Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On crossing the Harbour Bridge

Yes, of course I was there when cyclists and pedestrians forced their way onto the AHB. I wasn't ready to push past the cops, but neither was I so opposed to the idea that I didn't cross once I saw that thousands of others were pouring over.

Sorry, but that's the best shot of me I got

It didn't surprise me that some people weren't deterred by the token police presence, but I was surprised by who went first. I had thought perhaps the fixies, or the more militant element who come to Critical Mass, but it was actually road racers who made the break. They tend to be wealthier, middle-aged men - a politically confident demographic who can be useful to have on your side. There are a lot of such men on the North Shore, and Shore people have a lot to gain from easier bridge access since so many regional jobs are South of the bridge.

Lots of friends were there to enjoy the moment with, although on the bridge itself I got drawn away in the crowds and found myself alone. I bumped into JayJay from the HandlebraEasyRiders again (pictured), and briefly met Antoine from IBikeNZ.

Politically, the demonstration triggered mixed publicity. Negative reports focussed on held up motorists and chaos spreading back through the traffic lanes, although we were able to spread the question of why Transit forced us onto the central lanes and stopped all traffic instead of working with us to keep two lanes open (ample for the Sunday morning traffic flow) and mitigate their concerns about pedestrians on the clip-ons. Letters to the editor were consumed with how the little children were learning that their parents thought it okay to break the law - as if law and order were a fragile binary state.

On the positive side, we raised a lot of awareness of the importance of the bridge to both cyclists and pedestrians. Certainly how strongly we felt about it, but also how critical that point of the network is to getting places. The issue became one for pedestrians as well as (those crazy) cyclists, and having children and elderly involved made it harder to call us a niche interest. Perhaps best of all, Transit's "plan" to provide access in 30 years was publically derided as a nonsense and they come over as intransigent in the face of extended prior negotiation for even a commemorative celebration.

Of course, they're still the ones we need to keep working with, so I don't know how the relationship will go now. That was the big concern holding me back - were negotiations so dead that they could only get better? It seemed probable, but I wasn't yet certain.

Overall, I'm glad we did it, and so glad I made the effort to be there just in case. Being on the bridge was much more emotional than I had expected. I heard my voice cracking as I called home to report where we were. Looking back, the emotion came partly from the excitement of the moment - anticipation, rebuff, and then breaking onto the bridge certainly made for a striking morning - but also from hope momentarily fulfilled echoing into strengthened desire for the future.

Sam was pretty stoked, too!

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