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.
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.’