Pushing back the barriers of the Auckland Harbor Bridge

This is a guest post by sustainable transportation and accessibility advocate Tim Adriaansen.

A year ago, on a sunny Sunday morning, around 5,000 people gathered in Point Erin Park to express their growing disbelief – especially given the looming climate emergency – at the lack of access for walking and cycling on the Auckland Harbor Bridge.

Photo credit: Nabulen photographer

They had gathered for a rally in which speakers expressed emotions ranging from hope to frustration. Then, knowing that transport agencies had announced that the northbound clip lanes had already been closed to traffic, thousands of Aucklanders headed for the Curran Street slip road…

…and on deck, in a display of the public’s determination that their city should be a better place. Ordinary, ordinary people from all over town. From small children to seniors, expectant mothers, disabled wheelchair users, seniors with walkers, people jogging, people with dogs.

They sank onto the deck, all smiles and sunshine, making it briefly accessible to all of us, as it always should have been.

The gap between the voices of those who briefly experienced an inclusive bridge and the few media commentators who reacted to a brief moment of mundane, mundane congestion was almost as wide as the port itself.

I guess, as they say: you had to be there.

A year later, where are we? Like every year for the past decade, we are still waiting for the connected and accessible city that we desperately need.

And having spent over $50 million more than 5 years after trying to solve this puzzle, New Zealand transport agency Waka Kotahi remains unable to do what children on bikes have always achieved: making it possible to cycle over the Harbor Bridge .

Photo credit: Nabulen photographer

Today, the case for opening a lane on the bridge could not be stronger.

We know that repurposing just one lane of the bridge would have minimal impact – and potentially even positive – impacts on the fluidity of traffic. Since the first lockdown in March 2020, the bridge has had enough spare capacity to support lane reassignment without causing problematic congestion. Peak traffic volumes crossing the bridge have been steadily declining since 2016 – and the recently released Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) calls for this trend to continue.

This plan provides for a 20% reduction in motor vehicle travel through Aotearoa; and because rural commuting is harder to replace with public or active transportation, most of the change will have to happen in cities. For Aucklanders, that means driving 40-50% less over the next decade.

If we need people to drive half as much as they currently do, surely the first thing we should do is to make alternatives to the car possible? And, if we’re going to halve the number of rides we’re doing, then there’s going to be plenty of spare capacity on deck, from now until we solve the whole climate change problem, don’t is this not ?

The most effective tool we have to create this change is to make better use of existing road space to make room for these alternative means of travel.

If that doesn’t happens on the bridge, allowing residents of the North Shore to cycle, walk, jog, scooter and generally micromobilize between the Shore and the City, so what? We will have to rely more on other parts of Auckland – like the South and West – to reduce their car use even further. Are we comfortable telling people in South Auckland that they to have to drive less, so as not to inconvenience the good people of Northcote and Takapuna?

Opening the footbridge to active transportation is also economic evidence. In a revised version of 2021 economic evaluation of the Northern Pathway (Albany’s pedestrian and bicycle connection to downtown), the section connecting Westhaven and Akoranga was estimated to earn $530 million in benefits.

With an estimated $15 million track reallocation, the entire path to Akoranga Station could be completed for $80-90 million, giving the project a benefit-cost ratio of 5.9, higher any other ongoing transport project.

Waka Kotahi’s refusal to try an accessible bridge has all the hallmarks of predatory delaythe agency frequently leaning on “network impacts” as the main reason why people are best left to walk and cycle across the bridge. just too hard. In other words: Must not impede traffic – even if every day traffic impedes traffic, causing traffic jams on the network.

By repeatedly deploying this rationale for banning river-to-river walking and rolling, the NZTA is making a disturbing value judgment about the 40% of Aucklanders who cannot, will not or should not drive because of age, medical condition, disability, injury or income.

The very young, the very old and those for whom driving is difficult, dangerous or otherwise impossible are excluded from the table.

In a city that values ​​universal accessibility, everyone is granted agency, dignity, and independence in how they can travel and participate in the things that enrich their lives.

When you become dependent on a schedule, you lose that agency. When you have to tackle additional obstacles in public – like awkwardly maneuvering a mobility device on public transport – it compromises your dignity. When you have to ask someone else to help with your transportation needs, you lose your independence. This is one of the main reasons why ferries or shuttles to get non-motorists across the bridge are a very impractical idea.

For an inclusive and universally accessible city, people must be able move in the way that suits them. They must be able to go where they need to go, when they need to go, without depending on others.

By requiring the use of a motor vehicle to cross one of our most vital routes, the Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency is essentially saying: if you are too disabled to drive, you are worth less than those who can. If you are too young, too old, too sick or too poor to own a car, your needs are not as important as those who want to drive.

The disheartening thing about Waka Kotahi’s performance when it comes to the Auckland Harbor Bridge isn’t the huge expense, lengthy delays, climate denial, or lack of sound economic judgment.

It’s that, at a fundamental level, the New Zealand transport agency Waka Kotahi is preventing Tāmaki Makaurau from becoming a town that values ​​all who live there.

Overcoming barriers in 2022

Granting people access to the bridge is not technically difficult. It has already been done.

In 1974, when the oil crisis coincided with a bus strike, Auckland Harbor Bridge was open to pedestrians and cyclists.

An iconic photo from the time shows Mr Trevor Lanigan pedaling across the bridge – from Birkenhead to his job in the town – on his daughter’s Raleigh Twenty, in his shiny suit and shoes, with his bag on the handlebars. If he can do it, we can do it.

Allowing crossing the bridge on foot and by bicycle is safe, easy and cheap. Concerns about ‘safety’ – which didn’t surface a year ago, or any of the other times people walked or cycled across the bridge – are largely an attempt at misdirection by the part of an agency looking for a jail-free release card.

Unlike motor vehicles, collisions between pedestrians and cyclists are relatively rare and the consequences less serious. If it’s not safe to ride a bike across the harbor bridge, it’s definitely not safe to drive a truck through a city.

Rather than being a safety risk, opening the bridge to active travel would result in significantly improved health outcomes. The health benefits of regular exercise for cross-border commuters easily outweigh any potential risk of injury. Barrier upgrades, as recommended in 2019, would also provide a long overdue solution to the real and present risk the bridge poses to people in crisis (if Waka Kotahi is so worried about security, why hasn’t this already happened?)

The only thing standing in the way, it seems, is the New Zealand Transport Agency itself.

So here’s a thought:

Aucklanders have already jumped through the barriers to access the bridge, and it may be time to do it again. If Waka Kotahi can’t put bikes on the bridge, maybe it’s time to take the transport agency out of it.

  • With the Northern Corridor Improvements Nearing completion, it’s time to consider moving road freight out of our city center and into the western ring road.
  • Shift the designation of State Highway 1, so it flows west – and the critical link between downtown Auckland and the North Shore becomes a strategic route that can be managed by Auckland, not wellingtons.
  • Establish a new Port Passage Authority, independent of road interests, to oversee the delivery of all future port passage options (given the need to reduce vehicle-kilometres traveled by approximately 50% by 2030, there is no business case for additional port passage anytime soon).
  • Construct the Onewa Road Interchange, allowing fast and frequent buses to link Northcote and Birkenhead to the city.
  • And, as part of this essential and visionary reset, transform the Auckland Harbor Bridge space into an accessible and equitable port crossing – that moves more people, more freely, in more ways, with fewer emissions. of greenhouse gases – every day.

Give the bridge a chance to work for all of us. And give us all the chance to feel what people felt a year ago: how simple, free, joyful and just a city can be.

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