5. Management Issues
5.1 The general empowering act for the Regional Council and territorial authorities is the Local Government Act 1974. This act allows the provision of parks and recreation services, including the Regional Parks managed by the Regional Council. The Wellington Regional Water Board Act 1972 is an important statute for the Regional Council under which it holds large areas of land in the Wellington metropolitan area. This act allows recreational use of the future water collection areas, known to the public as the Akatarawas and the Pakuratahi (includes Rimutaka Incline). Notwithstanding general provisions in these statutes for recreation management, there are no major constraints on the provision of opportunities for mountain biking or the management of its impacts under the Local Government Act 1974 or the Regional Water Board Act 1972.
5.2 The general empowering act for the Department of Conservation is the Conservation Act 1987. This act places emphasis on the conservation of natural and cultural values and promotes recreation which is consistent with this.
5.3 Areas managed by territorial authorities, the Regional Council and the Department of Conservation may be affected by any of the following statutes, each of which has implications for the management of mountain biking.
Reserves Act 1977: Classifies a bicycle as a vehicle and is not allowed off roads, unless specified in the reserve declaration.
Conservation Act 1987: Unclear in its classification of a bicycle.
Walkways Act 1990: Bicycles can be allowed if provided for in the walkway establishment documents.
Resource Management Act 1991: Requires sustainable management of resources and mitigation of effects.
Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992: Requires all reasonable steps be taken to avoid injury to employees and park visitors, in the work place (e.g., a part of a park or a facility on which employees are working).
Common Law: Requires appropriate mitigation of hazards.
Local Government Act 1974: Provides for the provision and management of regional parks.
Wellington Regional Water Board Act 1972: Allows recreational use of some of the lands held by the Regional Council for water supply purposes.
5.4 Land managers will need to identify any existing or proposed bicycle access which is in breach of any statute. Some important tracks exist within reserves managed by territorial authorities, the Regional Council and the Department of Conservation.
5.5 Consideration of the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 requirements have become important ongoing aspects of access management.
5.6 Social impact is characterised by: walkers' perceptions of risk of injury from mountain bikers; fright or unwanted surprise; perceptions of different values; perceptions/experiences of aggression and discourtesy; perceptions of inappropriate riding styles; perceptions of environmental or track damage; perceptions that mountain bikes are incompatible with the chosen recreation setting (e.g., natural back country areas).
5.7 Perceptions of risk of injury to walkers do not appear to be mirrored by records of actual injury. Mountain bikers do however appear to be at risk of injury to self, especially when racing. Nevertheless, the possibility of injury to walkers requires further assessment, including the identification and management of sites where this risk is believed to be significant.
5.8 Social impacts are believed to be the most difficult to manage. However, a number of possible actions could be taken to reduce social and other impacts. These actions have in most areas not been seriously or comprehensively trialed. They include:
- information/education, both on-site and off-site;
- trail design improvements which make dual or multiple track use more viable;
- direct involvement of users in access management;
- restrictions or track closures where other methods are not viable;
- legal enforcement of track closures where other methods have been considered, and restrictions are not adhered to by riders.
The anticipated effect of the information will be to raise awareness of the needs and concerns of all affected groups and minimise false perceptions. The information will also encourage riding styles that are socially and environmentally responsible.
5.9 Further information on the concerns of walkers and other affected groups needs to be obtained in each area to allow the specific problems of each site to be analysed, and to allow any changes in the degree of the problem to be monitored. This will aid policy implementation and provide information on the effectiveness of the policies over time.
5.10 The impacts of bikes on tracks is related partly to the geography of the Region and appears to be most significant on tracks which are not well formed or are steep and difficult. Some of the specific variables affecting physical impact include: vegetation cover, soil type, stone content, drainage, slope and width, line of sight, number of users, tightness of corners, riding style, ability of the riders, and the weather at the time of riding.
5.11 On many tracks there are other activities having impacts but the additional impact of mountain bikes is often more conspicuous and comes on top of the existing impacts of walkers, horse riders, vehicles or stock. Research to date has not shown that bikes have a greater overall impact than walkers, though the impact is often different.
5.12 In some cases, tracks can experience relatively severe impacts including corner cutting and rutting, which is amplified by the resulting run-off of water.
5.13 Other than the effects of bikes on tracks, the effects of bikes on the general environment is relatively insignificant as bikes are ridden mostly on tracks or roads. Their silence and non-polluting attributes warrant recognition and distinguish bikes clearly from motorised forms of outdoor recreation.
5.14 Over time there will be opportunities to improve track design and construction on those tracks for which mountain bike access is to be allowed. This will make the sustainable use of more tracks by mountain bikers possible.
5.15 Detailed information on the physical impacts and their causes needs to be obtained in each area to allow the specific problems of each site to be analysed and to allow any changes in the degree of the problem to be monitored. This will aid policy implementation and provide information on the effectiveness of the policies over time.
5.16 Evidence to date suggests that the degree of risk associated with mountain bike riding is least for walkers and other non-riders, and most for riders participating in races. While the fact that walkers perceive a risk is a significant social effect, from a safety management perspective, the real risks, rather than the perceived risks, is the main issue.
5.17 If there are places where a significant real risk of injury exists then such places must be identified and the risks managed or mitigated.
5.18 Risk management for walkers and riders alike will be partly related to track conditions and the presence of general hazards in the riding environment such as bridges without rails, steep drops beside tracks, and sharp objects in the riding environment. On a broader scale the weather, degree of isolation and presence of rivers and forests are factors which should where necessary be brought to the attention of mountain bikers. Individual responsibility to know and be prepared for such things is an essential element in the safe use of parks. Mountain bike safety will therefore be an aspect of general safety management on tracks and within the parks of the Region. The Akatarawas in particular warrant care in trip planning and preparation by riders.
5.19 Riding styles play a big part in safety. Races sometimes demonstrate the hazard of speed when unmatched by skill. Inappropriate use of speed will need to be discouraged. This is a key cause of many problems and complaints.
5.20 The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 requires that all practicable steps be taken to minimise risk to people present on a work site -which can be interpreted to include parks. An assessment will be needed to determine the minimum requirements in the management of safety for mountain biking and other park activities.
5.21 Assessment of safety issues and specific hazards as well as social and physical effects on each track will provide data which should be incorporated into the track database.
Mountain biking opportunities are optimised within the provisions of existing statutes.
Identify areas where the provision or opportunity for mountain bike access is in breach of, or precluded by, the statutes (General).
Co-ordinate and liaise with the other agencies to inform the Government of significant mountain bike management issues relating to existing statutes (WRC).
The social, physical and safety impacts of mountain bike riding are maintained within acceptable limits.
Monitor the social effects of mountain biking on walkers and other track users (General).
Monitor the physical effects of mountain bike use on tracks and the track environment (General).
Establish an information programme to disseminate information to mountain bike riders promoting appropriate track usage and respect for other track users (General).
Identify and implement specific track improvements, particularly on key tracks, which will help alleviate social, physical and safety impacts (General).
Develop skills and knowledge in the design and management of multiple use tracks (General).
Involve riders and riding clubs in track management, where appropriate (General).
Consider track closures or other restrictions when the effects cannot be adequately managed and the benefits of bike use do not outweigh their effects (General).
Maintain a record of all known safety incidents involving mountain bikes (General).
Assess and respond to safety issues in mountain biking, in accordance with any general policy or initiatives on public safety on Regional Council lands (WRC).