Auckland Harbour Bridge: Transport agency revisiting idea of allocating lanes to cyclists in future

Waka Kotahi NZTA wants to make sure it has "not missed anything" that could make allocating existing lanes on the Auckland Harbour Bridge to cyclists possible in the future, despite that idea having been ruled out.

Newshub has obtained a document from Waka Kotahi to Transport Minister Michael Wood on December 22 in which the transport agency says it is working to "identify an alternative option for walking and cycling across the Waitematā Harbour".

That followed Wood announcing in October that the Government was canning plans for a standalone cycling and walking bridge due to a lack of public support.

The document shows a shortlist of options was created, including "reviewing previous work done around reallocating existing lanes on Auckland Harbour Bridge to ensure we have not missed anything that would make this option viable in the future". A dedicated ferry or bus for cyclists was also mentioned.

Cycling advocates have been pushing for a lane on the bridge to be converted for the use of bikes, but assessments last year found safety risks and negative impacts on the wider transport network outweighed the benefits. 

In response to questions from Newshub, Waka Kotahi general manager of transport services Brent Gliddon said the agency is "currently finalising the work that considers options for a walking and cycling connection across the Waitematā Harbour".

"While the permanent conversion of lanes on the bridge has been ruled out by the Waka Kotahi Board, the work we are doing now, on how best to provide for active modes across the Waitematā Harbour, will ensure that we have considered all plausible options and that we have not missed anything that could make this option viable in the future.

"For example if demand management was introduced reducing current motor vehicle demand, as well as ways for other network, safety and operational challenges to be mitigated."

Waka Kotahi will present Wood with a full report containing a preferred crossing option and costs soon, Gliddon said.

National's Simeon Brown wants clarity.
National's Simeon Brown wants clarity. Photo credit: Newshub.

National's transport spokesperson Simeon Brown asked Waka Kotahi Board chair Sir Brian Roche on December 16 at Parliament's Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee whether allocating an existing lane to cyclists was still an option.

"That is something that was considered but in our view [is] not practical. It is being ruled out," the chair replied.

"We still remain really committed to finding connectivity between effectively the North Shore and the CBD, and we are going to actively explore that, including the use of ferries and other such things."

Brown told Newshub this week that Wood should clarify the Government's position.

"Michael Wood needs to be upfront and honest with Aucklanders about what his plans are. He comes across as a minister who is ideologically focused on his pet projects, and he needs to be upfront about what he actually wants to do."

The National MP noted the Government spent millions planning the standalone bridge despite Aucklanders' opposition.

When announcing the cancellation of that project in October, Wood signalled that reallocating lanes to cyclists was off the table. 

"I know there will be calls from some to permanently allocate a lane on the existing bridge for walking and cycling but we will not be pursuing this option. Decisions about access to the state highway network formally sit with the Waka Kotahi Board."

Wood this week reiterated it is not up to him. 

"The decision about lane allocation on the bridge legally sits with the Waka Kotahi Board," he told Newshub.

"In the short term, I have encouraged them to consider a temporary trial option, and they have confirmed that some events will be held, starting later this year. Other options to improve access will be presented to me shortly."

Waka Kotahi is organising an event in November that will see the Auckland Harbour Bridge's two east clip-on lanes opened to cyclists and pedestrians for several hours on a Sunday morning.

Transport Minister Michael Wood.
Transport Minister Michael Wood. Photo credit: Newshub.

Wood said the Government is committed to "supporting and encouraging" alternative forms of transport, including cycling and walking.

"As minister, my main focus is on an additional Waitematā Harbour crossing that provides for all modes, and we have brought forward planning for the crossing to ensure a fully integrated transport network for Auckland."

If National was in power, Brown said the Auckland Harbour Bridge would be kept for vehicles. 

"It's not for cyclists and people to walk on. It was never designed for that purpose. Our focus would be 100 percent on actually getting the additional harbour crossing delivered, which is what everyone agrees is critical to Auckland's success."

The idea of a lane on the existing bridge being allocated to cyclists drew increased attention last May when a large number of cyclists held a rally and rode past police onto the bridge. A number of current and former local politicians backed the idea of a lane being "liberated". 

It's reported that modelling found taking one lane away from vehicles would require traffic to be reduced by 17,000 vehicles a day in order to have a neutral impact.

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