The Bridge of Death


I would suspect you could shorten your life span in some way just by driving across it. I could come up with something more definitive if I were any good at crunching numbers but it’s so easy to see the big bold writing on the wall: The Pattullo Bridge is Deadly [wiki]

If you have ever driven over this bridge you’d know how scary it is to hit that almost-hair-pin curve especially if you’re stuck in the middle lane. It’s not that I don’t trust myself enough to stay in my lane and go the speed limit, it’s that I don’t trust other drivers and the oncoming traffic. So many of the accidents are in THAT spot and they involved head-on collisions.

The Pattullo Bridge was built in the late 1930s. It carries more than 79,000 vehicles a day over the Fraser River between Surrey and New Westminster.
Eighteen people have now been killed in accidents on the bridge since 1990, most of them in head-on crashes. [cbc]

In 2005 they changed the speed limit from 60 km/h to 50 and installed those little flexible plastic posts (that have give) along the centerline of the 4-lane bridge. But that doesn’t stop the accidents.

That CBC story was from January of this year and there have been many accidents since []. The latest being today on the Surrey side of the bridge, so far there are reports that one person has been killed and the bridge has been closed all morning.

There have been talks of installing medians between the lanes on the already cramped-for-space-bridge. When elected, Surrey Mayor Diane Watts said that those would not be good enough and I think everyone agrees.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who chairs the regional district’s transportation committee, said there is no choice but to replace the Pattullo Bridge. “It is far too old,” he said. “It needs seismic upgrading. It is not safe in an earthquake. And putting in medians is not going to solve the problem that the lanes aren’t wide enough to accommodate the traffic.”[]

Now they’re twinning the Port Mann [sun] to allow for a better flow of traffic but what about saving lives? When will something finally happen to make this bridge a safe crossing?

9 Comments so far

  1. Chad (unregistered) on August 21st, 2006 @ 9:58 am

    Here’s a website that has been working to fix the Patullo bridge since 2004.

    The John Heida Project is setup to ensure a median barrier is installed as recommended in the Pattullo Bridge Safety Review published in February 2002. This project is dedicated to John Heida who was killed Sunday, August 22, 2004 while driving innocently across the Pattullo Bridge in Surrey BC and was hit head-on by another vehicle who lost control on a curve and veered into the oncoming lane.

  2. Ariane (unregistered) on August 21st, 2006 @ 10:59 am

    The ridiculous thing is that (I’m not sure if it was the same guy from the John Heida Project, but…) someone did some research into those post and wire barriers, since they take up only about six inches or so of space, and are just as effective at preventing head on collisions (basically they just pull the car back into its lane)… But the government (municipal or provincial?) kept saying how they had to do more research, and wanted the cement ones which require expansion of the bridge and cost a LOT more. And they were basically saying they can’t just throw that much money around and install a divider that’s not going to be effective.

    And then on my first trip down to Seattle a couple months ago, I am daydreaming out the car window until I notice that the I-5 is basically lined with the wire and post barrier, I imagine to keep people from going into the ditch. Miles and miles of the stuff.

  3. Rebecca (unregistered) on August 21st, 2006 @ 11:13 am

    Yeah I noticed those cable medians on the I-5 as well – they seem like a great solution, given the limited space. As long as we have groups on the ball about changes, awareness and upgrades then we’re getting somewhere (slowly but surely). Just wonder how long it will take (and how many more crashes) before the GVRD/Translink decide to actually implement something aside from a speed limit drop that everyone ignores anyway.

  4. Jenny (unregistered) on August 21st, 2006 @ 11:44 am

    My commute was extended by at least an hour this morning after being re-routed. The condition of that bridge is ridiculous. The only reason nothing has been done about it is because it connects north surrey to new westminster, it’s not high profile and likely does not affect many wealthy voters or politicians.
    I have also seen those barriers on the I-5, makes so much sense. I dont see why it takes years to come up with any kind of solution while people lives are at risk every single day.

  5. Ryan Cousineau (unregistered) on September 1st, 2006 @ 11:27 am

    Argh. I need to point out a few quickies:

    -The post-and-wire barriers are absolutely deadly to motorcyclists, as in “entangle and kill.”

    -they’re now closing the two centre lanes during the deadliest (evening/night) hours, giving a substantial margin of safety.

    -The last fatality on this bridge was a motorcyclist. He doesn’t appear to have crossed the centreline, and the photos of the motorcycle that I saw (a virtually undamaged Harley V-Rod) suggest strongly that the rider didn’t hit any other vehicles. Several news reports have tiskingly mentioned his entirely cosmetic helmet. None have mentioned that right before the accident the rider was swerving in and out of traffic, and he hit the curb before his fatal fall. I have no idea if a proper helmet would have mitigated his injuries, but I’m pretty sure not riding like a fool would have saved his life.

    I can certainly sympathize with those who would make the choice to not drive the bridge, or only drive in the outside lanes (that latter choice probably being the one thing you can do to upgrade your chance of surviving a Patullo bridge trip from “extremely high” to “virtually guaranteed”.) But it’s going to be expensive and tricky to upgrade this old and narrow bridge, and most of the proposed solutions will screw up cross-river traffic.

    I’m all in favour of more Skytrain users, but let’s keep the magnitude of this problem in perspective: taking the fatality and usage stats on the bridge at face value, roughly one in every 28 million trips over the Patullo bridge is fatal.

    In other words, you’re more likely to win a 6/49 draw than die on a Patullo bridge ride.

  6. Rebecca (unregistered) on September 1st, 2006 @ 11:33 am

    Agreed that using Skytrain, transit and removing cars from the road is important. But closing the centre lanes of the bridge by putting up plastic pylons every 20 feet in the center lane to deter cars from traveling in it is hardly effective.

    It is old, narrow, dangerous, why can’t something *useful* be done.

  7. Ryan Cousineau (unregistered) on September 3rd, 2006 @ 9:00 pm

    Rebecca: it’s not effective? As with explosions, distance is an excellent remedy for head-on crashes. Old and narrow are essentially intractable problems in the short term. Putting up a centre barrier will inevitably eliminated at least one lane, which isn’t a very pleasant idea. Putting up a movable barrier will be expensive and won’t happen soon, if at all.

    It’s just the nature of engineering projects of this scale that they’ll take a long time, and there’s no very pleasant answers.

    And I am very suspcious of the unquantified “dangerous.” As I have pointed out, it’s not very dangerous in absolute terms. Relative to other road sections in Vancouver, it’s dangerous, but compared to any number of daily activities which many of us indulge in, it’s way down on the risk profile.

    Extra credit: you smoke, ride a motorcycle, have a backyard swimming pool, and commute over the Patullo bridge. What is the most *useful* lifestyle change you should make to increase your chances of living longer?

  8. Rebecca (unregistered) on September 3rd, 2006 @ 9:23 pm

    I’m not obsessed with being “safe” nor am I an extreme thrill seeker.

    The fact of the matter is, for those who drive, those who need to drive, those who need to drive over this crossing of the Fraser River, it is not entirely safe.

    John and I take the skytrain almost every time we head out to Surrey. It’s quick, safe and cheap (on weekends). We do not own a car, however if we DO get a ride (from my sister who is a single parent with 3 kids and is usually carting them around in the car with her) the Patullo is the closest and quickest way to get from A to B.

    It’s an eye-sore, everyone speeds, accidents happen, people die. I don’t have all the stats, but it’s fairly obvious that people DO drive over this bridge and it get used 24/7. I have absolutely no control over that.

    What I do know is that after living 20 years of my life in Surrey and crossing that bridge often, is that it’s a hazard. Although I suppose if it were located in Vancouver or somewhere tourists often went it might get some more attention :-/

  9. Jenny (unregistered) on September 4th, 2006 @ 1:29 pm

    In response to Ryan’s need to ‘quantify’ the ‘danger’check out :

    They offer some statistics and further information about why it is dangerous.

    It is irrelevant if you are more likely to win the lottery, the fact of the matter is that the bridge is dangerous. We know it is dangerous, people die on it. Far more often then any other bridge in the lower mainland. Everyone knows it so why not prevent further deaths? If you knew something could kill someone you care about, or anyone for that matter , would you sit idly by? The point is that people crossing that stretch of the river deserve the same chance of surviving their journey as someone crossing any other bridge in the lower mainland. Does it matter who they are, what they are driving and where they are going?

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.