Drive for weekend cycle lane on bridge

By Mathew Dearnaley

Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee wants the Transport Agency to consider giving a lane of the harbour bridge to cyclists and pedestrians at weekends.

He says a three-month trial over summer should establish whether there is enough support to warrant making such an arrangement permanent, given concern about the cost of attaching cycling and walking paths to the sides of the bridge.

His suggestion was welcomed yesterday by the Auckland business association Heart of the City, as well as the Getacross Campaign, although the Government agency foresees problems for traffic management - including keeping motor vehicles apart from cyclists and Sunday strollers.

The call comes as the agency prepares to decide today whether to jettison a proposal to provide dedicated pathways costing between $22 million and $53 million, figures cycling and walking campaigners consider inflated, as they include a 45 per cent loading for contingencies and funding risks.

The campaigners believe the agency's board may try to shift responsibility to Mr Lee's organisation or its Auckland Regional Transport Authority subsidiary to apply for the proposal to be added to a three-year programme of regional infrastructure works, for which the authority's deadline is Friday.

That is because the agency has received a legal opinion deeming regional councils to be "approved organisations" under transport legislation for making such applications.

Auckland council officers have reservations about lodging an application for a Government-owned structure, and the transport authority is seeking its own legal opinion.

Mr Lee has come up with his compromise proposal after the Transport Agency's disclosure that traffic on the bridge in July and August was least 10 per cent lighter than last winter.

"That equates to almost a full lane [of the bridge] at peak times, so I say let's start by letting them [walkers and cyclists] have a whole lane at weekends and see how it works out.

"I'm talking about a trial for, say, three months over summer - and if that stacks up okay, why not have it open every weekend and public holiday for cyclists and walkers?"

Getacross spokesman Bevan Woodward said that although the campaign's more than 10,000 registered supporters would prefer permanent fixtures, to cater for commuters as well as recreational users, he believed they would welcome an opportunity to demonstrate how popular the bridge would be.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said his organisation would "absolutely promote" such an idea as a tourist drawcard.

"This is an economic activator in extremely difficult times - the harbour bridge appears on all the skylines of Auckland and for it not to be embedded in our tourist offerings, through better access other than by way of the motorcar, makes no sense."

Transport Agency acting regional manager Tommy Parker said his board had yet to receive a formal proposal for consideration "but there would be serious implications in terms of traffic management".

He said this summer would be unsuitable for a trial, as the northbound clip-on lanes would have to be closed at times for a $45 million structural strengthening project.

Mr Lee was unimpressed, saying: "One of the problems in this country is that the transport bureaucrats have always found reasons why not to do things."

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