Bridget, the truck-eating railway bridge in Muizenberg, has not lost her insatiable appetite despite the City of Cape Town’s best efforts.
In November, according to social media posts, Bridget, known to locals as “Biddy”, had devoured at least three trucks, of which two were last week, and on Monday November 21, a large flat-bed truck carrying a generator narrowly escaped her jaws.
In October, the City moved two signs that were mounted on the bridge.
The signs are now mounted in the middle of the bridge and not directly above the lane to lower the risk of vehicles damaging the signs in case of a crash, according to mayoral committee member for urban mobility Rob Quintas.
In 2016, the City installed a 3D laser-detection system that measures the height of every vehicle approaching the bridge.
Should it detect that the highest point of a vehicle in either of the two lanes is greater than 2.5 metres from the road surface, a warning system is activated which, in turn, triggers two bright orange flashing beacons on a warning signboard (“3D laser detection system for ‘Briget’,” Echo, June 16, 2016).
However, while that had reduced the number of incidents it had not solved the problem, said Mr Quintas.
However, as the City relies on cases reported to SAPS and collated by the Crash Data Centre in Goodwood for accurate statistics, it has so far only recorded three incidents for 2022.
“While more crashes may have occurred over this period, these have either not been reported to SAPS or have not yet been captured,” Mr Quintas said.
The idea of building a gantry with gongs or chains and fining drivers has long been debated on social media.
Some say the City is to blame as truck drivers are not expected to know the height of their trucks while others solely blame the truck drivers.
However, community activist Kevin Rack, who lives around the corner from Bridget, said he was convinced that the problem was caused by truck drivers being overwhelmed by data and the poor design of Muizenberg.
He said he had interviewed at least seven truck drivers after their trucks got stuck under the bridge and had followed the route they had taken. He had taken pictures of each intersection to determine “where it goes wrong”.
He said most of the drivers were not familiar with the area and relied on GPS to navigate.
“You have a GPS giving you directions to turn right, you have the robots at the intersection, and you are trying to determine whether you should be in the right or the left lane, and then you have the signage. They get completely overwhelmed by all of the data,” he said.
He believes the signage should be put further away from the bridge and away from any data points such as the traffic lights and intersections, a second warning sign should be painted on the road and Atlantic Road should be made a no-truck zone.
He said the City should talk to the administrators of various GPS systems and trucks should be navigated further afield but not through Albertyn Road as it was a residential area not suitable for them.
Mr Quintas said building a gantry with gongs or chains was not possible due to the many municipal underground services already in the road reserve.
He said it would be impossible for such a huge plinth to be cast as no digging of any type would be allowed as the underground services included high voltage electricity cables, water mains and communication cables.
“A substantial concrete plinth would need to be installed so an overhead pole can be mounted for attaching gongs or chains. On the eastbound approach on Atlantic Road, delivery vehicles turn left just before the bridge towards the shopping centre to do deliveries, making this location impractical,” he said.
He said Atlantic Road, Albertyn Road, and Main Road had signage indicating that a low bridge is ahead, along with the height restriction and directions to the alternative route.
The City’s traffic services spokesman Kevin Jacobs said drivers were expected to know the dimensions of their vehicles.
“Height restriction signs are in the learner’s licence manual and is a standard question in the learner’s licence tests,” he said.
Bridget, who has her own Facebook page, Muizenberg’s Famous Truck-Eating Bridget, was constructed around 1910, according to former chairman of the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society Chris Taylor.
Mr Taylor said the single railway line, which was built around 1882, only needed a bridge that had to allow clearance for ox-wagons and horse-drawn carriages and when the railway line doubled in 1910, there was so much traffic coming into Muizenberg that a bridge with a higher clearance was required – one that could safely carry two fully-loaded trains at the same time, one going each way.
Mr Taylor said the bridge was built in the “age of steel” and made of massive steel plates riveted together for strength. That was the technique used to build the battleships of the British Empire, so the bridge was not only very strong but also extremely heavy, and that was why road vehicles did so badly when they hit it, he said.