With spring here and Biketober just around the corner, expect to see a lot more people out and about on their bikes. But I imagine that nothing will come close the thousands that we saw out in force seven years ago when NZTA opened the Lyttelton Tunnel to walking and riding, to celebrate its 50th anniversary. This post, originally from Sep 2014, captures some of the amazing scenes from that day – hopefully we can do it again in the not too distant future…
Wow, what a turnout! Yesterday’s Lyttelton Tunnel walk/ride event attracted a huge crowd of keen locals, despite the cool grey skies. The Press was estimating 25,000 people turned up; personally that seems a little on the high side but it was definitely well into the thousands. 15,000?
I took my son and his cousin along for the ride; fortunately we live close enough to ride there. The first bonus was being allowed to ride up Tunnel Road from the Heathcote Interchange. An extra 2km of traffic-free riding, and with not much non-motorised traffic around either.
Approaching the Tunnel just before 10am, we could see the masses starting to form. The formalities to open the new Tunnel Control Building were largely done with and the crowd was champing at the bit to get through the Tunnel. Taking a look from above the road revealed the amazing extent of people who had turned up – and still more were continuing to arrive for a long time to come.
And then they were off! I’m not sure what happened to the original plan of starting with bikes then skate/scoot then walkers, as pretty much everyone just went for it together. One side was reserved for walking, one side for biking, and the rest seemed to go wherever the gap was best.
I could see that no-one was going to get through the Tunnel terribly quickly for a while, so I steered the boys off to the side to wait for the crowds to subside a bit. While we waited, I introduced the two construction-mad kids to Jack Smith, who led the construction team 50 years ago.
Forty minutes after the first of the crowd had started through the Tunnel, we decided to re-enter the flow and try our luck. It was still a bit busy, but at least we could generally cruise our way along the Tunnel. People from the Lyttelton end were also making their way back towards Heathcote, and so a bit of negotiation was sometimes required. But for all the apparent chaos (especially when you have various youngsters whizzing around) everyone seemed to find their space and I didn’t see any collisions.
Riding through the Tunnel is a neat experience; I think I had a permanent smile on most of the way down. It was just great to see so many people simply enjoying the opportunity to try something they generally are not able to do.
The free-flowing run came to a halt in the last third of the Tunnel as the crowd started to get blocked up by the exit at the Lyttelton roundabout. Once out, we headed around the corner to London St, where half the street was closed for the Lyttelton Market. I think a few businesses did rather well that day…
All too quickly we realised that we’d better start to head back through the Tunnel before they reopened it to traffic again at 12.30 (I think quite a few people got caught out with the cut-off times for re-entering the Tunnel). The ride back to Heathcote might be uphill but it was a very easy gentle climb (albeit again working our way through the crowds). Once there, we again had the luxury of riding down Tunnel Road free of traffic – in fact it was probably a more fun ride than the Tunnel, having the extra road space and less competition for it.
Thanks to NZTA and all the volunteers who helped with organisation on the day. I know there were a few grumbles about the traffic management, although I’m not sure that anyone quite expected the turnout. You had to be impressed with the huge demand for such an event – 25,000 people (if it was that) is twice the normal number that drive through most days. Maybe that means we should make this an annual event? And we’d better get on with those traffic-free cycleways around the city…
Did you go through the Tunnel? What did you think?