Three Long Years: doing right by John Bonner

Oct 22, 2020
Three Long Years: doing right by John Bonner

Mary-Margaret Slack

The death in 2017 of a person on a bike at a notoriously dangerous location on Te Atatū Road, near Cellarmans Street, should have prompted action by Auckland Transport.

It didn’t. Nearly three years on, pedestrians and cyclists are still having to use an unprotected median strip, between four lanes of fast, constant traffic when trying to cross Te Atatū Road.


Ever since the crash, Te Atatū resident and Bike Auckland and Bike Te Atatū member Carol Green has dedicated hours to working with AT, urging it to act. She has also contacted Minister of Transport and local MP Phil Twyford, City Councillor Shane Henderson and Local Board member Brooke Loader.

Carol has prepared a timeline to convey her utter disappointment and frustration about this experience:

Early December 2017: John Bonner is killed crossing Te Atatū Rd with his bicycle near Cellarmans Street.

John Bonner was a social worker at Auckland City Mission. He is dearly missed by his partner, Arna Hutton, and their three sons.

John Bonner

June 2018: Having heard nothing from AT about any safety changes or mitigation at this location, I asked to have a meeting with them about this.

After some attempt to brush me off, I met with project managers at AT’s headquarters. They seemed genuinely interested in my thoughts, but my distinct impression was that they hadn’t done a site visit. They didn’t realise there was a shared path in the park, and were surprised to learn that this was a logical desire line for people on bikes to cross Te Atatū Road.

The shared path in Harbourview Ōrangihina Park.

Below is a graphic contextualising where this shared path sits in relation to the crash location:

Graphic provided by Carol Green

As far as I recall the GIS was incorrect at this time – it showed on-road lanes instead of the Harbourview shared path. This might explain the confusion of AT staff. It also indicates they hadn’t done a site visit. At this time they told me that consultants had been engaged, and that surveyors would be starting work soon. I reiterated that we would be keen to be involved in any consultation or feedback.

October 2018: AT proposes a signalised crossing to replace the pedestrian refuge. Bike Te Atatū and Bike Auckland send feedback that this is not the right spot for it.

January 2019: AT finally meets with Bike Te Atatū and Bike Auckland, and they present an investigative report into the location of the proposed crossing. This was good – it indicated they had listened to our concerns about the crossing location.

Shortly after this, they added a speed readout sign on the northbound lanes, and painted a red threshold treatment on both approaches to Cellarmans Street.

The very narrow path, next to an inadequately highlighted cycle lane.

July 2019: AT proposes a new location for the crossing and invites feedback. Bike Te Atatū and Bike Auckland are largely supportive, suggesting only minor changes.

September 2019: AT says the project has been scheduled for the 19/20 financial year, and so would need to be completed by the end of July 2020.

March 2020: The nation enters Alert Level 4. Lockdown of course prompted me to query the project timeline.

AT said: “Due to some property issues at 484 Te Atatū Rd and the uncertainty around the COVID-19 shutdown, we will most likely start the construction on site from July 2020 at the earliest.”

May 2020: As part of Waka Kōtahi’s Innovating Streets for People fund, Bike Te Atatū sends ideas to make this stretch of road more people-friendly – narrowing the traffic lanes, widening the very narrow pavements and putting in hit posts to protect the southbound cycle lane. Narrowing the traffic lanes would also have made crossing here much easier and safer.

None of these ideas progressed.

August 2020: AT explained that “the design has been completed and the project is ready to be tendered for construction”, so I asked what that meant for construction dates.

September 2020: From AT: “It is still only at the start of the tender process for the construction contract, so the construction timeline is indicative and subject to the outcome of the tender process. It is likely to be built in the period between Feb 2021-May 2021.”

Assuming the latter date, this would mean 3 years between the fatality and any real safety improvement on this road.

Every day I cross here, and every day I see other people trying to cross safely. People trying to cross to or from the bus stop, “sheltering” in the central median in the very spot where John Bonner was killed. There’s plenty of school children crossing, and parents with small children stuck in the pedestrian refuge as they try to negotiate 4 lanes of busy traffic to or from the park.

Local people had been calling for a proper crossing in this location for several years prior to the fatality. They were told a crossing wasn’t warranted because there were not enough people trying to cross. That’s like saying a bridge is not necessary because no one is trying to swim across the alligator-infested river.

John Bonner’s death affected several advocates precisely because of this – they wonder if they had pushed harder, would the crash have happened?

The same is happening now – we’re dreading another crash with ghastly consequences. If only we could convey the sense of urgency we feel to AT.

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