A few months ago the idea was first floated to add a walking/cycling lane (or both preferably) to the sides of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. I think the idea formed out of the cycling lobby initially, but made a lot of sense as the NZTA (who own the bridge) were spending $40 million or so to upgrade the clip-ons so they didn’t fall off. It seemed that with all this work going on anyway, a few extra million to add a bit of extra width wouldn’t be too much of a problem. Furthermore, it would finally address an utterly horrific issue that I have with the Harbour Bridge, that bus and car are the only ways in which to get across it. In Sydney you can catch a train across their bridge, or walk across it, or cycle across it – but here in Auckland you were forced to jump into some sort of road vehicle in order to make your way across. I guess it shows Auckland’s attitude to transportation most clearly.
The idea of adding on a walking and/or cycling lane got a mixed reception. The Auckland Regional Council were really keen, as was the North Shore City Council. The car-lovers at Auckland City Council couldn’t understand the concept as they were probably hoping for another lane of traffic. There was a significant push for the idea from the cycling lobby, but at the same time Brian Rudman – who I usually agree with on most urban matters he writes about in the Herald – strongly opposed the idea for reasons I am still trying to get my head around. However, it still seemed to me like almost everyone was missing the point, as they became fixated on how many cyclists would use the bridge to commute to work on weekdays. Right from the start I saw the best part of the idea as simply making it possible for people to walk across the bridge, particularly on a nice sunny day at the weekend. The view from the Harbour Bridge – particularly looking east – is utterly spectacular. I’ve been across it thousands and thousands of times yet I’m still impressed. However, it is a little frustrating that you have to be driving at 80 kph to actually enjoy what is probably the best view in Auckland. A few weeks back I caught a bus up to Albany along the Northern Busway, and it was actually amazingly nice to head across the bridge for once and not have to be concentrating on driving, although once again the view did pretty much zip by.
So I think that making it possibly for people to walk and cycle across the bridge would have its biggest benefit in much broader ways than just allowing people to commute via cycling from the North Shore. It would be one hell of a good tourist attraction for the city to market, and a great way of celebrating our beautiful harbour. Furthermore, it would also be a clear sign that the city does give a damn about more than just cars and is actually concered about providing for people.
Unfortunately, it does seem like the NZTA can’t quite get their head around the wider benefits of this project, and has not included it in their list of project priorities for the next year. It is a pity that our transportation agencies continue to be so narrow minded.