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The Vast Ripple Effect of Traffic Slowdowns

Think we’re not all connected?  Think there are enough peninsulas, channels, inlets, and deltas in the BC lower mainland to keep traffic bottlenecks from ricocheting throughout the system?  The infamous Lions Gate Bridge ‘bump’ has at least disabused us of this notion.

Certainly the effects diminish in the outlying sub-networks, but last week’s traffic chaos caused by upgrading work on an expansion joint on the south end of the bridge —work that will continue for the next month is a classic case of how irregularities in traffic flow systems start small at the source, say an one minute of delay, and then generate four to five minutes of delay further along the flow, which in turn ripples out to connecting networks.

Sea-to-Sky tourists, Horseshoe Bay ferry-users, Highway 1/Trans-Canada Highway users—peak season for all—and the re-routing by many to the only other crossing over the Burrard Inlet, the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Bridge in North Vancouver, which almost inevitably leads to congestion-caused crashes there, —the ripple effect of this one, seemingly small, irregularity has been awesome to see. …And beyond annoying.

North Shore and downtown traffic have been at a standstill.  A YVR-departure, a long-scheduled appointment with a downtown medical specialist, a once-in-a-lifetime meeting opportunity…the potential life-altering ‘misses’ are endless.  And we know that all those idling vehicles stuck in traffic are wasting fuel and damaging our air quality.

At first, a 1.75-inch thick metal plate crossing all three lanes of the Lions Gate Bridge covered the work-site.  Although the Ministry of Transportation said the plate had been designed to accommodate all vehicles traveling at regular speeds, video footage shows most vehicles instinctively slowing down to bump up and then down over the plate.

Partially prompted by TransLink’s decision to stop all North Vancouver buses from crossing the bridge, Ministry of Transportation crews worked throughout the night of Thursday, August 20th, to add rubber ramping and interfacing in an attempt to smooth out the bump and thereby eliminate the need to brake over it.  Whether or not this fix is working is not yet certain.  Certainly, the reverse ripple effect should at least reduce the traffic chaos to something approaching ordinary or normal.

The havoc wreaked by this seemingly tiny bump has also revived discussion of the long-recognized need for a third crossing over Burrard Inlet.  West Vancouver’s Mayor Michael Smith pointed out that experts have said for decades that the North Shore needs another connection, but nothing has been done despite the continuing, if not accelerating, population and infrastructure growth in both North Vancouver and West Vancouver.

Mayor Smith was reported as saying “while more transit is a good idea, many people are still going to drive, and they, along with people living on the Sea-to-Sky Corridor and ferry-bound vehicles need a way to get to the rest of Metro Vancouver. …The North Shore hasn’t had a new bridge in over 60 years.  Show me another area of Metro Vancouver that has had no enhancement to its transportation network in a period of time like that.”  Point made. 

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