Troubled bridges over water

7 08 2012

The Lower Mainland is bisected by the Fraser River, which branches off into two arms as it approaches the Pacific Ocean.

The City of Vancouver is actually a peninsula, bordered by water on three sides.

That means bridges are inevitable.

By my count, Metro Vancouver has 13 bridges accessible to cars, pedestrians and cyclists that traverse water. Pittsburgh, Penn. has 76. London, England has about 25.  Amsterdam has 1,281.

The paucity of bridges can make it challenging to find new routes to ride away from the city. Especially south of the city.

The massive Alex Fraser highway bridge, with a cycling lane/sidewalk on one flank, is the only option to access the communities between Richmond and the US border. But it’s about 15 kms east of the city. Fine if you’re riding from the suburbs, but a considerable detour when heading due south from the city. It also means any ride to the southern hinterlands must also loop back through the same bottleneck.

While most of the bridges claim to be bike friendly, the veracity of those claims is in the eye of the beholder.

The narrow, bumpy concrete sidewalks and thundering din of the Second Narrows make it a terrifying traverse. Passing a pedestrian, slower or oncoming rider is almost impossible.

The convoluted and poorly-marked approaches of the Pitt River and Alex Fraser make them an adventure.

But the most egregious has to be the Pattullo Bridge.

What fresh hell awaits????

It’s old and ugly. It was built when cars and trucks were slower and not as plentiful. It has a nasty kink at each end that has caused many accidents, some of which I’d photographed for the paper. People have died on this bridge.

The “bike lane” is actually the narrow decaying sidewalk, raised high from the roadway with no barrier between it and huge trucks and speeding cars only inches away.

I rarely use the Pattullo when I’m driving the car. On Sunday I crossed it for the first time on my bike.

It wasn’t a lot of fun. With visions of the slightest wobble tipping me into the windshield of an onrushing car or truck, I kept a death grip on the handlebars, pedaling slowly, deliberately.

Fortunately, nobody came at us from the opposite direction. Otherwise all bets were off.

The exit to the adjoining bike route necessitated a hurried crossing of the bridge’s on ramp, just beyond a blind curve.

The antiquated bridge is due for replacement. The government wants to build a six-lane super bridge. But the city of New Westminster, where one end of the bridge empties into residential streets, wants a more modest crossing, perhaps three lanes with an alternating centre corridor. Either way, easily accessed, wide, safe cycling lanes, separated from passing traffic would be a huge improvement, and add another viable option for getting cyclists out of town.



One response

8 08 2012
john lee

Yikes! The Patullo! I thought we found the Alex Fraser as we parted ways when I had to ride into work but no..

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