Something that became clearer than ever, over the course of the Skypath resource consent hearing, was how long Aucklanders have yearned to solve this missing link for our city. To be able to walk and bike over our most iconic harbour crossing would be an immense gift to our city, its people, and its visitors.

In our files, we found some eloquent evidence of this longterm longing for a shortcut from Shore to City. We’re not just talking about a decade ago, when Bevan Woodward signed the petition asking for a feasibility study. We mean even further back than that.

Back in 1979, PATH (Pathways Across The Harbour) was set up to advocate for a cycleway across the AHB, and made a bit of a splash in the local papers with an article by Michael Bland of Friends of the Earth (following the lead of FoE in England, they were proto-cycle advocates in Auckland).

Here are five fabulous examples of the many letters PATH received in support.

1. From an unnamed correspondent with excellent penmanship and even greater stamina (alas, the second page of the letter is missing):

At present I cycle to work in the city twice a week via Greenhithe, a round trip of approx 80K taking approx 1 1/2 hours each way. I would do this more often but it is not possible due to the time factor etc. If I was able to use the bridge I would probably cycle one way across the harbour on say two working days per week and both ways on two days, travelling by other means on the fifth day to transport clothes etc. If bridge access is to be provided, it should be available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.

Skypathletter
2. From a Mrs Groome, who sweetly apologises for her choice of stationery:

Dear Mr Bland,

Having just read your article “Would you cross Pathway” in today’s Advertiser, I’m most intrigued. What a good idea!

The two centre lanes, covered in, would be ideal for both pedestrians & cyclists, a pavement in both for the walkers.

There would, of course, have to be some safe approach devised from the motorway to Fanshawe St.

I’m all for it!

Good Luck!

Beth (?) Groome.

P.S. Sorry for note paper. Gift! Has to be used.

Beth Groome Pathway

3. From a young correspondent in Takapuna with impeccable logic:

I think that people should be able to cycle over the bridge in all weathers. If there was a separate lane it would be fine. I also think you should be able to cycle both ways. Not one way, because how would you get back again?

Sarah Blundell

Kids Letter 1979

4. A pair of flatmates from Glenfield, who are doing their bit for the petrol shortage, and can’t see why the Harbour Bridge Authorities shouldn’t help out, too:

Skypathflatmate1

Skypathflatmate2

5. And, on splendid letterhead, from Mere Roberts on behalf of – goodness gracious! – The Northcote Residents Association:

Dear Sir,

Our association has read with interest your article in the North Shore Times Advertiser 27-3-79 concerning your efforts to promote a bicycle-way across the Harbour Bridge. We are vitally interested in all forms of alternative transport and recently invited Mr Harry Julian of “Blue Boats” to a public meeting to outline his firm’s proposals for a ferry service to Birkenhead.

In addition we are writing to the Birkenhead Residents’ Association seeking their support for a bike-way across the bridge, with the aim of then asking Mr Brannigan of the A.H.B. Authority to set aside a trial Sunday for all interested cyclists to attempt a bridge crossing. Your article is therefore timely and most appreciated.

We wonder if the best course of action would be for the Residents’ Associations on the Shore – namely ourselves, and hopefully Birkenhead – to cooperate with your organisation in a joint approach to the Harbour Bridge Authority with a view to implementing a bike-way over the bridge? We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Mere Roberts,

Secretary

Northcote Residents Association Letter 1979

As we wait for the outcome of the resource consent, it’s fascinating to consider an alternate world in which the question was promptly sorted out 35 years ago – perhaps even by granting a whole lane of the bridge itself to active travel modes.

What would have been the flow-on effect of prioritising bikes and pedestrians on our premier piece of infrastructure? How would that have changed the way we felt about our local streets? How different might Auckland look and feel today!

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6 responses to “Notes towards a pre-history of Skypath: voices from the 1970s

  1. What a lovely stash of correspondence. And how outrageously myopic of the authorities not to have done anything about it… I hope some of these people are still around to finally walk or cycle the bridge.

  2. I remember the interesting battle with the Auckland Harbour Bridge Authority over access for pedestrians and cyclists in 1979. I was also the unnamed writer of the first letter posted

    and unfortunately I do not have a copy to let you have the second page. Thirty six years have passed, horrors, and the internet was still a mystery, phones without a chord were still a dream and only owned by Maxwell Smart.

    Enough nonsense, the facts….. PATH was a group set up to push for a cycle path attachment under the main bridge rising out at the sides to pass over the shipping lane. I can’t remember the names of those involved now but would if somebody prompted my brain a little. I think the king pin was Keith Salmon from the university and the rest comprised racing, ten-speed and utility cyclists. The Bridge Authority was an oligarchy on their own outside the Auckland Regional Authority and I don’t think they were connected in any way with the Roads Board or whomever controlled State Highways at the time.

    The ARA were very supportive and helped us as much as they could – The AHBA hated us and loved cars only.

    Three of us attended an Authority meeting to explain our suggestions/requests. They had an engineer there to answer any difficult questions but he was obviously briefed to rubbish our ideas. Responses included………(you may laugh)

    It will be easier to commit suicide

    Cyclists will throw the bags of sand (for sand blasting) off the bridge.

    The gradient is too steep for cyclists

    It’s a long way and few would use it

    The engineer’s gem was that the bridge would not support the extra loading

    Comments:

    The best way to commit suicide is to drive up as they do, by the time you rode to the top the endorphins would kick in and you would change your mind.

    There are at least three hills on Lake Road from Devonport with steeper gradients!

    In the 1980’s my wife happened to work for the MOW at the Harbour Bridge and she spoke to one of their engineers about the loading and he said it was nonsense (and now Skypath is to be tagged on the side of a clip on.)

    THE ARA BUS

    In support of us and to prove cyclists wanted to cross the bridge the ARA put racks in an old bus and ran a shuttle from Northcote to Pt. Erin Baths for several months. The bus, an old Daimler, was completely unsuitable with narrow doors and three steps to climb on board. It was only possible to board with a racing or ten speed type of bike. It was the coldest time of year and several of us used it rain hail or snow to annoy the Authority. We ran out of steam eventually so it’s thrilling to see it all happening

    Any body who wants more info my details are:-

    Richard Horner

    horner_richard@yahoo.com.au

    1. Hi Richard
      Great to hear your recollections. My strongest memories are of the first shuttle which used the painters truck. Or if it wasnt available you had to climb in the back of their small jeeps with your bike.

      The AHBA officer who was designated to count every cyclist who used the service resented his task. And took every chance to vent his spleen against PATH organisers.

      A highlight was after John Strevens became the ACC rep on the AHBA board which voted 4-4 in favour of opening the western lane on Sunday afternoons. The chair used his casting vote to defeat this motion.

      The others involved in PATH included David, Audrey, Bryan with great support from yourself, Roger,Chris, and many others. We had great support from a number of ARA and ACC people. But the political support that Bevan and his team have achieved is amazing. It’s a pity that things have become a bit uncivilized in what should have been a visionary debate. I was sad to learn from a non partisan Northcote person this evening that there has been some muck slinging. Hopefully things can move to a more civil level.

      Michael Bland was I think a coordinator at Epicentre on Symonds Street before the AHBA and PATH started. The first meetings were at Epicentre.

      Best wishes Keith

      1. Hullo Keith, great to hear from you again.
        I had forgotten the truck but it must have been at about that time I became involved. Time marches on and i can’t remember who got me involved now but i certainly remember getting soaked some mornings trying to keep the numbers up on the bus! The AHBA were certainly a different outfit to deal with than the road authorities today.

        As far as the engineer saying the bridge was at maximum loading and wouldn’t take the weight he might have been right….the extensions must have already started rusting by that stage and it was just as well the MOW took over and found the substandard rusting welds on the extensions. It was certainly designed adequately for the weight but that doesn’t allow for shoddy construction.

        The biggest laugh was when Gary Knapp, also an old cycling adversary, became the MP for East Coast Bays on the plank of removing the bridge tolls. I recall Social Credit gave their support to Muldoon allowing the Clyde Dam to be built in exchange for the Government agreeing to remove the tolls which they did. Consequently the tolls came off, Social Credit regained the seat ,North Shore motorists were happy, the dam was built and last but certainly not least the AHBA was defunct ……….Richard

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