Tensions rise over Maitai walkway

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The decision on a controversial proposal to ban cyclists along part of the Maitai walkway is looming, with Nelson City councillors to cast their votes this week.

The plan to eliminate cyclists from the section of path from Nile St Bridge at Domett St to Jickells Bridge near Black Hole is part of Nelson City Council’s ‘Out and About – On Tracks’ strategy, which aims to develop a plan for off-road tracks and looks at ways to reduce conflict on shared pathways.

The topic was first debated at the first sports and recreation committee meeting on November 24 chaired by Cr Tim Skinner, where it was recommended the council ban cyclists in that area.

But the final decision was referred to this Thursday’s full council meeting – the last meeting for 2016, which is expected to be a “humdinger” according to Cr Skinner.

He says that an amended ‘Out and About – On Tracks’ strategy will be presented to councillors.

“A new option will be thrown out there for that specific section of the walkway,” he says.

“That’s what the last meeting was about – to get it right.”

He says the weeks following the meeting have seen tensions rise between groups and individuals, with some taking to social media sites to express their views and frustrations.

The SAVE the Maitai Track Facebook page has attracted nearly 700 supporters, while Critical Mass Nelson held a protest ride on December 2nd.

Nelson Mountain Bike Club secretary Paul Jennings says that as a ratepayer, parent, cyclist, dog walker and resident who lives next to the shared pathway, he has never had anything but positive experiences when using it.

“Our interest in the very few family-friendly off-road cycle and shared paths remaining open is to ensure that all cyclists have somewhere safe and pleasant to learn to ride their bikes, and also to learn how to share spaces responsibly,” he says.

“I sincerely hope the council reconsiders its position and doesn’t go down the road of segregation and penalising certain user groups based on nothing more than hearsay and a few third-hand accounts.”

On the other side, both Nelson Walkers Unite and Facebook Nelson DOG (Nelson Dog Owners Group) fully support a ban, with Cynthia McConville speaking on behalf of them at the November 24 meeting.

She congratulated the council on the proposal and says it is important to maintain the “highly value and popular” off-leash dog section of the walkway.

“The Maitai River Walkway offers a calm and peaceful experience in nature for people who need to refresh from their busy lives. This attribute needs to be recognised by our decision makers,” she says.

Cr Skinner says he has been inundated with email and calls regarding the issue, and met with the NMTBC last week to “hear them out.”

“The mountain bike club have felt that they weren’t included in the consultation, so I met with them to hear them out. While I was surprised with the reaction from the club, I can now understand their frustrations – but I made it clear to them that we need to take in the views of all groups.”

Tim says that he and the deputy chair of the Sports and Recreation committee, Mike Rutledge, went for a ride along the Maitai the other night to get a “real feel” for who was using it.

“We spoke to a number of people – a 78 year old lady walking her dogs said she enjoyed sharing it with cyclists. We also talked to runners and tourists who were pleased to see cyclists using it.”

“But that’s just a few people – the feelings out there are very mixed.”