5 Jun 2021

Auckland harbour cycle and pedestrian bridge facing criticism from both sides

8:38 am on 5 June 2021

A cycling advocate says building an entire bridge from the ground up - at a cost of at least $780 million - is totally unnecessary when cyclists and walkers could just have a lane on the existing Auckland harbour bridge.

And a trucking leader says the priorities are backwards - a new harbour crossing for vehicles should be first, not a few cyclists.

Auckland harbour bridge

The existing Auckland harbour bridge. Photo: Unsplash / Daniel Wang

Bevan Woodward, a cycling campaigner who has clashed with Waka Kotahi - the New Zealand Transport Agency - in the past, was wondering why the government had just committed to spending close to a billion dollars without even trying an obvious alternative.

"That is to take the westernmost lane for walking and cycling. Do it initially as a trial to see if it works. We know it's worked many times overseas. Let's try it out - if it works, then that should be the solution," Woodward said.

Minister of Transport Michael Wood admitted today the bridge itself was not a traffic choke point.

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Minister of Transport Michael Wood. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Woodward said that admission and overseas experience showed taking a lane away would not grind the city to a halt.

"There's been many cases including in the States where they've taken a lane of the bridge and given it to walking and cycling, and predictions of traffic armageddon have not eventuated at all.

"In fact the opposite happens - when people think there's going to be a problem with traffic, they change their plans."

Those plans could include carpooling, taking public transport, or active transport like cycling.

The government expected about 5000 people to use the new bridge per day initially when completed - which was expected to be in five to six years' time.

At least 180,000 people per day use the existing bridge currently.

National Leader Judith Collins said the bridge would not get uptake.

"How many people are seriously going to be taking their kids to school, the netball team to sports, across a cycleway? Is this really realistic? No it's not," Collins said.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett was in favour of more cycling investment, but said it should not be prioritised over vehicles.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett

Nick Leggett. Photo: RNZ/ Tom Kitchin

"Let's get a new Auckland Harbour Bridge where we can get buses and trucks prioritised and use the existing bridge for cycling and walking."

He reckoned the proposal was a vanity project.

"It's really an ideological capture to spend $700m, which will have to be paid for by all New Zealanders, on something that will be used by so few people and will add very little to the Auckland transport network," Leggett said.

After nearly 20 years of campaigning for something similar however, many cyclists were overjoyed.

Cyclist and urban designer Emma McInnes said the bridge would be used for commuting and for recreation.

"I think we're underestimating the fact that people will use it just for the joy of being able to walk over the water, to stop in the middle of the bridge, take photos, to go over on a jog in the morning, walk their dog, take their kids over... I think people are underestimating how popular a bridge like that would be."

Longtime Bike Auckland campaigner Barbara Cuthbert remained a little jaded from the government's lack of delivery after they announced a walking and cycling path in 2019.

"They've done this before, they've been down this track, they produced some lovely graphics and some big price tags of what they were going to do for walking and cycling. Two years later, when they'd actually done a little bit of design work, they said 'no, we can't do it'."

It was not just one harbour crossing committed to by the government today. Wood also said work was continuing on another crossing, likely under the Waitematā Harbour, which would include public transport.

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