May 24, 2009
Never trust a man with a megaphone
I wasn’t sure whether I was going to blog this, but the news coverage I’ve seen is so ridiculous I thought I’d write down my own experience and see what the google-fu can do.
I spent this morning engaged in what was technically an act of civil disobedience. Also known as a walking across a bridge to highlight the need for an foot and cycle path across same. Auckland Harbour Bridge, to be precise. Anyway, events:
One of the interesting things about this protest was how big it got on the strength of so little publicity. I never heard it mentioned in anything other than negative terms (“it’s not happening”) on the radio on in the paper. I got one email from 350.org that mentioned the event, then only word-of-mouth updates. And yet turnout was huge. Estimates ranged from 1500 to “three to four thousand”. I’m putting that last in quotes because the polce officer in charge said in while hyperbolising on Teh News, and I don’t think it was 4000 people; but certainly over 2000.
Now I may not have heard much about it, but the police and people in charge of the bridge certainly knew it was going to happen, for at least a week and probably more. Time enough to put a contingency plan in place, hmmmm? I’ll come back to that.
When we got to Point Erin Park there was already a big crowd, and a varied and mellow crowd it was too. Everyone from your granny to babes in arms, all pretty much expecting to get a walk on the bridge. Well, except for the people who expected to cycle on the bridge. We had some speeches and so on. The organisers made the point several times the we wouldn’t and couldn’t “storm the bridge”. Good on them for sticking to that, although I’m sure a lot of people were thinking they could and would… So with that won’t and can’t being the party line, we were supposed to wait for permission from Wayne McDonald, aka the dick with the megaphone. I don’t know what was going through Wayne’s mind, perhaps he thought he was going to get some sort of power trip out of this.
So we asked nicely. Wayne said no. Actually I only gather Wayne said no, I was back a bit in the crowd and couldn’t actually hear him (refer to the picture there, Wayne is somewhere up the front with half a dozen policemen holding is hand and wishing they were elsewhere). I believe we asked again, perhaps a little less nicely. The answer was still no. The shiny new fences were still in the way. At this point the crowd began to move off, starting at the front and going back the way we came. The way we came having been past the Curran St onramp. You see where this is going. The bit where someone said “if we go up the onramp they can’t stop us” should give you a further clue. Anyway, pretty quickly we saw a small bunch of riders making their way up the outer lane of the clip-ons, and that pretty much sealed the deal: after making all that fuss about how dangerous the bridge was, they could hardly do anything but stop the traffic to keep those poor riders safe. And then they could hardly stop everyone else walking on, could they? Certainly not with the tiny number of police they’d bought along.
But this is where it gets stupid. And not our stupid, either: Wayne’s stupid, and to a lesser extent the organising police’s stupid. Have we all looked at the maps that Google has shown us via the links above? Good. Most people would have wanted to walk along the clip-ons, because we wanted to look at the view. The clip-ons are the outer two of a nominal four north-bound lanes, although the bridge has movable central barrier so you can have up to six north-bound lanes. Now there’s a lot of rubbish spoken about the clip-ons, normally as an excuse not to let people walk on them or attach a bike path. Apparently the weight of 2000 people (about the same weight as 150 cars, by my rough calculations) would be too much for these poor abused structures, so the police herded us into the middle of the bridge over the centre span. Are we paying attention? Four north-bound lanes were blocked for over an hour because some foot traffic couldn’t be allowed on the outer lanes of the bridge, so they had to put us on two of the inner lanes. And apparently, despite weeks of warning, no-one had thought to make arrangements to
have a couple of northbound lanes diverted to the other side of the bridge?
So we walked over the bridge. It was as nice as we could have hoped, the view was lovely and everyone had a good time. A surprisingly good time, actually. We’ve had some publicity to the effect that this particular bridge is too steep for a bike lane (Wayne again) but the little old ladies didn’t seem to be having any trouble, nor the people pushing prams, nor our friend who is eight months pregnant. The guy in the wheelchair was doing OK too. Maybe someone pushed him when I wasn’t looking; it was a very helpful crowd.
At the far end we kissed the North Shore (no, not really, they’ve got swine flu up there y’know) and turned back. It looked the same going back as it had going over, bit more wind, a few south-bound people still tooting support, the only people who yelled at us were driving a Holden and a 4WD so I guess some stereotypes have legs. Back at the south end we walked back up the Curran St onramp (please to be referring to the map again), and found… a traffic jam. It seems that the police had diverted people away from the main motorway, and back down… Curran St onramp. Where everyone had come from. Where everyone would end up back at. Now I know one shouldn’t ascribe malice where ordinary everyday incompetence makes for a perfectly good explanation, but come on. Were they trying to piss off as many people as possible? Further to that, did nobody even consider setting up to shift northbound traffic to the other side of the bridge that fine Sunday morning, just in case? No? Why not?