The “Liberate the Lane” group held a rally at Point Erin Park, calling for a three-month cycle lane trial on the harbour bridge. After the rally hundreds of cyclists broke police lines and rode over the bridge. Video / Dean Purcell
The big cycling invasion of the Auckland Harbour Bridge backfired rather badly this week.
First, it provided a useful demonstration of what is meant by a widely misunderstood and much over-used phrase these days,
TV showed a few cops and a flimsy barrier giving way to a white, affluent, cultural minority. Ethnic minority voices were moved to wonder aloud what would have happened had the horde been of a different hue.
Well, we know what would have happened. This is not the United States. Our good police would have helped accommodate the bikers, probably giving them a police escort over the bridge, having given the public plenty of warning that a couple of lanes would be closed for that hour on Sunday morning.
In fact, Green MP Chloe Swarbrick, writing in the Herald on Wednesday, said the Transport Agency had “pre-approved” the closure of two lanes for the cycling rally, which makes the police’s show of resistance all the more odd. It’s as though they were willing to help make the little drama look more triumphant than it really was.
Therein lies racism too. Police would be much less likely to help a minority appear triumphant because they know the fear that would stir in the majority and the criticism they would receive. They used to hear the criticism after disruptions at Waitangi and they heard it again when they did not remove Māori roadblocks in lockdowns last year.
This does not mean the police are racist, it means the country is.
Every country is. Every democratic country has a majority race that enjoys power by weight of numbers and should be constantly aware of its need to make allowance for minorities, especially one that has no other country to give it a national identity.
Cyclists understand this. They would have been mortified that their campaign to colonise a lane on the bridge had produced a glaring illustration of white privilege.
As if that was not misfortune enough by Wednesday we also got a vivid illustration of how vulnerable a vital bridge can be.
A prolonged storm over the east of New Zealand produced a flood on the Canterbury Plains that cut off the lower half of the South Island by weakening a single pile on a single bridge.
Cyclists would be among the first to attribute this weather event — at least in part — to climate change.
The last few summers have been undeniably longer, warmer and drier than Auckland’s used to be, just as climate science has been predicting.
But I will believe this is a “climate emergency” when alarmists start urging governments to build for it rather than urging the rest of us to ride bikes.
When the Ashburton bridge was unable to carry motor vehicles for a day or two this week nobody found solace in the fact it would still be safe to cycle or walk across to Tinwald.
Nobody in the news I watched or read mentioned there is a railway across that river. Rail did not seem to be a realistic alternative when it came to the crunch.
Aucklanders, especially on the North Shore, need no reminding of their reliance on a single bridge.
A gust of wind last year was strong enough to blow a truck into the superstructure for the first time in our memory.
The loss of two lanes at that time was a hint of what could now happen at any time we are told.
The hint was taken by consultants working on the daft proposal to attach a bikeway to the Harbour Bridge.
Late last year they gave the Government a better idea.
Considering the extremely low cost-benefit return of a dedicated bikeway, and the stress it would put on the bridge structure, they suggested an even more costly option but one with a much better cost-benefit ratio.
What they were suggesting was nothing less than a companion bridge alongside the present one, not just for a bikeway and footpath but for buses too. Standing on its own piles, it would “future-proof” Auckland against the failure of the existing bridge.
The logic of all this was irrefutable and the Government appeared to be persuaded.
A few months later its Transport Agency announced the existing structure could not bear an additional load.
But then, I’ve been told, the alternative ran into a legal problem. Fast-track legislation for a post-Covid stimulus allowed an additional crossing only for cycling and walking.
The cost-benefits of this were so bad the consultants presumed it was out of the question. But, unbelievably, the Government was considering it.
The cyclists leading last Sunday’s bridge invasion had heard this too and knew a free-standing bikeway would be economically absurd.
Now the Government has announced another version of a “Skypath” unlikely to fly.