The cycle lobbyists seem driven by the same cargo-cult philosophy that makes business leaders believe their expensive new Big A logo is the aphrodisiac that will have customers flocking into our city.
The cyclists have a similar faith that once a cycle and walk lane is clipped on to the harbour bridge, thousands of us will throw away our car keys and bus passes, don Lycra, and start puffing and panting our way up and down the coat-hanger.
I'm writing this before yesterday's "mass rally" at Westhaven to protest at Auckland City's rejection of the plan. Beforehand, Walk Auckland spokesman Andy Smith complained that some councillors had shown a lack of understanding of the key issues. I disagree. On both the key issues, cost and use, it is the proponents who have failed to make a convincing case.
Whether you go for the cheapest $24 million option, which involves narrowing the clip-on lanes to squeeze in additional perspex-covered walking and cycling "tunnels," or the safer $43 million option, which involves widening the clip-ons, there is no evidence to suggest building either will lead to widespread use.
All we get is faith, argued on the basis of what is said to happen elsewhere. Even here, there's conflicting evidence.
Cycle Action Auckland argues that on its overseas evidence, 10,000 or more trips will be taken by cyclists and pedestrians a day if access is provided. But a recently completed study conducted by affected local bodies and the New Zealand Transport Agency begs to differ. It suggests that between 750 and 1900 people a day, two thirds of them cyclists, would use it.
The study bases its estimate on figures from the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Call me a spoilsport, but I find even that an over-optimistic guess. The last time I checked, about 160 cyclists a day took advantage of the next best thing; free passage for bikes on Auckland's cross-harbour ferries. To me, that's a more realistic starting point.
The ferry option has certain advantages as well, offering cyclists several access points on the North Shore, rather than having to funnel their journey through the Northcote bottleneck.
If I wanted to call the lobbyists' bluff, I'd lay on a trial shuttle between Northcote and Shelley Beach Rd and see how many takers there are. Even the cost of providing this as a free shuttle would be cheaper than commissioning another report. Thirty years ago, after a similar clamour, several shuttle trials were conducted. The first month-long trial carried 25 bike/passengers a day. A subsequent three-month trial shuttle carried fewer than 10 return travellers a day. A final year-long trial in 1983 averaged under 20 users a day.
The cyclists argue that shuttling or catching a ferry mid-journey forces them to a timetable and restricts their free-as-a-bird independence.
But surely they owe the public purse a better justification than pure faith, before asking for $43 million.
An alternative trial was proposed by veteran trucking and motorsport journalist Jon Addison the other day. He suggested the cycle lobby was confusing recreational cycling and walking with transportation, "presumably in an attempt to secure tax and ratepayer funding" and said most people would use the bridge only for recreational purposes. His proposal was to close the eastern clip-on lanes every Sunday during daylight saving for a trial. He acknowledged this would inconvenience motorists wanting to use the Shelly Beach Rd off-ramp to Ponsonby, but said the detour up College Hill was modest.
He suggests the Northern busway could be commandeered to provide parking for would be North Shore cyclists and strollers. It all sounds eminently commonsense to me.
Without barriers to protect from the cross-winds, authorities might have to station a rescue boat below. But that would only add to the excitement. For tourist potential, perhaps the once a week happening on the bridge could become the attraction. Combine it with a bungy-jump perhaps. And if this Sunday summer happening takes off, then we can take it from there. But until that occurs, and a demand of some sort is proven, I'm for saving our money.