Speed on the Pattullo Bridge

In April 2015 G. Ho Engineering Consultants prepared a report for TransLink titled Pattullo Bridge Road Safety Assessment. In it they examined (amongst other things) speed levels on the Pattullo.

The speed limit on the Pattullo Bridge is 50 km/h, as the bridge is narrow, lacks a barrier between opposing traffic flows, lacks a barrier between the sidewalk and the adjacent traffic lane, and lacks modern crash standards on the parapets (the sides of the bridge that would stop cars from swan diving into the Fraser).

They collected speed data on November 7, 2014, and what they found was fairly alarming. 50% of northbound (Surrey to New Westminster) were travelling over 50 km/h, while nearly 95% of southbound were breaking the speed limit. About 12% of the vehicles were travelling faster than 70 km/h, the critical speed to safely negotiate the curve on the south side of the bridge.

But in the week between November 2 and November 8, over 1600 vehicles were recorded going over 100 km/h. This is faster than the 90 km/h speed limit on parts of the new, five-lane Highway One, on a bridge that’s half the size!

The engineering consultants gave three recommendations for improving the safety on the Pattullo Bridge:

  1. close the middle lanes for 16 hours a day, opening them only for the morning and afternoon peak periods;
  2. install a permanent concrete median barrier and remove one northbound travel lane; or
  3. install a permanent concrete median barrier and remove one lane in each direction.

Options 2 and 3 are non-starters, as neither Surrey nor New Westminster want to deal with horrendous traffic caused by drivers trying to shoehorn into one lane on the bridge.

Of course, the proper fix is to tear down the Pattullo and build a new, safer bridge, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. As this story puts it: “A transit plebiscite that was to secure funding for the replacement had failed earlier this year.” And of course the province isn’t going to do anything about it (yet they can apparently study a bridge to the Sunshine Coast).

If I could be so bold as to offer another safety-improving measure (and I will) that would be photo radar. The Pattullo Bridge is the perfect location for it. Put cameras on the mid-bridge spans and at either end. Have them ticket drivers going faster than 65 km/h. The 1600 people driving faster than 100 km/h would be hit with a $368 fine for excessive speed, netting nearly $600,000 in fines. Over a year, that’s over $30 million!

But realistically that’s a non-starter as well. The Liberal government axed photo radar in BC because for some reason people enjoy breaking the laws of the road and getting away with it, and for some reason the Liberals listened to all of those people whining about getting a ticket in the mail. And that’s a shame, because whining wins out against safety.

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