An excellent exploration of all the reasons to Liberate The Lane, thanks to Heidi O’Callahan and our friends at Greater Auckland.

Waka Kotahi has declined our request for a three-month trial cycle lane on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Heidi unpacks their concerns in this comprehensive blog, and it’s well worth a read.

The Liberate the Lane rally is to support Bike Auckland’s proposal of a trial of reallocating one lane of the Auckland Harbour Bridge to cycling for three months over summer 2021/22. Bike Auckland has called on Waka Kotahi to enable this trial while progressing a more permanent walking and cycling link over the harbour corridor.

Bike Auckland has prepared a FAQ page to answer questions about how the proposed trial would work.

How did we get here?

The Liberate the Lane campaign follows a (long) string of events revolving around enabling walking and cycling across the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The original Harbour Bridge Plan (from 1951) was for a 40 mph five lane bridge with narrow footpaths either side – not a motorway. As walking was intended, it is unlikely that cycling would have been banned: cycling was allowed on main roads with the same speed limit elsewhere in the city and country. However, a smaller design eventuated as part of a cost cutting exercise and the bridge was only built with four lanes and no footpaths.

Flat tyre? Simply drive your car off the bridge using a “skate” on the wheel, and it would be changed for free ‘with the compliments of the Bridge Authority’

The bridge’s width was doubled in 1968, an expansion that could have included provision for walking and cycling. Fewer lanes would have meant slightly less allowance for traffic on the bridge, but the growing bias towards motordom meant that active travel was not accommodated at this juncture.

A section of clip-on supported in place during the widening of the bridge

From the 1970s until today advocacy for cycling and walking across the bridge has been a regular part of Auckland’s urban dialogue. In 2004 the Cycling Action Network took a petition to Parliament requesting walking and cycling access on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, crystallising the ongoing Get Across campaign.

A number of feasibility studies were undertaken in the years that followed, highlighting the need to ensure any option progressed could be accommodated by the existing structure. Eventually the momentum on the proposal stalled as Waka Kotahi (then the NZ Transport Agency, and formerly Transit NZ) declined to progress investigations further. This culminated in a 2009 protest coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Auckland Harbour Bride, which is now part of Auckland’s history.

Auckland Harbour Bridge 2009 protest

The citizen-led development of SkyPath emerged off the back of this protest, with a vision supported by thousands. This saw a walking and cycling solution proposed that would be attached to the Eastern clip-on of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and was designed to work within some key constraints (e.g. light weight to minimise loading on the clip-on). This option progressed to a resource consent process in 2015 and was proposed to be funded and delivered using a Public Private Partnership (PPP) approach.

An early rendering of SkyPath, 2015
An early rendering of SkyPath, 2015

Following the formation of a Labour-led coalition government in 2017, the role of delivering a walking and cycling facility across the Auckland Harbour Bridge was mandated to Waka Kotahi in 2018. In early 2019 Waka Kotahi announced a significantly upgraded design.

Image of the proposed pathway across the Auckland Harbour Bridge (Artist’s impression, NZTA, 22 May 2019)
Aerial view of new proposed Auckland Harbour Bridge Shared Path. (Artist’s impression, NZ Transport Agency 22 May 2019)

This was further augmented in 2020, when the NZ Upgrade Programme (NZUP) was announced with tagged funding of $360 m allocated to the delivery of the Northern Pathway from Westhaven to Akoranga (including the Auckland Harbour Bridge). But earlier this year the NZ Herald reported that ‘significant and complex engineering issues’ had stalled the plan to build a walking and cycling path over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, suggesting that the current design would be ‘scrapped’.

While it is understood that other options are under consideration, it is likely that any alternative requiring a significant infrastructure intervention could be several years (if not decades) away. Accordingly, Bike Auckland has called on Waka Kotahi to utilise a three month trial of a walking and cycling segment using a lane of the existing bridge.

Thanks to Paul Roper for conceptualising a Western bike lane.

Reasons for Liberating The Lane

Thanks to Carol Green for her wonderful graphics throughout our campaign.

Greater Auckland support Bike Auckland’s reasons for liberating the lane, as follows –

  • Less overall traffic: The effects on the road network would be positive. Less traffic over the bridge means less congestion throughout the road network, reducing emissions and collision risks everywhere.
  • Lower emissions: Reducing road capacity is known to reduce emissions via traffic evaporation and enabling modeshift. This is an opportunity for a high profile demonstration of the principle.
  • More transport choice: This is a great opportunity to demonstrate our support for cycling – not just across the harbour, but across the whole country.
  • Cleaner air: this cycleway would enable many trips that would otherwise be taken by car, so we’d all be breathing easier.
  • Cheaper travel options: Cycling is much cheaper than either driving or taking public transport. This critical link would be the North Shore’s equivalent of the North West cycleway – providing cheap travel options for all sorts of journeys.
  • Healthier communities: The public health benefits of cycling are enormous for communities.
  • Makes commuting fun: Cycling over the bridge would be popular for commuters, recreation and tourism, and give Aucklanders a chance to enjoy the harbour in a new way. Best of all, it would inspire the city’s residents to think about climate action positively, with a better understanding of how modeshift can deliver a better city.

So, what are the reservations?

We understand that Waka Kotahi has declined Bike Auckland’s request for a three month trial based on these concerns:

1. Impact on traffic and buses

Claim: Utilising a lane for cycling provision may have unacceptable consequences on the operation of the existing bridge for traffic and buses.

With space at a premium it is important to prioritise efficient modes like bikes (rather than cars). Providing a cycling link also increases the system’s resilience, so people have options even when the driving network is at a standstill. The bridge is not the main constraint on flow – the approaches are – and if there is a network-wide effect, it is likely to be an improvement due to a very slight reduction in traffic volumes and congestion. The effect on buses can be monitored – that’s the beauty of a trial.

2. Safety

Claim: Reallocating an existing lane on the bridge may raise significant safety concerns.

We have noticed that safety issues have been able to be addressed on bridges with lanes reallocated to cycling overseas, even as recently as a few months ago.

3. Emissions

Claim: Reallocating an existing lane on SH1 would divert traffic to SH16/18, resulting in an increase of emissions given the longer distance of this route.

This seems like a stretch in the light of evidence that reducing road capacity generally reduces emissions. Standard traffic modelling used in New Zealand doesn’t model emissions well because it takes insufficient account of induced (or reduced) traffic; nor does it model active modes well. Waka Kotahi’s analysis of the emissions won’t be taking sufficient stock of the reduced “person trips” that occurs with a reduction in road capacity, nor of the reduction in emissions that would likely stem from achieving modeshift from private vehicles to cycling for shorter trips that would still utilise the bridge.

While Waka Kotahi would likely support optimisation efforts targeted to enhancing segments of cycling trips across the Waitematā Harbour (e.g. ferries), we think that this wouldn’t go far enough. It would be insufficient as a stop gap measure particularly if a more permanent solution ends up being years or decades away (touch wood).

In any case, we think that the proposal of a three month trial provides a great opportunity to test out some of these concerns and determine the ongoing suitability of a more immediate cycling option across the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It would also have the benefit of gaining an understanding of the demand (actual and latent) for trips across the bridge using walking and cycling.

Let’s Liberate The Lane!

Following more than 40 years of campaigning for walking and cycling over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, including 12 years of momentum behind the SkyPath proposal – it is time for Waka Kotahi to enable this three month trial.

Join in support of Bike Auckland and the Liberate the Lane rally this Sunday.

Where – meet at Pt Erin Park, Ponsonby

When – Sunday 30 May 2021, at 10 am.

Further event details can be found on Facebook here.

You can also sign the petition to Liberate the Lane here.

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