Saturday saw thousands turn out to celebrate the opening of Ngā Hau Māngere, the $38m replacement for the Old Mangere Bridge – which had to close in 2018 due to safety concerns. The new bridge is a fantastic addition to the fabric of Auckland, and one that immediately and visibly improves connections between people and communities.
It has to be said that the opening of Nga Hau Māngere sits in stark contrast to what is happening with the ability to cross our other harbour by foot or bike.
Just 10 days ago, the Auckland Council adopted the city-shaping Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP) – which requires a reduction in travel by cars and an increase in use of public transport and active modes. Meanwhile on the same day at the other end of the island, Waka Kotahi was busy making sure that going for a walk or a bike ride was still a prohibited activity in parts of Tāmaki Makaurau by once again ruling out reallocating lanes on the bridge for active modes.
The Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency Board has confirmed that it will not be opening lanes on the Auckland Harbour Bridge for a formal walking and cycling trial at this time.
“Waka Kotahi is strongly committed to providing a safe network for walking and cycling in the Auckland region, integrated with public transport, to support a shift to active and shared modes with better climate outcomes. However, the Board cannot support a trial of lane reallocation on the Auckland Harbour Bridge due to the significant health and safety issues associated with walking and cycling on the bridge structure at this time,” says Waka Kotahi Board Chair Sir Brian Roche.
Sir Brian says Waka Kotahi is focused on planning and delivering a range of projects in Auckland which include walking and cycling in order to encourage more people to use active transport.
Waka Kotahi will also continue with planning for opportunities to allow Aucklanders to walk or cycle over the bridge in a safely controlled environment as part of a series of single day walking and cycling festivities this summer.
“The Board has considered lane reallocation on the Auckland Harbour Bridge on a number of occasions, and it is clear that the risks for people walking and cycling on the structure cannot be mitigated to the level where we can be confident that it is an activity which can be managed safely on a permanent basis, alongside our other considerations of managing the long term resilience of the bridge as a critical transport asset and its key role in the region’s transport network.
“The most recent safety assessment, undertaken by Waka Kotahi this year, identified a number of safety risks which would be created by the permanent reallocation of lanes for walking and cycling on the bridge.
Waka Kotahi is making a big deal out of the safety risks of providing space on the bridge – but a more detailed look at what those concerns are highlights the hypocrisy of the organisation.
In short, their concerns relate to the width, length and gradient of any lanes crossing the bridge.
The assessment noted that due to there being a 6% downhill gradient cyclists could achieve speeds of up to 60km/hr. At this speed a head-on collision with another cyclist would increase DSI risk and a collision with a child or elderly pedestrian would also be of high severity
The first awkward moment comes when you realise that a brand new path designed, constructed and celebrated by Waka Kotahi – Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive stage 2, formally named Te Ara Ki Uta Ki Tai – has a downhill section which is the same width, a similar length and is much steeper (10%) than a pathway on the Auckland Harbour Bridge would be.
And it’s not alone: Grafton Gully, the Greenhithe Bridge, and even the Nelson Street cycleway all have similar lengths, gradients and path widths. It’s almost as if that’s…not a factor?
In any case, it would also still be safer than most of the non-motorway parts of the state highway network in Auckland which have no provision for cycling and in many cases have cars and trucks travelling at much higher speeds. For example, along State Highway 16 west of the end of the motorway, or even within the urban area – such as along The Strand where on-street car parking is prioritised over cyclist safety in the context of heavy truck traffic.
And the claims of safety further fall flat when you consider Waka Kotahi just raised the speed limit on the Waikato Expressway to 110km/h and yet cyclists are expected to ride with nothing but paint to protect them, including crossing off-ramps.
While safety concerns are what they’re hiding behind in public, the report shows the real concern against reallocating a lane is the “network impacts” it would have – another way of saying they’re worried it will make congestion worse. They make particular mention about being concerned with the impact it will have on the reliability of the Northern Busway, as if we couldn’t also provide bus-only lanes on the bridge.
There’s also the irony that if you look at Waka Kotahi’s Twitter feed, which from dawn to dusk reports on crashes and their aftermath, you’d see that drivers face daily “network impacts”… caused by their fellow drivers.
Simply put, for TERP to be successful, the cycling and walking networks need to be substantially expanded. Reallocating a lane on the Auckland Harbour Bridge will have excellent network impacts for those modes.
And even for driving, the network will be improved! That’s because reducing traffic on the bridge will reduce traffic either side of the bridge as well, and on all approaching roads to the motorway network. As the TERP says:
Supercharging walking and cycling, massively increasing public transport patronage, and prioritising and resourcing sustainable transport are the key areas to make walking, cycling and public transport the preferred transport choices for short to medium-distance trips.
Reducing car dependency is important to address congestion.
There is limited space on the road network. So long as most people continue to travel primarily by car, congestion will only worsen.
The TERP calls for 13% of all travel in the region by 2030 to be made by cycling and micromobility – and for Aucklanders to halve the amount of driving they do.
By that maths, if we consider the approximately 200,000 Aucklanders who currently cross Auckland Harbour Bridge each day, we should expect that by the end of the decade, somewhere around 25,000 of them will make that journey via walking, wheeling, cycling or scooting.That’s totally possible, but only if it’s made possible. We also know that reducing road capacity is one of the most effective ways to help reduce the driving.
Earlier in the year, Waka Kotahi floated the idea of ferries as a substitute for walking and cycling access. This might move a total of 1,800 people per day – less than 10% of the mode share we need – and would be far more expensive than reallocating a lane. You’d have to purchase and staff the ferries for starters, and build landings at each end. And would they run 24/7, allowing for full access, e.g. for shift workers and early birds and late night returns from town? Doubtful.
— Alec Tang 鄧振揚 (@AlecTang_) August 27, 2022
Even if Waka Kotahi could manage to design, consent, construct and open another bridge over the harbour that includes walking and cycling by 2030, what happens in the intervening years – and we only have seven years to work with, so agility is of the essence – is critically important.
Their response is a timely example of the “organisational conservatism” which Auckland Council’s TERP so accurately describes.
In the meantime it seems the only thing we’ll get is a couple of one-off ‘festivals’ this summer. Waka Kotahi management describe these as:
The purpose of the series of events endorsed by the Board is to leave Aucklanders feeling positive about walking and cycling in their city – i.e. to promote mode shift
So a festival to say “this is what you could have but we won’t let you“. It will be very hard to encourage mode shift to cycling on a ghost bridge.