A Deathtrap in the Making

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Words: Arnold Difflock
24 Oct 2018

Forgive me for bringing up the subject of cyclists again, but as the recipients of massive amounts of taxpayer and ratepayer money to give them an advantage over motorists who have to pay their own way in life, they deserve continuing attention.

Don’t get me wrong, recreational cycling on purpose-built cycleways, especially out in the country, is an admirable pursuit, but cycling is not a practical means of transport, and the amount of other people’s money thrown at cycling infrastructure is totally disproportionate to the number of cyclists using it.

If the cost of cycleways and special cycle lanes was reflected in a tax on new bicycles each one would cost its purchaser at least $50,000. Worse, the zealots at Government and council level who think that hilly cities like Auckland and Wellington can be transformed into bike-friendly places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen seriously need to introduce themselves to the concept of topographical mapping, not to mention commuting on a bike between Wellington City and Wadestown or Khandallah, laden down with the weekly groceries on the way home.

As if cycling in cities is not a dangerous enough activity already, the pastime is about to enter a totally new dimension with the advent of the Auckland SkyPath, a thrillseeker’s paradise which is going to allow high-speed downhill cyclists to mix it up with view-gazing pedestrians on a four-metre wide semi-enclosed path attached to the side of the harbour bridge. It will be mayhem.

There is a reason why this idiocy has not been tried anywhere else but of course we pioneering, trend-setting Kiwis know better, despite the fact that the Auckland harbour bridge has a steeper gradient than pretty much any similar bridge anywhere in the world. In fact at its steepest point the gradient is 9.7 degrees, a slope rarely replicated anywhere on the nation’s highway system.

New Zealand is a land of adventurers, be they mountain bikers, trampers or just old people who enjoy a walk in the afternoon sun. Even in the far-flung Southern Alps or on the Central Otago rail trail, those unfortunate enough to have a heart attack or fall off their bike can be secure in the knowledge that a helicopter rescue is only an hour away at the most. It won’t be so easy on the massively over-hyped Auckland SkyPath.

Despite being about two minutes flying time from the rescue helicopter base there is no way a helicopter can get anywhere near it. Neither can an ambulance, even though there is a motorway about a metre and a half away through an impenetrable steel barrier. No, any casualties will have to be dealt with by way of hand-propelled wheeled stretchers, pushed uphill from either end by super-fit ambulance officers carrying all the equipment needed for the particular case. And there will be plenty of casualties.

This one kilometre-plus (excluding approaches) tube will be a magnet for oldies who haven’t exerted themselves on an uphill walk for years, and these folk (if they don’t have a cardiac arrest first) will become obstacle courses for the lycra brigade who won’t be able to resist letting it rip on the downhill side. Make no mistake, these bikers will reach some incredible speeds. It’s on record that bikes going down the Ngauranga Gorge in Wellington hit 90km/h (exceeding the camera-policed 80 limit for cars), on a gradient that is no steeper than the Harbour Bridge with its attached death tube.

A four metre width is not enough to provide adequate physical separation of pedestrians and bikes so I’m not quite sure what the answer is, except to build another tube on the other side of the bridge so that we can have one for the bikes and one for the walkers. Hang on, that won’t work either, because we’ll have slow bikes wobbling uphill mixing it with 90km/h bikes going downhill, but at least we won’t have pedestrians trying to jump out of their way. But wait, there’s more.

The proponents of this $67 million folly totally ignore how its potential users are actually going to get there. OK, there will be half a dozen bikers who will pump the pedals from way out the back of beyond, but where are the old fart walkers and the bike rack on the back numpties going to park their cars? Sorry, Westhaven and Northcote Point are full.

Having considered all the potential challenges that this madcap idea is going to present, maybe the most practical solution is to relocate Auckland Hospital’s coronary care, orthopedic and mortuary departments to the Westhaven Marina carpark.

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