Mr Egan's parents, Lyn and Noel Egan, also wrote to the minister.
A spokeswoman for Mr Constance said the minister had already responded to Mr Egan's parents and would reply to Jodie Egan's letter as soon as he returned from overseas next week.
"He will be responding to her personally," she said.
The spokeswoman said the minister would convey his sincere condolences, that he was appalled the incident had been used in a political way and acknowledged that Mr Egan's loved ones were hurt, and that "he does not blame Danny for what happened".
The Opposition posed supplementary questions to Mr Constance after the budget estimates hearing, including one asking if adjustments to the tracks, vehicles or infrastructure had been made.
"While the crash that prompted this safety review was the first recorded cyclist crash along the mixed running alignment, it was evident throughout this review that road safety risks to cyclists did exist throughout the section," was the reply.
The spokeswoman for Mr Constance said the "safety review" referred to in that answer was not the one commissioned after Mr Egan's death but an earlier report from around the time when the project was completed, which was in February.
She said the minister was yet to receive the report of the safety review commissioned after Mr Egan's death.
The executive director for the government's Centre of Road Safety, Bernard Carlon, said the review's recommendations were being finalised and would be released "in the near future".
If the minister was saying there was something wrong there, then why wasn't anything done before the fatality?Sam Reich, Newcastle Cycleways Movement
Sam Reich, from Newcastle Cycleways Movement, contributed to the safety review. He said if Mr Constance's answer related to an earlier report, that raised new questions about road safety.
"If the minister was saying there was something wrong there, then why wasn't anything done before the fatality?," Mr Reich said. "And there were injuries from the start."
Mr Reich was aware of at least three cycling crashes involving broken bones.
Mandy Johnston, the owner of the 23hundred espresso bar at the corner where Mr Egan had fallen, told the Newcastle Herald in July that she had sounded a warning to Transport for NSW about cyclists' safety months before the fatal crash.
"I'd seen so many people fall, and I knew it was only a matter of time until someone was seriously hurt or fatally injured," Mrs Johnston said.
Andrew Constance's spokeswoman said the minister had been aware of only the fatal crash.
After participating in the safety audit, Sam Reich wrote to Transport for NSW and the City of Newcastle in August, saying urgent works were required to address "intolerable risks" to cyclists along the light rail's section between Newcomen Street and the Newcastle Beach terminus.
"Although the results of the audit are yet to be released in final form, it is clear from the site inspections and subsequent risk analysis that the risk for cyclists of a serious crash in that section is high to intolerable," Mr Reich wrote.
The Newcastle Cycleways Movement president said there were a number of low-cost, quickly implemented alternatives to reduce the risk for riders, including opening the northern footpath from Newcomen to Pacific streets for shared use, marking a bike path along the westbound lane of Scott Street, and improving signage.
"Those changes would make it evident to cyclists what they need to do to avoid being trapped there [on the tracks], and it would give everyone else a clear indication where cyclists need to go, to show motorists that cyclists are there, they belong there, and they need to stay safe," Mr Reich said.
In response to supplementary budget estimates questions about improving safety at the corner of Pacific and Scott streets, Mr Constance said, "An updated cyclist signage installation and pavement line marking work program is being finalised and is scheduled to be installed in coming months."
State Member for Newcastle Tim Crakanthorp called on the government to release the full report, and the recommendations, of the safety review.
"This government was told time and time again of the dangers of this," Mr Crakanthorp said. "Why has it taken the death of a cyclist for safety to be improved?"
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