Haleakala bike tours banned after Maui death
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By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Catherine E. Toth
The death of a woman on a bicycle tour at Haleakala National Park last week has prompted the National Park Service to suspend commercial downhill rides until it is determined whether they can operate safely.
The action also terminates the permits of the seven companies authorized to operate the tours. Both actions take effect Oct. 10.
It's the first time the popular tours have been halted since they began in the early 1980s, and the severity of the action surprised the companies that rely on the rides for a significant portion of their business.
But park superintendent Marilyn Parris said suspending the tours is the "right and prudent thing to do."
Roberta Blake, a 65-year-old visitor from Ohio, was killed Sept. 26 when she lost control of her bicycle while on a tour and crossed the double yellow line into the path of an oncoming van.
She was the third bicyclist to die while riding down from the summit in the past year.
"That fatality was kind of the tipping point," said Parris. "We've had three (deaths) in a 12-month period. Administratively, we've done what we felt we could do (to assure safety). We've had more regulations, we had more enforcement. And it's just not working."
She said she couldn't say for certain whether the tours will be allowed to resume.
The so-called "safety stand-down" will not ban bicyclists from riding in the park on their own.
The seven downhill bike companies learned about the ban yesterday and have hired an attorney, who planned to release a statement on their behalf today.
The operators will have 30 days to provide input to the safety review, which will occur at the park, regional and national levels.
"I'm very disappointed with their decision," said Phil Feliciano, owner of Kahului-based Cruiser Phil's, referring to the suspension.
His 10-year-old company employs 16 people, and Feliciano said he's worried about the welfare of his workers when the suspension takes effect next week.
"This is it, this is all we do," said Feliciano, who said his company has never experienced any serious injuries or deaths on its tours.
After last week's accident, he said, he expected more restrictions, "but the extent of what they did was a surprise."
Some other companies contacted for reaction declined to comment, pending the attorney's statement.
Downhill bike tours attract about 90,000 visitors each year to ride rented bikes down from the 10,000-foot summit of the world's largest dormant volcano. The ride costs between $100 and $150 per person.
Blake was on a tour with Maui Mountain Cruisers and was struck by a van owned by Maui Downhill.
In March, a 44-year-old woman was killed when she went off the roadway, and in November, a man died after falling off his bicycle, according to the National Park Service.
"Yes, (the companies) ... are upset, it's their business," Parris said. "But it's my business to provide a healthy and safe environment for our visitors ... I know it's a very unpopular decision, but it was the right and prudent thing to do at this juncture."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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