In 2006, I was living in Brisbane and working as a grad at a building services company. I had just bought my first half-decent bike, a Giant flat-bar road bike, and had started riding to work in Milton from my place in Stones Corner. Up until that point I hadn’t yet realised that a bike could be a form of transport. My commute took me alongside the Pacific Motorway, through Woolloongabba, crossing the Brisbane River past the city centre to Milton. If you haven’t seen it, it’s like a weave of concrete ribbons suspended on pylons making a Dr Seuss-like statement on how to cut off a city from its river.
In September and October of that year, roadworks were carried out on the city section of the motorway. This section is commonly called by its former name, the Riverside Expressway. Shortly after the roadworks were done, they discovered a hairline crack in one of the on-ramps to the motorway and determined that it was at risk of collapse. As it turned out, the whole section of expressway hadn’t had any maintenance since it was built in the 1970s.
So, on October 17, a length of the Riverside Expressway running for about eight city blocks was completely closed to all traffic. It was a massive local news story at the time, mainly focusing on how people would be able to drive into the city without this piece of road.
The bike path I was taking to work went underneath the expressway, including under the closed section of road. The bike path inhabited the dark underside: a muddy mangrove zone with bitumen and chain-fenced pathways that directed people to and from the ferry terminals dotted along the river. The bike path was the newest aspect of it, and they’d tried to brighten things up with bold directional signage on the path and the pylons.
On this particular commute, I was curious about the expressway closure so I took a detour off the bike path, up the ramp near Queen Street and the Treasury Casino, out of the darkness and onto the sunny side. And there was nothing up there.
No cars in sight. A little way away, a small TV crew was filming an outside broadcast for the morning news. The presented would have been able to use their indoor voice. There was nothing stopping me riding right onto the expressway, so I did, and followed it for a short while, cutting huge arcs across three or so empty lanes. Right in the middle of morning rush hour.
The quiet was just remarkable. I never registered the constant hum of traffic until I had experienced its absence. It made different things imaginable.
I found my way back to the bike path on the underside, and continued riding to work.