Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bridge protesters may return

Herald, Stuff,
Last updated 17:30 24/05/2009

The organisation behind today's Harbour Bridge protest, which blocked traffic and caused major delays, says another crossing might be needed to make their message clear.

Thousands of protesters broke through police barriers today to walk and cycle across the Harbour Bridge to protest its lack of cycle lanes and walkways.

The bridge was closed to northbound traffic for about more than hour from 10am, causing major delays and backups, after the protestors illegally broke onto the bridge's north lane.

Tonight the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) said the protest had not altered its stance on the issue.

GetAcross spokesman Bevan Woodward was disappointed in the NZTA's response but said the group, formed around 18 months ago, would not give up.

He had hoped the NZTA would have realised the strong support for walking and cycling on the Harbour Bridge, and said they should have co-operated with the organisers earlier.

"They really mismanaged the situation today. They were not prepared for it, they would not meet with us before hand to talk about how it could work without inconveniencing the traffic."

GetAcross want to work with the NZTA over the issue in a "positive manner", he said.

While he did not want to protest again, it was possible.

"If the Transport Agency don't pull their head out of the sand and wake up to the high level of support of this and how vital it is to the Auckland region, then there will be another protest and it will be a whole lot bigger than today. It will make today look like walk in the park. It will be massive."

NZTA and the police were critical of the organisers, "who did not keep their commitment to not force their way on to the bridge", NZTA regional director Auckland and Northland Wayne McDonald said.

Protesters were moved on to lanes three and four to avoid a swaying motion on the clip-on lanes, he said.

"We wanted to avoid people trying to move from the clip-on on to the truss section over gaps in the road deck which are dangerous for anyone not in a vehicle, especially small children," Mr McDonald said.

Green Party Co-Leader Russel Norman also attended the protest and said while he was disappointed with in NZTA for not co-operating with organisers, he has happy with police actions.

"At the end of the crossing, people were applauding the Police," Dr Norman said.

The police were put in a tricky position by the incompetence of the transport agency but they put public safety first .

"It was just tremendous to be there - it was a real celebration of walking and biking, and showed just how Aucklanders could get around if the Government had the gumption and the brains to think beyond building motorways."

The motorway had to be closed in several places to protect protesters, causing widespread congestion.
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Some motorists were trapped in the closures for up to two hours, and special arrangements had to made for an oxygen tanker that needed to make an urgent delivery to the North Shore.