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September 25, 2022

Triathlon blamed for traffic chaos

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Drivers were frustrated by long delays and road closures during Saturday's Byron Bay Triathlon. Photo Sharon Shostak
Drivers were frustrated by long delays and road closures during Saturday’s Byron Bay Triathlon. Photo Sharon Shostak

Chris Dobney

Long delays, lack of signage, dangerous driving and seemingly uncoordinated traffic control were just some of the complaints Echonetdaily has received about the results of road closures imposed by Saturday’s Byron Bay Triathlon.

Bangalow and Broken Head roads were closed in both directions for almost four hours to enable the 20th anniversary event to go ahead, with just short stints for local traffic to cross.

Traffic control officers failed to give out important information about how to request a police escort and one resident said he was sent on ‘goose chases’ from one traffic control point to another in his attempt to get home.

Just four police were scheduled on to provide escorts for a host of needs, including a wedding party, sporting teams and a doctor, despite the event attracting 1,100 participants.

One local resident questioned, ‘why are these blow-in lycra-clad road warriors more important than the local rate-paying residents?’

Fred Forsyth, of Suffolk Park, wrote to Echonetdaily, ‘My wife and I, with over $160 worth of groceries, some needing refrigeration, and a dog getting hotter and more distressed in the car were told we could not use Bangalow Road (which is the street we reside in) for two hours.

‘No cyclists were actually on the road and they were still setting the witches hats up,’ he added.

Mr Forsyth said that he had been advised by traffic control to make a detour via Bangalow where, as it turned out, traffic diversions were also in place.

‘I called Byron police when I got home to be informed we should have been offered a police escort,’ he said. ‘We were not.’

Dorroughby resident Chris Mansurge was taking an international visitor to Broken Head when he came up against a roadblock on Bangalow Road, several kilometres out of Bangalow, and was forced to turn back.

He wrote on Facebook, ‘We’ve spent hours in jams and trying to find a way out. There are no signs up to warn motorists and only a couple of poor old SES volunteers on duty to handle lots of extremely frustrated motorists.

‘Even residents east of the road are stuck and can’t get home till five this afternoon after roads reopen,’ he wrote.

Mr Mansurge mooted the problem could get worse if the rail trail goes ahead.

‘This is why we don’t need more elite cyclists around this area. Imagine the traffic jams at the many points where the railway crosses the roads,’ Mr Mansurge said.

Dominic, a visitor to the area, told Echonetdaily he had ended up in a dangerous situation after he followed a bus driver who took matters into his own hands.

‘I ducked into the Suffolk Park Bakery and when I came out found myself facing a roadblock. The guy who was manning it just stood there and seemed to have no idea how long we were going to be kept waiting, despite the fact that there were no cyclists coming and there was actually traffic moving along Broken Head Road.

‘Eventually the bus in front of me crossed to the right-hand side of Clifford Street and turned right into Broken Head Road. I followed him and other cars followed me but that then blocked traffic trying to turn left into Clifford Street.’

Echonetdaily video reporter Sharon Shostak said she saw a few incidents as temper-frayed drivers attempted to escape the maddening traffic.

‘One man tried to do a U-turn in an already-crowed street as soon as it was opened for traffic, which simply created another roadblock that jammed up traffic further,’ she said.

2105 Byron Bay Triathlon. Photo Sharon Shostak
2105 Byron Bay Triathlon. Photo Sharon Shostak

Closures inevitable: organiser

Byron Bay Triathlon organiser Mike Crawley told Echonetdaily that road closures were an inevitable part of any such event, and that ultimately the residents just had to get used to it.

Mr Crawley said his organisation abided by its traffic management plan, which had been approved by Byron Shire Council, and the traffic management was done by a ‘reputable business’ [JHA] not by the SES.

‘All the traffic controllers were paid professionals. I think there was a team of 20 or 25 of them across the site,’ he added.

‘The volunteers, such as Brunswick Valley Rescue were providing support. Unless you have a ticket, you can’t take on traffic control,’ he said.

Asked whether four police were sufficient for the escort task, he told Echonetdaily, ‘If there’s a need for more police, we would pay for more police but up to this point that’s never been raised as a concern.

‘The Byron closure is a fairly complicated traffic management plan, a lot of stress points that are involved in the overall plan,’ Mr Crawley said.

He added, ‘it would be fair to say that some people were potentially inconvenienced if they went beyond a certain point. We had certain drivers who just went around the signage, we had others who went around the traffic control, I witnessed some drivers going around the police.’

He added he believed the organisation was ‘complaint’ in notifying residents ahead of the event and on the day.

‘There were EMS boards put out on the roadway a week in advance, there’s been signage up in Byron and on the periphery road system for the last two weeks, there’s been a letterbox drop to 6,000 residents, there’s been newspaper advertising and radio discussions held in the last week. That’s the general minimum standards that we’re required to comply with.’

Mr Crawley said the organisation was not considering changing the route, which has been in place for two decades, despite the inconvenience to residents.

‘Port Macquarie, who’ve been doing [their triathlon] for 30 years close the main road in and out of their town and it’s taken a long time for that to be accepted.

However he acknowledged that the inconvenience had increased over time.

‘Probably in the last five years, due to safety aspects, it’s become almost a complete road closure except for local traffic because sooner or later there’s the propensity for an individual to be hurt and then there’s a whole range of liability issues that arises out of that. So the road is probably more rigidly closed now than it has been in the past.

‘I do appreciate it does cause upset, there’s no doubt about that, and we’re open to any good ideas. In terms of a change of course, I’m unaware of any alternate courses otherwise we would’ve put them in place.’

Mr Crawley said that ultimately the pain produced gain for Byron Bay and its residents, or at least its businesses.

‘The event generates a significant number of tourists for the weekend and the week prior and a sizeable economic return for the overall Byron Shire. That’s proven through external research that’s conducted every two years.

‘We can always do better, we want to do better, but I think there are so many examples where this type of event, around the nation, does cause upset. It’s that fine balance between trying to satisfy what the community needs to operate and live in that precinct and what the event would like to achieve in terms of the race.

‘And coming up with a clear understanding for everybody is not necessarily easy. I think the point is that we’re completely open and we talk to the people and the organisations in advance.’

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  1. I run the office at BayFM on Saturdays. We were not given any information to pass on to listeners about the event. Our noon time presenter couldn’t get to the station to start his show on time.

  2. I would like to know what Mr Crawley, or whomever manages the funds raised, does with the money raised.

    Other such events, like the Ocean Swim held the weekend prior, gives all money raised to local and well know charities such as Cancer research, Water safety (Marine Rescue & Surf Life Saving), the Rescue Helicopter, the local hospital and ambulance organisations and many others that are community based.

    A detailed report on such would be most welcome.

    • Hello Hudson, you are aware that as part of our road closure awareness campaign your station assisted us greatly with a live broadcast last Friday at 10.40am involving the Mayor and Geoff where the road closure times were discussed and advertised between 12pm and 4pm. Thanks Mike.

  3. I remember the locals complaining about the Iron Man event when it was held in Foster & Blueys Beach so the organisers moved it to Port Macquarie. Foster now misses out on the economic benefits that have shifted to Port Macquarie which enjoys boosts to all the accommodation, cafes and local shops.. Come on Byron, be tolerant. Its only once a year and if you read the start list a lot of the participants were locals. There was adequate signage weeks prior as well as notices in the local papers. I had no problem getting around town in the morning but did notice the usual traffic jam along Ewingsdale rd later in the morning. It’s a shame that more people don’t welcome another type of visitor (healthy, sporty people and their families) other than backpackers or party goers.

    • Along with all the other once a year events it is getting pretty tedious… Why cant they do it early in the morning instead of peak traffic time .. 4 hours road closure is pretty much to ask plus every other sporting event in the byron shire has to be moved… Keep it by all means but start having some regard for others ….please.

      • Great suggestion. I too think it should be early (like most tris are) also I tend to think it should be on a Sunday. It is constructive thoughts that will help. Not the venting of personal reservations. Thank you Andy

  4. It is outrageous that a minority sporting event can close this town for local use. Every year is the same. Get rid of it, for locals sake !!!

    • A minority sporting event? Last year it had 1600 competitors.
      The event has been staged on the 2nd weekend in May for the last 20 years, full road closure for the last 4 years.
      Every year more and more locals are competing in the event and local sporting clubs benefit financially by volunteering at the event.
      I read the multiple signs that had been placed around the town prior to the event.
      The triathlon injects not only money into town but also showcases Byron Bay as a healthy and ecologically sustainable destination.
      So put the 2nd weekend in May into your diary for the next 20 years ( I hope! ).

  5. The organisation was appalling and the road rage and cars bypassing barriers will surely someday lead to accidents. Time to send it somewhere else or run it on a weekday. Dont inconvenience locals
    or weekend-dependant trade for small busineses inconvenience the lycra hipsters and their confused organisers.

  6. The locals shouldn’t wouldn’t worry about it too much. It wont be around for much longer when they charge $270 team entry fee & give them 1 x bag, hat & visor to share……..the most ridiculous transition, poor signage & athlete control I have come across in a decade of triathlon.

  7. Had a great time with the triathlon on this weekend.. Didn’t bother me, if it took longer to get home. Congratulations on 20 years at Byron…
    20 years ago, Byron was a lot more tolerant..

  8. What a shame people cant be bothered to read the road signs, papers, mail drops etc., that were certainly out and about in plenty of time, and just plan not to need the road over those few hours. Or like the hundreds of us other LOCALS of all ages who just got on their bikes & got on with things. Take it from me it was wonderful be able to ride from Suffolk into Byron without traffic & seeing OTHER VERY HAPPY LOCALS (some on bikes they hadn’t been on for years) enjoying the same thing.

    Surely having these healthy active & respectful visitors in town is far better than destructive loud & drunken mobs over running the town … Lets work with it for next year … its only a few hours out of the entire year people.

  9. Chris as we discussed the Byron Tri event broadly and as you will recall, we as the local event organisers clearly understood and stated the impact of the event. But your article’s spin which in my view attempts to suggest that resident’s are not important and the Tri comes first is absolute rubbish and does not reflect my opinion or intent.

    Secondly you have misquoted and misinformed your readers in terms of road closing times. The facts for your readers are: detours started in associated streets and roads from 11.30am; roads progressively closed in the area from 11.45am and traffic on the course was almost cleared by 12.05pm. The first cyclists started at around 12.15pm. Traffic from the Byron Town south was able to use the southbound lane at 1.30pm exactly; and the Ross Lane closure opened northwards at approximately 2.20pm, Midgen Flats open at approximately 2.30pm and traffic was flowing by 2.40pm back into town. Almost an hour earlier than last year.

    Again as I indicated in our conversation, we are open to any suggestions on how to reduce this impact. We do understand that the cycle leg causes traffic related issues and would like to further reduce this.

  10. If comments such as ‘why are these blow-in lycra-clad road warriors more important than the local rate-paying residents?’, and the general tone of this article and following comments are indicative of the Byron Bay attitude to cycling, perhaps you’d be better off hosting Monster Trucks or some other fossil fuel burning activity instead. Presumably your roads are available to cars for the other 364.75 days per year, right? But I can see why you wouldn’t want to share them. It’s not like cyclists contribute anything to society apart not killing people in traffic accidents, increasing the fitness level of the population (and reducing medical costs to the country), taking up less road space and not poisoning the planet with greenhouse gases. Why not go the whole hog and ban all cyclists permanently! And of course triathlons too, in case they encourage people to take up the obnoxious cycling habit. Perhaps you should get rid of the pavements too, and add an extra car lane in each direction. You know it makes sense.

  11. The triathlon organisers say they did everything they could and are open to suggestions so it will be interesting to see if they actually do learn from this and change the way they do things in future. I have some ideas for them, so let’s see if you’re really listening or just making nice noises.

    Firstly, I’m not against community events taking place on public streets per se. I support the right of people to hold street marches, protests and well organized sports events where the needs of others have been taken into account. But last Saturday it was clear that was not the case. Living in Dorroughby, I was oblivious of any triathlon taking place and was not exposed to the street closure warning signs which may have been located around Byron town. The first thing I knew was when I drove down Bangalow Rd and hit a traffic jam where St Helena Rd joins Bangalow Rd. No signage, no detour signs, no explanation of what was going on. Just one very stressed SES volunteer individually explaining to each car what was going on. His calls for back up support from police were apparently being ignored. After 30 minutes queuing we turned around and went back to Bangalow and visited the Police station to ask for back up support for the poor SES guy, but the station was closed and all we got on their their emergency phone intercom was an engaged signal. Then we tried driving from Newrybar down Midgen Flat Rd but once again, only after we got all the way down the road did we find a road closure and traffic jam.

    So my advice to the organisers is to put road closure and detour signs up at the TOP of each road into Byron Bay, near the highway so people can easily find alternative routes, instead of right down the bottom of the roads where everyone just ends up in a bottle neck traffic jam.

    Secondly, you admit yourselves that this is a complicated traffic situation. So the answer is obviously that you need to pay for more police and support. It’s not like the police are not available. Once we finally worked out the entire Coast Road was closed from Ballina to Byron, we opted to go to Tyagarah Lake for a swim instead, well away from the traffic jams. We’d only been there for 30 minutes when 2 police and 2 police cars from Mullumbimby descended on the lake and started harassing peaceful nature-lovers doing nothing more than taking a quiet skinny dip in the lake, labeling them “sexual predators”.

    Why is it that it is left up to unpaid SES volunteers to do the difficult and demanding task of traffic duty for a triathlon while our paid police have nothing better to do with their time than go around harassing people quietly enjoying nature? It’s disgraceful that volunteers should give up their free time to do police work.

    So have your triathlon by all means, but have some consideration for those of us who don’t share your passion and have our own lives to get on with. And if you’re going to be causing inconvenience to lots of people then PAY for the police traffic assistance you need to minimize disturbance to others.

    Are you listening???

  12. I am a local living close to town and the road closures affected me significantly. However, I would far rather have a couple of hours of inconvenience and see this great event happen in our town than see it drummed out of town by a lack of tolerance. Sport is a positive and important part of the culture of our town and I strongly support events such as this.

  13. Fours hours out of 365 days of the year. Get over it people. You had plenty of notice to plan your day. Consideration is taken into account for morning sport events. And honestly, get on your own bike to get bread, paper or go into town. We don’t hear this banter when you want to close the town centre down to rally in the streets. It’s one event a year, please be considerate of other people’s passion to lead a healthy lifestyle.

  14. As a local, small business owner and active member of the recreational community. I am appalled at the narrow minds of folk who are clearly upset at seeing an iconic sporting event in our iconic town. Seriously first world problems. Maybe your time management and awareness of local activities needs to be addressed. In Byron we have rallies, protests, beach markets, festivals, road closures (for no apparent reasons sometimes) along with many other events of physical, spiritual and mindful celebration and expression. The real beauty of our region is the openness and acceptance we “should” have to everyone. Not every event brings something to everyone but every event brings visitors to Byron and like it or not we are a tourist town and should embrace all events equally. Race and event organisers are always the subject to criticism. If you have some criticism, make it constructive so the community as a whole can benefit. Because it is an annual event, and hopefully will be for another 20 years. Regards Jules

  15. Jules you conveniently missed out on basic communication and safety. I received nothing in the mail. The reactions I saw in Suffo looked like someone was going to easily get clipped by cars illegally jumping blocks and high emotions. How can the RTA let such a potential disaster continue without some detailed oversight? My suggestion is if the organisers have a decent management plan and some regard for safety – which is debatable – why not have a loop and have one lane of the highway and one lane of Broken Hd Rd closed. If such a debacle and disrespect of safety and locals continues a protest group will have to be formed. Enough is enough.

  16. Please don’t let’s lose such a brilliant event in Byron Bay because of the minority who complain.
    I drove from Suffolk Park and parked in town at 11.45 with absolutely no trouble.
    I went in to help volunteer at the event and to cheer about 20 of my local friends who were all participating.
    The positivity energy of everyone involved in the event luckily surpasses the odd negative comments from motorists.
    It is important that productive suggestions are taken on board in order to make this event successful for many more years to come.


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