This is a guest post by sustainable transport and accessibility advocate Tim Adriaansen.

On a sunny Sunday morning a year ago, around 5,000 people gathered in Point Erin Park to express their growing incredulousness – especially given the impending climate emergency – at the lack of access for walking and cycling on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Photo credit: Nabulen Photographer

They’d gathered for a rally at which speakers expressed emotions ranging from hope to frustration. Afterwards, knowing the transport agencies had announced the lanes on the northbound clip-on had already been closed to traffic, thousands of Aucklanders made their way towards the Curran Street onramp…

…and onto the bridge, in a display of public determination that their city should be a better place. Regular, ordinary people, from all over the city. Little kids to seniors, expectant mums, disabled wheelchair users, elderly people with walkers, people jogging, people with dogs.

They flowed onto the bridge, all smiles and sunshine, briefly making it accessible to all of us—the way it should always have been.

The gulf between the voices of those who briefly experienced an inclusive bridge, and the few pearl-clutching media commentators who reacted to a brief moment of mundane and unremarkable congestion, was almost as wide as the harbour itself.

I guess, as they say: you had to be there.

A year later, where are we? As with every other year over the last decade, we’re still waiting for the connected, accessible city we so desperately need.

And, having spent more than $50 million over 5 years on trying to solve this puzzle, Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency remains unable to do what children on bicycles pulled off at a moment’s notice: make it possible to ride a bike across the Harbour Bridge.

Photo credit: Nabulen Photographer

Today, the case for opening up a lane on the bridge couldn’t be stronger.

We know that reallocating a single lane of the bridge would have minimal – and potentially even positive – impacts on traffic flow. Since the first lockdown in March 2020, the bridge has had enough spare capacity to support lane reallocation without causing problematic congestion.  Peak traffic volumes crossing the bridge have been steadily declining since 2016 – and the recently published Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) requires this trend to continue.

That plan calls for a 20% reduction in motor vehicle travel across Aotearoa; and because rural journeys are harder to swap to public or active transport, most of the shift will need to happen in cities. For Aucklanders, this means driving 40-50% less within the next decade.

If we need people to drive half as much as they currently do, surely the first thing we should do is to make it possible to use alternatives to the car? And, if we need to get the amount of driving we do down by half, then there’ll be plenty of spare capacity on the bridge, from now until we’ve solved the whole Climate Change problem, right?

The most effective tool we have available to create this change is to better utilise existing road space to make room for those alternative ways of getting around.

If this doesn’t happen on the bridge, allowing North Shore residents to bike, walk, jog, scoot and generally micromobilise between the Shore and the City, then what? We’ll need to rely more heavily on other parts of Auckland – like the South and the West – to reduce their car use even more. Are we comfortable telling South Aucklanders that they must drive less, so as not to inconvenience the good folk of Northcote and Takapuna?

Opening up the bridge to active transport is an economic no-brainer, too. In a 2021 revised economic assessment of the Northern Pathway (the walking and cycling link from Albany to the central city), the section linking Westhaven and Akoranga was estimated to deliver $530 million in benefits.

With lane reallocation estimated to cost $15 million, the whole pathway to Akoranga Station could be completed for $80-90 million – which would give the project a Benefit:Cost ratio of 5.9, higher than any other transport project on the books.

Waka Kotahi’s refusal to so much as trial an accessible bridge has all the hallmarks of predatory delay, with the agency frequently deflecting to “network impacts” as a principal reason for why letting people walk and cycle across the bridge is just too hard. In other words: Mustn’t get in the way of traffic – even though, every day, traffic gets in the way of traffic, causing snarl-ups across the network.

By repeatedly rolling out this justification for banning walking and wheeling from one shore to the other, NZTA is making a troubling value judgement about the 40% of Aucklanders who can’t, won’t or shouldn’t drive due to age, medical conditions, disability, injury or income.

The very young, the very old, and those for whom driving is difficult, dangerous or otherwise impossible, are written out of the picture.

In a city which values universal accessibility, everybody is granted agency, dignity and independence in how they can travel and participate in the things which enrich their lives.

When you become dependent on a timetable, you lose that agency. When you need to tackle additional barriers in public – like awkwardly manoeuvring a mobility device onto public transport – it compromises your dignity. When you need to ask someone else to help fulfil your transport needs, you lose your independence. This is one of the main reasons why ferries or shuttles to get non-motorists across the bridge are a very impractical idea.

For an inclusive, universally accessible city, people need to be able to move in the way that works for them. They need to be able to go where they need to go, when they need to go there—without being dependent on others.

By requiring the use of a motor vehicle to cross one of our most vital connections, Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency are essentially saying: If you’re too disabled to drive, you are less valuable than those who can. If you’re too young, too old, too sick or too poor to own a car, your needs are not as important as those who want to drive.

The disheartening thing about Waka Kotahi’s performance when it comes to Auckland Harbour Bridge isn’t the huge expense, long delays, climate denial or lack of sound economic judgement.

It’s that, at a fundamental level, Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency is stopping Tāmaki Makaurau from becoming a city that values everyone who lives here.

Pushing past the barriers in 2022

Granting people access to the bridge isn’t technically difficult. It’s been done before.

In 1974, when the oil crisis coincided with a bus strike, Auckland Harbour Bridge was opened to people walking and cycling.

An iconic photo from the time shows Mr Trevor Lanigan pedalling across the bridge – from Birkenhead to his job in the city – on his daughter’s Raleigh Twenty, in his suit and shiny shoes, with his bag on the handlebars. If he can do it, we can do it.

Making it possible to walk and cycle across the bridge is safe, easy and cheap. Concerns about “safety” – which didn’t transpire a year ago, nor on any of the other times when people have walked or biked over the bridge – are largely an attempt at misdirection from an agency looking for a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Unlike motor vehicles, crashes between people walking and cycling are comparatively rare and the consequences less serious. If it’s not safe to ride a bicycle on the harbour bridge, it certainly isn’t safe to drive a truck through a city.

Quite the opposite to being a safety risk, opening the bridge up to active travel would lead to significantly improved health outcomes. The health benefits of regular exercise for cross-harbour commuters easily outweighs any potential crash risk. Upgrading the barriers, as recommended back in 2019, would also provide a well overdue fix for the real and present risk the bridge poses to people in crisis (if Waka Kotahi are so worried about safety, why hasn’t this happened already?)

The only thing standing in the way, it would seem, is the New Zealand Transport Agency itself.

So here’s a thought:

Aucklanders have pushed through the barriers to bridge access before, and it may be time to do it once again. If Waka Kotahi can’t get bikes on the bridge, perhaps it’s time to get the transport agency off it.

  • With the Northern Corridor Improvements coming to completion, it’s time to consider moving road freight out of our city centre, and sending it around the Western Ring Route.
  • Shift the designation of State Highway 1, so that it runs out west – and the critical link between Auckland City Centre and the North Shore becomes a strategic route which can be managed by Auckland, not Wellington.
  • Set up a new harbour crossing authority, independent of any roading interests, to oversee delivery of any future harbour crossing options (given the need to reduce vehicle kilometres travelled by approximately 50% by 2030, there’s no business case for an additional harbour crossing any time soon).
  • Build the Onewa Road interchange, enabling fast and frequent buses to connect Northcote and Birkenhead to the city.
  • And, as part of this essential and visionary reset, transform the space on the Auckland Harbour Bridge into an accessible, equitable harbour crossing – one that moves more people, more freely, in more ways, with fewer greenhouse gas emissions – every day. 

Give the bridge a chance to work for all of us. And give all of us a chance to feel what people felt a year ago: how simple, how freeing, how joyous and how fair a city can be.

Share this


  1. Disappointed that there was no rally this year. If someone opposed liberating the lane because of an annual peaceful protest then their support was never forthcoming.

  2. While there are some good things happening in some places regarding supporting safe cycling and walking, all over New Zealand we see similar barriers to getting to the point of 20% less driving. Whether its this large bridge issue or just safe crossings on streets we seem to be pushing against huge forces working against changes that are sometimes simple and relatively low cost. Instead we seem to like the big expensive schemes, like trying to get lots of people into electric cars.

    1. A few months ago AT consulted on installing a raised table on an existing pedestrian crossing where I live in Ellerslie. The proposal didn’t consider any other safe crossings (like by the railway station over-bridge) or the 50km/h speed limit through the village. It was very simply installing a raised table. If this is the speed of change we can expect, we are not going to see any major shift in our lifetimes.

      1. Wow, thanks for mentioning that Arcki. I tracked down the planned improvement – it’s a mid-block crossing on Main Highway between Eaglehurst Road and Michaels Ave. I hadn’t heard or seen anything about this, despite living only a couple of streets away and using this road every day. I wonder what their method for informing nearby residents was?

        As it happens, I think its very necessary to do something to make it safe for pedestrians to cross here. The road twists and turns and rises and falls, broad enough and free-flowing enough to feel more like a speedway. Before Covid I used to use the buses here and getting to and from the stops was risky. So I hope it goes ahead.

        But it would have been nice to have known it was proposed, so I could have given feedback.

        1. I’m pretty sure my son would have given feedback too, if asked. He crosses that road on his way to school and again on his way back (so do a lot of other kids ). He probably would have mentioned that there needs to be a crossing near the train station overbridge exit. But…does AT really need to be told that there’s a need for a crossing there? Or indeed do they need to consult on installing a raised table at an existing crossing point?

        2. “I wonder what their method for informing nearby residents was?”

          Writing a letter to the property owner, no doubt. Geniuses.

  3. I cant really add much apart from, thats a really great point about taking the bridge off of the NZTAs hands.

    Sure, the current SH1 route from Spaghetti junction to constellation is nationally important, but that is purely because so many Aucklanders and Auckland businesses use it. Not because of its direct impacts on the rest of the nation. There is a somewhat strong argument IMO, that it is AT’s place to manage that asset.

    The council / AT being the driving force and the 50-50 payment partnership for CRL and total flop of ALR shows that either central government is unwilling, or is unable to deliver the hard top level strategic rapid transit routes. Why should they continue to control a north south corridor that has redundancy?

  4. We really need that transformative government to shake things up, what we are getting is all talk. Realistically taking a lane from the bridge (or anywhere for that matter) will be so unpopular that it will never happen. Which basically means they need congestion charging to reduce car use (but that is only in Auckland and only at peak). There is no way they can build their way out of this; every new expense PT line or cycling bridge will just take people off the road, reduce car journey times, and then induce more car demand. The only way to reduce car use is to charge or make congestion worse by removing lanes.

    1. +1

      Add a cycle lane to the bridge
      Add congestion tolls to manage the peak demand

      The technical solutions exist, its a matter of politics / community support.

    2. Jimbo, we do need that transformative government. And congestion charging is useful, and complements the reallocation of lanes – and it is only one of many, many levers we can use to reduce vehicle travel. Eventually, actually, congestion will reduce even after reducing traffic sufficiently, in a reversal of the situation we’ve experienced in recent decades.

      But it’s more useful if you don’t fall into the same trap that they’ve fallen into, of assuming you know what would be ‘unpopular’ based on what you’ve seen of the coordinated response from the media and the political economy of car dependence.

      Where changing something will give many positive social outcomes – as with reallocating a lane on a bridge – we would be best to assume that the evidence about similar progressive transport changes would apply: despite the vocal minority, good leadership can push through the resistance and allow the public to see for themselves. Similarly, they could use best practice deliberative democracy to find what people really think when properly informed.

      In the case of the bridge, neither Waka Kotahi nor MoT have given good advice to the Minister about what the public sentiment is, how it can be best measured, nor how the public can be best informed about the effects of lane reallocation.

      You can guess, of course, but doesn’t it get tiring, in the end, believing that the weight of decades worth of reckons is in any way a source of information?

  5. Great article on Chris Hipkins,
    I don’t think there is any coincidence that one of the better performing politicians in Wellington,also chooses to bike to work. He understands the benefits ,that cycling gives, probably also “enjoys ” the “life affirming moments” that come with it as well, a great photo of him with a Mainfreight truck in the background.
    Maybe Wellington Council and WK should check his route out,and some targeted spending could avoid ” political fallout” that a mishap could produce.

  6. Thanks Tim – excellent, and for me – our bridge is a flag that says
    – Auckland does not have control over its transport infrastructure
    – Climate emergency declaration is lip service
    – Minister Woods demand of NZTA to do a run a trial – meaningless.
    – People on bikes and foot are not important – know your place.
    – Young people (kids on bikes) need to limit their roaming

    $51M NZTA failed spend on getting across the bridge – status quo.

    Where to from here? – status quo – angry posts and back into our cars to visit friends and family on the other side.

    Dont liberate the lane – Auckland needs to Annex the bridge.

  7. I agree with a pedestrian crossing on the bridge. I doubt liberating the lane will fly for a number of reasons, it’s a primary link in logics chains, and it would be political suicide. To achieve a pedestrian crossing realistically will require government investment in an additional crossing to carry PT & freight.

    1. The NZTA’s own studies into liberating a lane found that there would be negligible impact on traffic flows across the Auckland motorway network by going from 8 traffic lanes (5+3 at peak) to 7 (4+3 at peak)

      Combine liberating a lane with motorway congestion charging, sustained half-price public transport, and more reliable higher-frequency bus and train services and I’m confident that the impact on traffic flow would be even less than NZTA predict. Reduced demand has been proven to work well overseas.

    2. What’s your basis for this opinion about freight, Mark? Freight is too often used as a bit of a shield for having to present evidence or to do the right thing. This is a systemic problem throughout the sector and is certainly happening in discussions about the bridge.

      The WRR can provide a good route for long truck journeys. Both on the bridge, and on WRR, freight would be more efficient if vehicle traffic was reduced substantially. Doing this is not just possible – it’s the only reasonable way forward. Freight journeys throughout the city will be substantially improved if as many people as possible can shift out of cars and into other transport modes. Reallocating lanes on the bridge is a major connection required for this citywide shift to happen.

      The fight here is not between space for walking and cycling and space for freight. It’s on choosing to value people instead of continuing to give the lions’ share of space and connectivity to the least inefficient mode: driving.

        1. Hi KLK sorry I’m not sure whose comments you referring to? But I don’t think freight will stop heading over the shore unless the bridge structurally can no longer take it.

      1. We have slightly different positions. I am pro having a lane for cycling & walking. I believe this will require additional infrastructure investment to allow for faster PT from the shore to the cbd, by way of building a second link of some kind. I appreciate your position on nudges but I don’t see it being politically tenable.

        1. And what are you basing your opinion on what’s politically tenable? It’s a serious question. Where change is happening, it’s happening despite people saying it’s not politically tenable. It’s happening because there’s leadership to get past the sticky bits.

          From every technical perspective, reallocating a lane is fine. The only sticky point is getting past the naysayers. People therefore do need to reflect.

          So, what research or analysis is informing your belief that it wouldn’t be politically tenable?

        2. The timetable is not frequent enough, nor covering enough of the day, to meet the varied needs that people have. And people who are choosing to bike – which, like any mode, involves various tasks, costs and inconveniences – aren’t expecting to also have to pay for tickets. A parent biking somewhere (return) with two children would expect to save the costs associated with using other modes by doing so, not to have to pay $17 for a ferry.

          Biking in winter is fine because although parts of you might get wet, you can keep moving. Having to stop and get chilled, waiting for a ferry, is unpleasant.

          The ferry isn’t a solution except in the minds of people who aren’t really listening to what people want, and who aren’t prepared to accept that transport planning is fundamentally different now we understand that reallocating road space to sustainable and space efficient modes is beneficial for all the networks.

    3. The $4b+ Western Ring Route was supposedly meant to be the ‘primary link in logistics chains’.

      I do love the idea of designating it as SH1 and elbowing NZTA (and long-distance trucks) off the bridge for good.

      1. I understand your sentiment. I suspect having two transport links are better than two for resilience. Agree for pedestrian/cycle link to the shore. I can imagine such a link was value managed out by earlier governments/transport planning. We have sad legacy in Auckland of not spending on infrastructure.

  8. Waka Kotahi is totally useless.
    They could have taken a vehicle lane easily and safely with the right barriers as a temporary traffic management plan as a trial and just left it in from March 2020. They just choose not to. Because they are useless. The whole lot should be fired for being utterly incompetent.

    Having said that, I hate when mobs break the law to force their point. This mob of law-breaking cyclists, the anti-vax mob down in wellington, the squatters at Ihumatao. They are all the same in principle. Breaking the law to get their way. This is divisive and in this case in the minds of everyone else, it proves the myth that cyclists are just a bunch of lawbreakers who don’t follow the rules.

    1. Agree on both points.

      The old pics during the oil crisis show this is possible and with precedent. Its just WK waging an ideological rearguard at this point.

        1. If it was worth it and provided for an actual need, then the business cases would’t be have the ROI at 0.1-0.2. A better return on investment for the country would be to set 5 billion dollars on fire, and put the other 5B under a mattress for 30 years.

        2. A higher population on the same sized bridge means reducing the space given to cars is critical, as they are the least space efficient mode. It doesn’t mean we need to tunnel.

    2. They are not useless, just stubborn. They resisted median barriers on Auckland motorways well past the time any sensible person could see they were needed. Then when they decided barriers might help they installed them in impressive time. Same thing happened with reflectorised raised pavement markers. They did the entire country in a remarkable roll-out.

      Yes, yes that was Transit NZ, but they are essentially the same people, NRB, TNZ, NZTA, Waka Kotahi. The same stubborn dudes who think they are right and everyone else is wrong.

      1. It seems like any change of tack is an admission they were previously doing something wrong, and as such should be avoided at all costs. A view to try decrease VKT is basically a total reversal of thinking, their careers were working towards a bad goal. I can certainly picture how someone would be resistant to that, and can also easily picture just how large a spanner a high up technocrat could throw in these changes, let alone a whole cohort.

        1. If they want to behave like that, frequent forced retirements become a solution. Including any CEOs and Board members who cosset dinosaurs instead.

      2. Thanks for the reminder about the median barriers, Miffy. Used to be regular head-on crashes and multiple fatalities, like clockwork. Horrible to think how many lives were lost, that needn’t have been.

  9. Get a grip, the bridge does not have the capacity to take traffic and include the rest of the masses on some inexplicable campaign to ensure we all walk to work or ride our bikes, great if you only need to carry your organic chic pea salad to work, all the while singing ancient,but govt approved ditties in the pouring rain on a freezing August morning
    Think about it,
    Really. Is this the best option you can come up with, or is this another socially political hand rubbing feel good idea.
    On another note, get licence plates on the bikes so they can be identified when they run lights. Cross I front of traffic and generally do as they wish on the roads with NO chance of being held accou table for their law breaking actions. If it’s good enough for cars to pay to use the road the it’s good enough for bike also.

    1. Please explain your logic here, I don’t follow.

      Reallocating 1/8th of the bridge, something the NZTA have modelled to have little traffic impact, somehow equates to -> “ensure we all walk to work or ride our bikes…(insert weird fantasy)

      IDGI. Even if it removed 1/8th of the daily crossings (which it wont) then its still an order of magnitude away from “everyone”

      1. And as you continue to believe the rubbish that is fed to you by NZTA, you surely are another gullible fool that has taken thier bait, ahhh, blessed are the ignorant that believe in the promises of words that are uttered by NZTA.

        1. Meh, there is no point arguing with illogical people.

          But here I go, in this case the NZTA have every structural reason to downplay the viability of a lane reallocation. They will loose funding if people switch from driving to biking, their skills will be less valuable, and the potential shining gem in the crown of a career will no longer be needed.
          They desperately want to do another car crossing, and every project that makes the existing bridge serve needs better takes away from that business / political case.

          You can plainly see their bias when they hold press conferences to declare misleading statements about how the bridge can no longer be strengthened, and later when the media parrots “bridge falling down” they do nothing to correct those statements.

          They don’t hold press conferences to display their modelling of reallocation traffic impacts, no they bury it in a recess of the report. Only doing the modelling begrudgingly. So yes, I do believe that at the very most, the traffic impacts will be what they modelled. Likely someone has had their finger on the scales at some point to make it look even worse for cars than the reality would be.

          They have biases, but those biases push away from non car modes not towards them.

    2. The problem isn’t that in some fever dream everyone will be forced to ride or walk.

      The problem is that *right now * everyone is forced to drive or be driven.

    3. Remember folks:
      – 8 lanes for cars and none for walking and cycling = freedom of choice
      – 7 lanes for cars and one for walking and cycling = ensuring we all walk and ride to work.

  10. How hard can it be to have a month trial of a cycleway?
    Get some usage numbers to compare with the CRL for instance.
    Trial a negative toll (subsidies) to ride the bridge during peak usage times.
    You can’t get data without a trial!

      1. Bingo. Just do it. (But if you need data, look no further than every other bridge in the world that’s made space for walking and cycling.)

        1. And the location of any bridge (around the world) has little bearing on the roading situation in Auckland. some people will grasp at any printed rubbish to believe in. Why dont you try paying for your bikes to be on the road as other road users do… oh I forgot… your the special people with your blah blah blah, next move is to get you over privileged loudmouth friend Greta (Tin tin ) Thunberg to have a word on your behalf.

        2. Bikes and pedestrians can start paying as soon as every driving externality is paid for.

    1. I suspect you would not like the results. Yes you would get some rush of people giving it a go (me included) and some organised BA back and forth outings to boost the numbers, but in reality the normal daily numbers would be very low.
      I had to laugh at the authors delusions re people who physically couldn’t drive or get in a mobikty vehicle but would be rushing over the bridge.
      A shuttle bus is all that is needed.

      1. Do you have the calculations, there, Stu, that you can share?

        What frequency of shuttle bus? What’s the frequency the shuttle bus needs to be if you install cycle lanes on all the connecting arterials? What about if you also implement a North Shore Low Traffic Neighbourhood plan? And safe speeds throughout? And school streets so parents can get their kids to school by bike before heading off to work?

        1. Obviously only the 1st 2 questions are relevant to the topic.
          My basis is that I am yet to see agreement here on what would be daily numbers across the bridge. So far even the most optimistic Ive seen seem to be about the equivalent of 1 traffic lane per hour, but per day, so could easily be met by shuttles.
          They could be implemented today with very little cost. It could even be free, although as you are a proponent of user pays, I guess a small charge would be ok.
          I do like the idea of some weekends in summer where a clip-on is closed to allow people to cross by bike or foot.

        2. Hi Stu,

          The Skypath trust tried to model the patronage of their project and it was between a few hundred on weekdays to 10,000 on summer weekends. Interestingly at the RC meeting Bike Auckland said both that it would support the patronage projections and that there would not be ‘hordes of cyclists’. I guess a horde is now defined as 10,001.
          I am an avid cyclist, I often ride around the harbour, using the upper harbour bridge and then either the ferry back to Birkenhead, or if Im feeling keen, the ferry to Devonport (but those three hills are a killer).
          I would never use the bridge to ride to work, by the time I put on cycling clothes and then changed in the office (plus a shower on wet days), it would be much quicker to take a bus. I also would not know where to park my bike at work and I certainly dont think it would be allowed to take it indoors. OK, I own a very expensive racing bike, but even if I had a $500 duffer, it would still be annoying to find it stolen at home time.
          Im also quite fit, most of the people I work with could not ride a bike from Birkenhead to Queen Street and while an ebike would make that possible, my company would never allow a mass of ebikes in the office because of our fire insurance.
          Yeah I would like the option to ride the bridge, it would be great on days when I did not feel like going the extra distance via Devonport and better then the Birkenhead ferry, but I would maybe use it once a month, probably less.
          So if it doesnt work for commuting and it doesnt work for sports cyclists, what is the point? I would much rather see that 780m spent on PT or even more, a better and safer cycle infrastructure around the rest of Auckland.
          Anyone that isnt aligned just isnt a real cyclist.

    1. House prices are so expensive, lower income families have had to move far out from the cbd. Public transport is pathetic so those families have to drive to get to work so they can survive. Until public transport actually becomes useful you can forget about a stupid walk/cycle lane on the bridge that will realistically only be used by a tiny majority of people that live in the higher income suburbs.

      1. pfff. It would be used by hundred’s if not thousands of Aucklander’s everyday considering all the connections they have or soon will have to each end. Even the poor people could cross over as a cheap tourist attraction considering you could jump on a train from the outer suburbs for half price & cross over the bridge for free.

  11. “Anyone that isnt aligned just isnt a real cyclist”

    No. Maybe they are a walker, runner, using e-scooters. Because its not about those who consider themselves so important that they define what every other potential user needs.

    But the only way to prove who is right is a trial. Why is everyone so scared of being proven right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *