In October, cyclist Nick van Veld broke his knee in two places at the corner of Scott and Pacific streets on the Newcastle Light Rail route.
Five days later another cyclist broke their arm in three places, also while attempting to cross light rail tracks.
On 10 July, at the same location where van Veld was injured, experienced cyclist Danny Egan tragically lost his life.
Today’s estimates hearing revealed that in April 2019, Bicycles NSW wrote to Transport for NSW with concerns about safety and to investigate potential technological solutions – including SafeRails – to protect cyclists from accidents.
Under intense questioning from the Opposition as to why Transport for NSW did not take appropriate action to ensure safety during construction Minister Constance said:
“If you went up to Newcastle you would actually observe that the rail lines are on the road so any cyclist riding down Hunter Street or any number of those streets would actually have that risk – Reality! Fact! - ... so let’s have a bit of self-acknowledgment that if you ride a pushbike down Hunter Street, you could potentially also ride into the rail.”
The Minister was then pursued over his implication that these accidents have been the fault of the cyclists and explicitly given the opportunity to clarify that for record to which he said:
“I’ve sat in many years in Estimates listening to your silly questions and statements and that is up there mate.”
As well as blaming cyclists for the accidents, the Minister said he was “not convinced” that safety technology worked in other jurisdictions, but could not confirm whether SafeRails or any other potentially life-saving technology had been investigated.
Nor could the Minister say whether safety systems would be adopted in the CBD and Eastern Suburbs in the future.
CCTV footage of near-misses during testing along George Street has sparked concerns about pedestrian safety as the project ramps up to light rail vehicles arriving every 4 minutes in either direction once fully operational.
NSW Shadow Minister for Active Transport Jo Haylen said: “It beggars belief that the Minister would blame cyclists for these accidents in Newcastle when he doesn’t even know whether his Department investigated ways they could have been avoided.
“Not only has the Minister ignored advice when it comes to safety along the Newcastle light rail, but he is also putting thousands of lives at risk in Sydney’s busy CBD.
“I know Andrew Constance is desperate to finish his over-time and over-budget light rail project, but surely pedestrians and cyclists deserve to know that every safety option has been thoroughly investigated before the project opens and not after another tragic death.
Member for Newcastle Tim Crakanthorp MP said: “The Newcastle community is reeling and doesn’t want to see another life lost. The Minister’s flippant and callous remarks are appalling, but are just another example of his arrogant and dismissive attitude towards to the city of Newcastle.
“Cyclists and the whole community deserve to know why the Department failed to heed the warnings and advice of a key cycling group.
“The Minister must commit to investigating SafeRails or other technology that will keep pedestrians and cyclists safe - in Sydney, Parramatta, and here in Newcastle.”