In the good old days when the Auckland Star used to organise and promote the annual Round the Bays fun run, it was the annual task of one of my more senior colleagues to wander out the back of the building as the jogging masses seethed past, think of a number, double it, then report another record number of participants. Then we'd all retire to the next door pub for a celebratory tipple.
I'm reminded of this harmless ritual each time a member of the cycling fraternity comes out with some far-fetched claim about the level of support for their antiquated form of locomotion.
Their latest myth is that a "demand forecast" reveals that if cars were to squeeze together a bit more and surrender a narrow sliver or two of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, up to 5000 pedestrians and cyclists a day would make the return trip. This, says Cycle Action Auckland, warrants $5 million being spent retro-fitting a 2.3m combined cycleway-walkway on to the existing carriageway of both the existing clip-ons.
Perhaps if we could believe 10,000 trips were actually going to eventuate each day, then the expenditure could be justified. But all we have to go on is the faith of these lycra-clad enthusiasts.
Might it be that the realistic figure is closer to the 160 or more who currently take advantage of the free cross-harbour ferry service for bikes each day?
Before we start spending $5 million on the cheap model proposed by the activists, or $40 million on the deluxe clip-on addition to the existing clip-on proposed by Transit New Zealand, it might be smart to call the bikers' bluff, and offer them the next best thing on a trial basis. A shuttle service back and forth from Shelly Beach Rd to Northcote.
Past experience suggests demand will be rather less than the lobbyists predict.
Back in July 1979, after three years of lobbying and a university student ride-in in which three riders where alleged knocked off their bikes by a pursuing bridge authority vehicle, a trial shuttle was begun. The first day was disappointing, with just 27 passengers, most of whom were not reformed car drivers but bus users seeking a change. The month-long trial concluded as a failure with a daily average of just 25 passengers.
In March 1980 another trial began using a modified bus which could carry 11 cyclists plus bikes each trip.
At the end of the three-month trial it was announced that only 1761 cyclists had been carried in total - or presumably 880 return trips. The bridge authority then wiped its hands of the cyclists, saying it was not its job to run a shuttle.
In November 1983, a new bike shuttle between Shelly Beach Rd and Takapuna was launched with the backing of bike manufacturer, Healing Industries, and a free loan of a converted Auckland Regional Authority bus. There were hopes of 310 users a week, but patronage from day one was "disappointing", averaging 160 a week for the first year.
The service dragged on from crisis to crisis, finally being abandoned in November 1986 with the Herald reporting patronage having fallen 25 per cent over the past winter and then decreasing 37 per cent in spring.
It's hard to believe that much has changed, despite the growing sums of public money now being poured on to the squeaky wheel. In the Herald on Sunday last week, a cycling enthusiast admiringly noted how Government and local authorities had spent $7 million in Auckland last year on cycling projects and had earmarked $4 million more for this year. So where are all the born-again cyclists to show for this expenditure?
The bike enthusiasts are like cargo cultists, seeming to believe that if bike lanes are in place, the repressed cyclist in all of us will suddenly break free, we'll all don fluorescent body socks, and pedal off together to save the planet.
As I watch the odd sweaty believer grimacing his way to work, risking life and limb as he weaves through the cars, I can't help thinking what a Calvinist, self-flagellating faith it is they want us to follow.
Sunday's columnist drooled at the thought of the 1.3 million bikes said to be be rusting away in the the garages of the nation, suddenly rising up.
What next will these nostalgists come up with? A piano in every front parlour?