New calls made to improve safety on Pattullo Bridge

There are fresh calls to install fixed photo radar cameras on the Pattullo Bridge after two more accidents - both linked to speed -halted traffic for a total of eight hours last Friday and Monday.

TransLink continues to support that idea, but spokesman Ken Hardie said it doesn't look like anything could have prevented the two latest crashes on the deadly span.

"We'd be hard-pressed to say anything TransLink has done so far or will do for the bridge would change the outcome of those two crashes," he said.

The latest crash at 6:12 a.m. Monday saw a motorcyclist killed after speeding and weaving through traffic and then hitting a guard rail head-on. The bridge was closed for six hours.

Police say the motorcyclist, who isn't being identified, was wearing a non-approved "beanie-style" helmet with a label that warned it was for "novelty" use only.

Friday's crash involved an erratically-driven van that lost control and hit the side of the bridge. One person was injured.

The motorcyclist became the 21st person to die on or near the bridge over the past 15 years.

The incident came almost two years to the day after the death of popular Surrey car racer John Heida on Aug. 22, 2004.

His friend, Bob Behnke, renewed his calls for speed cameras on the bridge, saying there have been a staggering 10 Pattullo deaths since Heida was killed in a head-on crash.

"When does it stop?" he demanded. "If there was a mass murderer out there killing people, the public would be outraged."

He said radar cameras that would issue tickets to speeders might have made drivers like the motorcyclist think before driving recklessly.

"This person might have been alive," Behnke said.

Solicitor General John Les has ruled out what he said would be a reintroduction of photo radar and ministry officials indicate he is sticking to that position.

"I guess we've got to kill four or five more people before it happens," Behnke said.

He said he'd like to have Les explain to him why photo radar in a fixed position on the bridge can't be used to slow speeders when similar cameras are used at intersections to ticket red light runners.

"If we can have red light photo radar, why can't we have Pattullo photo radar? It saves people's lives."

The bridge was built in 1937 and is far narrower than required by modern federal safety standards. Many agree the ultimate answer is a new bridge.

"But that is so many years into the future - how many citizens are we going to bury?" asked Behnke.

Over the past year, TransLink has cut the speed limit on the bridge to 50 km/h and closed the two inside lanes at night to prevent common head-on crossover collisions.

The transportation authority continues to study the possible installation of a median barrier, but fears remain that further narrowing the notoriously tight bridge may cause more accidents.

"There has been no final decision on whether a barrier is the right thing for the bridge," Hardie said.

Rehabilitation work to the underside of the bridge, required ahead of any centre barrier, is to be complete by year's end.

A more radical solution - switching the Pattullo to three lanes with a counterflow - would significantly cut peak traffic volume, but consultants are studying the option and their report is to be complete by October.

New Westminster council has been committed to that safety measure for some time. Mayor Wayne Wright thinks TransLink should also look at photo radar and possible speed reader boards.

"It comes down to common sense in drivers," said Wright. "You can have as many safety measures as you want and it's not going to stop accidents if drivers are speeding.

"Unfortunately, it's usually the innocent who pay the price," he said.

Other possible measures include restricting trucks to outside lanes only, but that's waiting until a new access configuration is determined for the north approach from New Westminster.

A report to the board on that is also expected in October.

Another source of controversy with the bridge is the fact Victoria has identified it as the untolled alternative motorists can use if they don't want to pay to cross the twinned Port Mann bridge when it opens.