25 May 2009

Protest group threatens more harbour bridge action

9:51 am on 25 May 2009

The group that organised Sunday's protest action on the Auckland Harbour Bridge says it will stage more demonstrations unless its demand for pedestrian and cycle access is taken seriously.

About 2,000 people caused lengthy traffic delays on Sunday when they stormed police barriers to march over the bridge in protest at the lack of walking and cycling access.

A group of a few cyclists at the front of the demonstration first got through a line of about eight police at the city end of the bridge shortly after 10am.

Pedestrians followed within a few minutes, causing the bridge's northbound lanes to be closed as they crossed.

The protest was organised by the group Get Across, whose spokesperson, Bevan Woodward says the size of the turnout, and the fact that people were prepared to make their point, shows they need to be listened to.

He says there will be further action unless the New Zealand Transport Agency takes notice.

The agency says having new lanes for non-vehicle access would be too expensive, and it could be 30 years before an alternative harbour crossing can be completed to make way for cycle and pedestrian access to the bridge.

Apology for disruption

Mr Woodward has apologised for disrupting drivers but says the stance taken by the transport agency is to blame, as it refused a request from the group to close two lanes of the bridge to allow protestors to walk across.

He says that meant when the protest broke through onto the bridge, there was no traffic management plan in place.

The agency refused permission for the protestors to go on the bridge, which is part of State Highway 1, because it would be too dangerous. It says some drivers were delayed by the protest for about two hours.

Police say they are disappointed by the actions of the group. Inspector Jacqueline Whittaker says demonstrators put themselves, other members of the public and police in danger.

No arrests were made during the action and no one was injured.

The last time people were able to freely cross the Auckland Harbour Bridge without vehicles was a week before the bridge was opened in 1959.