Maui collision kills Haleakala bike tourist
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By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
The death of a woman on a Haleakala National Park bicycle tour yesterday occurred as park and government officials and tour operators are discussing the future of one of the most popular visitor attractions on Maui.
Haleakala National Park officials said an Ohio woman was killed when she was struck by a van belonging to another bicycle tour company on its way up Haleakala. She is the third cyclist to die while riding down the famous summit in the past year, said Dominic Cardea, chief interpretative park ranger and public information officer at Haleakala.
While some have called for further restrictions on bike tours, one tour operator said he and his competitors stress safety and are constantly looking for ways to better regulate themselves.
Haleakala, Hawaiian for "house of the rising sun," is renowned for its spectacular sunrises. Watching the sun come up at the summit has long been one of the top things to do for visitors to the Valley Isle. And in recent years, the practice of cycling down Haleakala, especially during sunrise, has proliferated.
In January 2006, as part of a temporary operating plan designed to address the impacts that the throngs of visitors have had on Haleakala, rules were imposed limiting the number of bikes allowed to come down the summit at sunrise. The plan also limits the number of tour buses at sunrise.
In addition, bicycle riders in the park are limited to those on guided tours, Cardea said.
"We were getting such mob scenes," said Marilyn Parris, park superintendent. "Emergency vehicles couldn't get in and out. More and more were coming and we were beyond our capacity and we had to do something while we evaluate the program as a whole."
The temporary regulations reduced the number of guided bike tours at sunrise by nearly half, Parris said.
RIDER CROSSED LANE
Meanwhile, park officials are working on an overall commercial services plan designed to further address potential damage to the volcano by visitors, Cardea said.
"We're evaluating what is appropriate uses for a park and how do we manage that," Parris said.
That plan would update regulations not just on tour bikes, but also tour vans, hiking, stargazing and other activities that could have an impact on the park. A draft plan is expected by the end of the year, Cardea said.
But such rules would apply only to the five or six bike tour operators who operate within the summit area. A number of other operators offer downhill bike rides from just below the summit. State and Maui County officials are looking at also placing restrictions on those who operate the remaining two-thirds of the way down the mountain.
Yesterday's fatal accident happened about 10 a.m., near the start of a peak period at the park, Parris said. Typically, the park is most crowded before sunrise, between 10 and 11 a.m., and from about 1 and 2 p.m.
The woman who died was traveling with the Maui Mountain Cruisers group while the van that hit her belonged to Maui Downhill, Parris said. She was between 55 and 65 years old, Cardea said.
Witnesses said the woman appeared to lose control of the bicycle and crossed a double yellow line into oncoming traffic at the 7,000-foot level. She then tried to set the bicycle down on the pavement in front of the uphill-bound van.
The oncoming van apparently tried to stop but struck the woman at about 10 a.m., park officials said.
RANGERS PROVIDED AID
Park rangers responded with life-support equipment and arrived to find a doctor from one of the bike tours tending to the woman. Rangers administered oxygen, park officials said. The rangers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation until an ambulance arrived and paramedics took over.
The woman was pronounced dead at the scene between 10:45 and 11 a.m., park officials said.
Officials with Maui Mountain Cruisers did not return a call from The Advertiser.
Richard Goodenough, owner of Maui Downhill, declined to speak at length about the issue yesterday. "It's a sad day and the investigation is an ongoing one," he said.
Phil Feliciano, owner of Cruiser Phil's, said he is operating an average of two tours a day from Haleakala. Feliciano said safety is paramount to his operations and that opponents to the industry have exaggerated the number of accidents.
Feliciano said his company holds safety meetings at least once every quarter and that he was in the middle of one yesterday when he heard the news about the death.
He said that like other tour bike operators, he takes a number of precautions and makes it clear to riders that while he doesn't view the activity as dangerous, it involves some amount of risk.
"There is an element of danger, and perhaps that is what makes it thrilling for some people to do it," he said. "You're riding a bicycle downhill. But your guides are educated and are responsible for keeping people at a reasonable speed that's conducive to the group."
NOT EVERYONE CAN RIDE
Riders must be at least 12 years old, a minimum of 4 feet tall and not weigh more than 280 pounds. "And the big questions are, 'Do you know how to ride a bicycle?' and 'Do have recent biking experience?' If you haven't been on a bicycle in 20 years, this is not something you should be doing," he said. "Rent a bicycle in Waikiki, on the beach, on flat land."
Feliciano said his employees check the abilities of riders at a parking lot at the top of the summit and give them a safety and instructional talk of 15 to 30 minutes. He said guides will stop riders and ask them to go into the van if they appear erratic or wobbly once the ride is underway.
Karen Friezner, co-owner of Aloha Bicycle Tours, said her company has never conducted rides inside the park. "There is no shoulder or guardrail and the weather is extreme," Friezner said. "Personally, I don't think it's a bike-friendly area to bike in."
Instead, her tours have been conducted from outside the park boundaries where there is a significant amount of shoulder.
But bike tour companies that operate outside the park have also drawn fire from residents in upper Kula to the Pa'ia shoreline, who say they disrupt traffic. State and county officials have threatened regulations.
Back in the park, some have talked about stopping downhill bike tours altogether. Feliciano said such a policy would be draconian and take away an activity that has become an integral part of the Maui visitor experience.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com.