Lifting of Maui bicycle ban urged
New guidelines will make such rides on Haleakala safer, tour companies say
Bicycle tour companies blocked from Haleakala National Park following a fatal accident in September want officials to lift the ban, arguing new guidelines will make rides down the 10,000-foot mountain safer.
All but one of the seven tour groups previously allowed at the top of the Maui summit gave the park feedback about the month-old prohibition by Thursday's deadline, said Superintendent Marilyn Parris.
She said a six-person team, including national park officials from Washington, D.C., will work with the Federal Highway Administration to review comments and decide whether to drop a ban that began Oct. 10.
In a 135-page document, James Fosbinder, an attorney representing five of the companies, said tours going through the 10 miles of winding park road are "substantially safer than bicycling is overall in the United States."
He said there have been three bicycling deaths in the park in the past 24 years, two of them this year. Although he blames "rider error" for all the fatalities, Fosbinder listed 16 safety steps that companies can take. Among them:
» Discourage or refuse serving high-risk groups such as women over 40 and men over 60 unless they have had recent significant cycling activity.
» Create a governing group with mandatory safety rules.
» Place riders who cross the center line or break other rules in the accompanying van for the rest of the tour, and refund those who voluntarily abandon the ride to go in the van.
» Crack down on tour leaders engaging in show-off behavior such as riding without using their feet or hands and sitting sideways.
Maui Downhill owner Richard Goodenough said his company, which has operated since 1983, already implemented new controls, ranging from lowering the top average tour speed to 15 mph from 20 mph to administering a closely monitored riding test to make sure customers are not only competent, but "experienced."
Those who do not qualify will be offered a van tour, Goodenough said.
"Unless they are experienced, competent bike riders, they won't be able to ride our bikes," he said. "It's kind of like when you want to go scuba diving. You have to show that you ... are qualified."
Like other companies, Maui Downhill has been launching its tours just outside the park near the 6,500-foot elevation mark since the park began denying it access a week after a tourist crossed the center line during a sharp turn and collided with a tour van.
The victim of the Sept. 26 crash, Roberta Blake, 65, of Amherst, Ohio, was on a Maui Mountain Cruisers tour, and the van belonged to Maui Downhill. Her death came six months after a 44-year-old woman died when she rode off the road, and about 10 months after a man in his 70s flew over his handlebars, hit his head and died from a heart attack.
John Thuro, owner of Maui Mountain Cruisers, said he has laid off 30 workers and might need to shut down because of a drop in customers since the ban's announcement. He complained that park officials also prevented him from using his van to show visitors the park.
"The ban that they've done is more like a lockout. They locked us out," he said. "People think we are no longer in business."