‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’
-William Morris 1880
Because we argue here at ATB that it is time to rebalance our spending priorities away from always assuming that road building is the best or only answer to our transport problems, especially for those caused by too much traffic in cities, we often get accused of all sorts of emotional things like being ‘car haters’. This is, of course, just a bit of silly name calling and a way of venting frustration in the absence of any kind of real argument or information against our proposals and positions.
Cars can be great, vehicles of all kinds are extremely useful, and are often the best tool for the job. Especially for dispersed populations and away from concentrations of people. They are, after all, just machines, they have no inherent value that always applies. Some are better than others, in different ways, by various often contradictory measures, and the same one can be both a boon or a curse in different contexts, and so on. But they are not always equally welcome, especially in quantity, and especially on city streets. In this sense they can be considered to be analogous to problem plants: What is a weed, but a perfectly good plant in the wrong place?
So in this post I want to discuss a recent road project that I think is absolutely the right answer to a problem of auto-domination, a road project that does take cars away from where they are not wanted. But I don’t want to discuss it just because of its usefulness. But also because it’s beautiful:
The Lower Hatea River Bridge or Te Matau ā Pohe; Pohe’s fish hook. Over the Hatea River, Whangarei.
Before looking at more images let’s see where it is and what it does:
It crosses the river east of the city just before it widens, underlined in red above. The primary purpose of the bridge is to enable vehicles to bypass the Whangarei CBD to and from the Heads and the Airport to the east. Previously all traffic on this side of the river was funnelled through the centre of town and right through the main commercial district and severing it from the newly redeveloped Town Basin:
It’s a little early to see how the bypass is performing but the projections are for a reduction in 8-10k traffic movements across the old bridge per day- About a third of the total. Hopefully this reduction materialises and that the Council takes the opportunity to scale down some of that massive intersection above and improve the cycling and walking links between the Town Basin and the Town itself.
At least the new Bridge and its approaches have been built with the Active modes in mind; both sides have really wide protected paths and these loop under the bridge down by the water at least on the western side [they were still finishing the siteworks when I was there so I’m not sure about under the other side]. You can see the paths here with the bridge in the open position:
Yes. That’s another way that this is a multimodal project. It opens to let taller vessels through to the Town Basin:
Furthermore this makes the primary visual gesture of the structure -the fish hooks- so much better; they are not mere ornament but provide the essential service of balancing the bascule, the rocking section of the bridge, through its movement. Beautiful and useful.
The balancing act the bridge performs in its movements is extremely satisfying; architect Martin Knight of Knight Architects in the UK has achieved that very tricky thing; something apparently simple but extremely sophisticated. The clients: Whangarei District Council and NZTA Northland and Auckland are also to be congratulated.
‘When we build, let us think that we build forever’
photographs © patrick reynolds 2013