London bridge is eating trucks

by Ron Stang

LONDON, Ont. — London’s Talbot Street bridge has been a trucker’s worst nightmare.

The bridge has become notorious for slicing off the tops of truck vans and, despite city efforts, it appears little can be done to prevent unsuspecting drivers from hitting the 3.3-metre-high overpass supporting one Canadian Pacific Railway track.

Crashes into the bridge have become a local joke with long-time Londoners waiting for the next crash to happen. The bridge even has its own Twitter feed featuring Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings commanding, “You shall not pass!”

Since 2010 there have been 18 such incidents.

Yet it’s a bit of a puzzle why so many truckers, many of whom seem to be amateur, smash into the overpass on the narrow two-lane road which connects the north side of the city to downtown, but which is not a truck route.

It’s not as if truckers haven’t been warned.

Besides the height notification on steel beams protecting the bridge on both sides, the streets surrounding the bridge are “littered” with warning signs, says Doug MacRae, London’s manager of transportation planning and design.

For example, about a block away on each side of the bridge there are oversized signs indicating Talbot Street is not a truck route and warning of “low subway” ahead.

“They’re big and visible,” MacRae said.

Moreover there are other signs, such as on busy arterial Oxford Street, a truck route, which runs east and west just half a block north.

“They’re smaller on Oxford just because there’s a whole lot of signs on Oxford, there’s not as much space,” MacRae said. But, he said, altogether, “We’ve gone beyond the normal signage for sure.”

But Ward 13 councillor Tanya Park said one problem is that for northbound drivers there is no sign indicating a way to exit Talbot Street near the bridge.

For example, there is “no signage” indicating that Ann Street is “the last exit point prior to the bridge.” Piccadilly Street is one block further north and the very last street before the bridge.

“However, a portion of Piccadilly is a one-way in the opposite direction and there is no exit for drivers to use,” she said.

Park also said Google Maps could be improved because Google doesn’t indicate there is a low bridge.

Some citizens have come up with presumably failsafe proposals to warn truckers.

John Hogg, a retired high school auto shop instructor, suggested at a recent public meeting on the city’s future that a cable could be strung across the road prior to the bridge with a light metal sign.

The sign would do double-duty, featuring characters from London’s colourful past, such as Peg Leg Brown, a notorious criminal, or Slippery the Seal, a seal which escaped from an animal park in the 1950s.

“So if a trucker went into it, he would obviously hear these things scraping, would stop, and he could back out and get out of there, rather than tearing his truck all apart,” Hogg reasoned.

Gary Manley, a retired Ford Motor supervisor, suggested a high-tech warning.

This would be a swing bar. When a vehicle touches it the bar would swing away and trigger an electrical warning sign.

“It would be easy to operate because it would just click on an electric switch which would go to a light-up sign at the height of a cab of a truck and saying ‘Stop’ and then give a message why – ‘You’re too high, low bridge ahead’ – something like that,” he said. The city’s MacRae was wary of these unconventional warnings.

“There are not standard road designs for that kind of stuff,” he said. “You’d have to make sure it was designed properly, right? I wouldn’t want to risk having something above the roadway that would be hit by a truck and then potentially fall or get dislocated or hit another vehicle or hit a pedestrian.”

MacRae suggested most of the crashes have involved rented cube trucks used by local university students for moving purposes.

“They’re not your professional truck drivers,” he said.

Yet a dairy delivery truck from Toronto crashed into the bridge Apr. 30 and accident images show tractor-trailers that have plowed into the overpass.

Councillor Park, who said she’s “begun the initial conversations with staff to discuss future options,” also suggested there’s a point where common sense should come into play.

“My late father was a truck driver and he would express his frustration with his fellow drivers who ignored signs that advised what the clearance of underpasses were, and felt the onus was on the driver to read warning signs and to be aware of the size of their vehicle and trailer.”

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