Simon Wilson: The truth about Sunday cycling on the harbour bridge

OPINION

Cycling events can be staged on the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Sunday mornings, without disrupting traffic, provided they are managed properly.

The revelation comes from a previously confidential report written by officials at Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, and just released under the Official Information Act.

It begs the question: Why was traffic disrupted by the informal bike rally on the bridge on Sunday, May 30?

The answer appears to be: because Waka Kotahi board members chose to ignore their officials’ advice. That led directly to the agency mismanaging the event.

The report is called “Opening the Auckland Harbour Bridge for Events”. It was written by the agency’s urban mobility manager, Kathryn King, and signed off by senior executive Brett Gliddon, who is general manager of transport services. The Herald has a copy.

On April 19 it was presented to the Investment and Delivery Committee of the Waka Kotahi board. The committee comprises a majority of board members, including chairman Sir Brian Roche.

The report reminded the committee of the agency’s own plan “Keeping Cities Moving”, which highlights “the importance of closing missing links in cities’ strategic cycling networks, and the role that great communications and events can play in building public support for investment”.

A harbour crossing is a “critical missing strategic link”, it says. “Events that open the bridge for people to walk and cycle would provide the opportunity to demonstrate how the wider network will function with this ‘missing link’.”

They would also generate “valuable information about patronage, journeys, customer profiles and opportunities for mitigations”.

Barb Cuthbert from Bike Auckland says, “We asked Waka Kotahi on three separate occasions in person and in writing for Waka Kotahi to hold a public event on the bridge.”

Those requests were all declined.

On May 30, Bike Auckland and the GetAcross coalition of cycling groups held a rally at Point Erin, a park near the bridge. Riding on the bridge was not mentioned.

Afterwards, though, about 1500 cyclists rode down to the motorway onramp, pushed past a small police line and rode on to the bridge.

Police and Waka Kotahi had been anticipating this and closed two northbound lanes to general traffic. This delayed the traffic.

The report makes clear that was unnecessary.

It says: “Opening two lanes [for cycling], operating three traffic lanes in either direction, would require travel demand management to reduce the impact on the transport system. The period of time over the weekend when demand would exceed capacity is limited to late morning through to late afternoon. A morning event would therefore be recommended.”

Decoded, this means that on Sunday mornings, if cyclists use two lanes of the bridge, traffic will still flow smoothly if the remaining six are allocated three each way to traffic.

This is the first time anyone at Waka Kotahi has acknowledged that cycling can be accommodated on the existing lanes of the bridge.

But as Bevan Woodward of the road safety group Momentum points out, when Waka Kotahi closed those two lanes to cars, it did not redistribute the other six. It left just two heading north, while four headed south.

“This caused unnecessary congestion,” he says.

Mark that. Waka Kotahi, anticipating the bridge ride, chose to keep lane arrangements in place that it knew would cause delays and make drivers angry.

Why? To discredit cyclists?

In my view, the agency’s proposed new bridge for walking and cycling, with its preposterous $700 million price tag, does exactly the same thing.

Cyclists have never asked for that bridge. It’s a Waka Kotahi invention. But cyclists are widely blamed for it.

Transport Minister Michael Wood has declined to comment on the report. But he did say,”I’m still keen to see if temporary trials using lanes on the existing harbour bridge for cyclists and pedestrians can be done safely. I expect Waka Kotahi to report back to me very shortly.”

He may know already that the report addresses safety. If two lanes are allocated for cycling, it says, there should not be a problem.

As for the price tag, the report says regular Sunday events would cost $150,000 to $600,000, depending on frequency. A permanent barrier, needed for a three-month trial, might cost $2.5 million.

That’s the sort of money we should be talking about right now.

Waka Kotahi executive Deborah Hume, the “multimodal and innovation manager”, says: “Following a discussion on the paper you refer to, the Waka Kotahi board has asked management to provide further analysis on short term solutions for people on foot and bikes to cross the Waitematā harbour. This expanded analysis will include … all options including using lanes on the Auckland Harbour Bridge.”

The report itself provides a steer. It identifies seven “next steps”, including a detailed budget, some engineering work, a communications plan and an evaluation plan, so lessons can be learned. It’s not clear if any of that is happening. Yet.

By the way, there’s a word for no-cars events like a Sunday morning bridge ride: Ciclovía.

On Sunday mornings in Bogota, Colombia, they close more than 100km of streets to cars, just so people can ride their bikes. Ottawa, Cape Town, Paris, Bangalore: so many cities have embraced the idea. In Mexico they call it Muévete en Bici. Move Yourself on a Bicycle.

Come on Waka Kotahi, get with the programme. Your own officials have told you it can be done.

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