Last week, Torbay correspondent Judy Barfoot wrote glowingly of her experience of pedalling across the Auckland Harbour Bridge the previous weekend as part of a protest group. "For 35 years, I have wanted to cycle over the harbour bridge," she enthused. She did not say whether she actually enjoyed the ride: if, for example, the steep gradient was off-putting or if the wind provided an unpleasant buffeting. Yet, after the initial thrill has gone, these downsides will be a major deterrent to most cyclists. So much so that use would be far too limited to justify the proposed cost of cycling and pedestrian paths.
A shortlist of options ranges from reallocating space on the bridge's clip-ons for $23.8 million to widening them by 1.2m for $42.8 million. The cheaper proposal, which involves narrowing the width of the vehicle lanes on the two clip-ons to squeeze in additional Perspex-covered walking and cycling tunnels, can be dismissed quickly. It would provide insufficient protection from the wind and would be attractive to few cyclists or walkers. Motorists squeezed for space would have reason to feel aggrieved over the lack of use.
The more expensive option, which involves widening the clip-ons, has more merit because it would be safer and, therefore, far more likely to be used by cyclists and walkers. But $42.8 million is a significant sum and before work began, there would need to be considerable evidence that it would be used widely for daily commuting. There is nothing to suggests this would be the case. Many of those involved in the illegal dash across the bridge and the associated Getacross rally were surely protesting more generally about cyclists' lot in Auckland than the lack of access to the structure.
Cycle Action Auckland argues that, on its overseas evidence, 10,000 or more trips would be taken by cyclists and walkers daily. A study by Auckland local bodies and the New Zealand Transport Agency puts the figure much lower. It says between 750 and 1900 people a day, two-thirds of them cyclists, would use the clip-ons. It bases its estimate on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Both, however, are much more user-friendly to cyclists than the Auckland bridge. That, and the relatively low turnout when shuttle trials have been conducted, suggests far too few people would use the clip-ons to make them anything like cost-effective.
Sensibly, the Auckland City Council has reached that conclusion. However, the Auckland Regional Council, North Shore City Council and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority all support the project, albeit with varying conditions.
The ultimate arbiter, the New Zealand Transport Agency, has given itself until the end of the year to consider the proposal. It should ponder not only the failure of the cost-benefit equation but also the other projects that would be denied funding.
Even the cheaper, and highly impractical, $23.8 million option would take almost a year of the Government's national funding allowance for cycling. That money could far better be spent on other cycling and walking facilities, especially in Auckland, where cyclists are undoubtedly shortchanged.
That wider view should be the focus of groups like Cycle Action Auckland. It is easy to see how they would view the inaccessibility of the harbour bridge as symbolic of their plight. It might even be possible to sympathise with them if the bridge was flat and Auckland was blessed with a more benign climate. In reality, however, the harbour bridge will never be a pleasant cycling experience.
Those responsible for the funding decision should cross it from their list.
Judy Barfoot's letter to the Editor, September 23:
Columnist Brian Rudman suggests cyclists use the ferry option through the "Northcote bottleneck". What sort of option does he mean?
Recently, on a Sunday afternoon, I arrived five minutes late for the Birkenhead ferry from Auckland city. I waited one hour 25 minutes for the next one. If, however, I had missed the last ferry in the morning, I would have had to wait six hours 45 minutes.
On Sunday, instead of taking the ferry to arrive five hours early for the mass rally, I joined the group cycling across the harbour bridge. For 35 years I have wanted to cycle over it.
If I had commuted by bike to work only one day a week, I would have made 1500 return trips. I would not have been alone.
Rudman resurrects the failure of that free shuttle 30 years ago. At the time, I was working at Auckland Hospital and would never have got to work on time or been able to catch it home if I finished late. Since when have all Aucklanders worked from 8.30am to 5pm?
Judy Barfoot, Birkdale.