The Sydney Harbour Bridge is among the most famous of Sydney's - and Australia's - tourist icons. As well as being a major tourist draw card, it provides a means of travelling relatively quickly from Sydney city centre (in the south) across the harbour to the northern suburbs of Sydney without getting wet.
The two main roadways on the Sydney Harbour Bridge are the Cahill Expressway (one of the lanes of which goes through the two east pylons) and the Bradfield Highway, named after the chief engineer of the building project, who was also the first to suggest the arch design of the bridge. The bridge consists of eight lanes of vehicle traffic (one of which is a dedicated bus lane for the use of buses, taxis, motorcycles and hire cars) and two train lines, north- and southbound. The vehicle lanes, not including the two Cahill lanes, can be redirected, in response to traffic or maintenance needs using a series of red or green lights above each of the lanes. The bridge roadways have a speed limit of 70kmh.
All this marvellous convenience does come at a price though. The toll for crossing the Harbour Bridge is currently $AUS 3 (as of Dec, 2003) and is paid on the southbound journey across the bridge towards the city. The toll is collected by some usually very friendly public servants. The State Government of New South Wales has recently introduced a system of automatic toll collection called E-Toll, that registers passing vehicles, via a built-in device, as they pass through a toll gate (hopefully not with the intention of ultimately eliminating the human element).
There are many ways to cross the Harbour Bridge. Foot, bicycle, motorcycle, car, truck, taxi cab and public transport have presented themselves as the most obvious and therefore the most relevant to discuss in this entry (unfortunately kangaroo and emu riding will have to be left for another entry).
This mode of transport appears to be the most popular choice for tourists, lunatic joggers and school groups. The pedestrian path is on the east side of the bridge with a wonderful view of the harbour, The Rocks (an historical suburb of Sydney) and the Opera House. This bridge crossing incurs no toll.
It has become popular in recent years to participate in a 'Bridge Climb'. This involves paying around $AUS 180, getting dressed in a ridiculous grey jump suit (so as not to distract any vehicle drivers on the bridge), hooking yourself onto a safety line and climbing to the top of the arch of the bridge, all the while being guided by an annoyingly not-out-of-breath tour guide. While you do not actually cross the bridge during a Bridge Climb - rather you climb the south east side of the arch, have your photo taken, cross over the centre and climb down the south west side of the arch ending up where you began - it certainly rates a mention as a mode of travelling on the bridge.
This is by far the most dangerous way to cross Harbour Bridge (or using any Sydney road for that matter) due to the pure loathing Sydney drivers appear to have for cyclists - which is not at all eased by the annual cyclists' protest that occurs during evening peak hour, through the city and over the bridge which brings traffic to a standstill for a couple of hours. It is highly recommended, if you really insist on attempting this feat, to ride in the absolute centre of your lane so as to eliminate as many same-lane overtakings as possible; or ride on the pedestrian path on the east side of the bridge. There is no monetary toll incurred for this act of stupidity, only an emotional one.
Like cycling, this method of crossing the Harbour Bridge is not for the faint-hearted. This crossing incurs a toll, although it appears to be generally accepted that motorcyclists can simply pass under the toll gates with the car in front of them saving themselves and the cars behind them the time involved in removing riding gloves, finding change, paying the toll, replacing the glove/s then riding off.
The main things to beware of in this method of crossing are trucks and buses, as they may stray from their lane occasionally or may simply not fit in it at all (the lanes are surprisingly thin). Another thing to be aware of is the multi-direction lanes. If the direction light above your chosen lane is green, you're fine. However, if it starts to flash red or is red, move to a green lane as soon as possible. This bridge crossing incurs a toll southbound.
As mentioned above, the lanes on the Harbour Bridge are unusually narrow and this appears to be the only drawback to traversing the bridge in a truck. Most cars will steer clear of a large truck on the bridge; just hold onto your side view mirrors if another truck passes you. This bridge crossing incurs a toll southbound.
By Taxi Cab
From a passenger's point of view this is one of the best ways to cross the Harbour Bridge, for the simple reason that taxis are allowed to use the bus lane that rarely succumbs to traffic jams and you have time to appreciate the views. This bridge crossing will incur a toll on top of your taxi fare in both directions.
By Public Transport
The presence of the bus lane obviously benefits this form of transport across the bridge. However, it fails to compensate for the fact that you have to share your vehicle with many strangers. A train is by far the fastest method of travel across the bridge. The best view can be obtained on a northbound trip on the western side of the upper level of the train carriage. This will provide you with a beautiful view of the harbour on the western side of the bridge, the finger wharfs in Walsh Bay, Blues Point and Luna Park. A short trip from either side of the bridge (Wynyard to Milsons Point) will cost you less than a bridge toll.
To Sydney-siders, the harbour is not only a physical barrier between the Northern suburbs and the inner city, but also an emotional and cultural one. Let's hope we can bridge this gap in more than a physical sense one day.