Thanks to Rachel Barnes for this guest blog on her experience of trying to cycle from Birkenhead to the city.
Although I have always enjoyed cycling, and have commuted by bike at other times in my life, I did not try cycle commuting from my home in Birkenhead to the city until the bridge was practically closed by the truck-strike accident. Faced with what seemed like no viable option, I looked up the ferry timetable, consulted google maps about the best route from the ferry terminal to my work in Parnell, and set off. What a revelation! Biking to work was so much more pleasant! I arrived feeling far more alert and happier. Traffic became irrelevant to my journey time and I could feel myself getting fitter as I made this way of travel part of my everyday routine. I now make an effort to get to work this way whenever I can.
So, the questions arise: what took me so long, and why don’t I do it every day even now?
The answer to both of these questions is the barrier imposed by the harbour bridge. There is no doubt that a trip in the ferry is quite pleasant, and provides a bit of a break from pedalling. However, it is expensive: almost double the bus fare, and the timetable is hopeless. When I first started using the ferry to cross the harbour, the peak hour service from Birkenhead was every 30 minutes. At this barely adequate level, the back deck was certainly full of bikes, and I began to worry that I might be turned away with my bike at peak times.
However, when the Northcote point stop was reinstated, the timetable changed to just once every 45 minutes at peak times. Coinciding with a fare increase, this seems to have dampened demand somewhat, and my subjective impression is that fewer people are using the service now. I still enjoy getting to work this way enough to persevere, but only when I can be confident that I won’t be stranded on the wrong side of the harbour due to an after-work meeting, or unexpected late finish. It is rather dispiriting to miss a ferry by 5 minutes and know that means you have to hang around in town for another 40 minutes waiting for the next boat.
While the week-day commuter woes are a major concern, it would also be so much better on the weekend if we could cycle over the bridge. The weekend timetable from Birkenhead to the city consists of 6 services per day, spaced out at about 3-hour intervals. On the day of the liberate the lane rally, I rode my bike to Devonport to ensure I would be in town in time. The first service from Birkenhead was not until 9.35, and if there were too many bikes on that, the next one would not be until midday. Apart from the joy of the occasion, I was so happy to ride over the bridge after the rally as it hugely shortened and simplified my journey home! Being able to do that every day would be life-changing.
Bike Auckland continues to advocate for access on the Harbour Bridge for all people on bikes.