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Victoria reviews bridge safety

Sidewalk upgrades possible with addition of suicide barriers

CYCLISTS who have long complained about the harrowing trip across Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing may be in luck now that the province has vowed to review the bridge's sidewalks as part of a wider plan to upgrade the span.

The 54-year-old bridge has long been a source of consternation for bike riders, many of whom have complained that the walkways they are forced to share with pedestrians are too narrow to navigate safely. The paths along the east and west sides are little more than a metre wide in places, forcing cyclists to squeeze past each other with sometimes painful results.

"It's pretty much the worst bridge in the region," said Richard Campbell, president of the British Columbia Cycling Coalition. "It's just so narrow; it's not really safe."

Campbell, who rides across the bridge himself about once a month, said he has received numerous complaints from coalition members about the state of the walkways.

The situation may soon take a turn for the better, however, as the province undertakes a review of the crossing with an eye to improving safety. In reply to a letter of complaint from Campbell's organization, transportation minister Blair Lekstrom wrote in July that his government was taking the issue seriously.

"We recognize that safety is essential to promoting cycling," he wrote. "The ministry is currently reviewing the bridge sidewalks to see what options will make them safer and more convenient for cyclists and pedestrians."

Staff were considering various upgrades while planning for the addition of suicide barriers, announced by the province in May and slated for installation by next summer.

A spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the ministry is considering widening both sidewalks. It's assessing the bridge's structure to determine what options might be feasible, she said.

Campbell said the pathways should be widened to at least two metres to allow two bikes to pass safely. More would be better, he added.

Helen Marshall, a North Vancouver cyclist who crosses Ironworkers regularly, knows first hand how dangerous the restricted space can be. In mid September, Marshall was on the down slope of the crossing approaching the North end when, by her account, she slammed into another cyclist who had failed to stop and move to the side as is expected of riders heading up slope.

"I'm watching and watching, thinking he's going to grab the railing and - Boom!" she said. "We had a head-on collision."

Marshall emerged from the crash with a broken finger that required multiple stitches. Her story, featured in the Province last week (Oct. 10), has sparked a flood of emails from other cyclists who have had similar experiences, she said. Some of those fared significantly worse than she did.

"Lots of people have had accidents, tons. It's quite amazing," said Marshall. "One girl broke her shoulder." The barrier that separates cyclists and pedestrians from traffic is itself a hazard, she added, as it zips past at face height for riders.