Trucks have been slamming into a can-opener bridge in Toronto for decades
Driving a truck in the big city is notoriously hard, and Toronto presents its own unique set of challenges to large vehicles. Truck drivers contend with narrow, confusingly-named streets, tight turning lanes, and busy pedestrian and bike traffic, making it easy to forget the threats that loom above.
One such hazard is causing headaches for the city and local residents just southwest of the iconic Casa Loma, where Howland Avenue passes below a rail bridge north of Dupont.
The bridge's relatively low 3.4-metre clearance is enough to allow some large vehicles to safely pass below, but larger trucks are frequently finding themselves caught in a large-scale can opener.
It's a problem one area resident has been witnessing for over two decades now, with no signs of stopping anytime soon. Another local told the CBC that in 2018 alone, 35 trucks struck the bridge, regularly grinding traffic to a halt on surrounding blocks.
One local with a direct view over the bridge, Dr. Betsy Moss, tells blogTO that she witnesses collisions at least twice a month. The most recent occurred on Monday morning, when a northbound truck hit the bridge with minor damage.
Another truck hit the bridge today. This one doesn’t appear to be severely damaged, but I did observe several emergency vehicles on the other side of the bridge. #howland #dupont #lowclearance #bridge #Toronto @JoshMatlow pic.twitter.com/igbTVEJeNg— Dr. Betsy Moss (@byzbets) November 29, 2021
"Collisions with the bridge are not just inconvenient, they are potentially dangerous to the residents in the neighbourhood," says Moss.
"This was obviously caused by the increased traffic on Dupont due to condo construction at Howland, as Dupont was narrowed down to a single lane going westbound," Moss continued. "Trucks are taking a shortcut through the neighbourhood to get around the congestion along Dupont going towards Bathurst."
This truck hit the bridge and it sounds like a lot of air is rushing out. Not sure what the big piece of debris is on the ground behind the truck. #bridge #lowclearance #howland #toronto pic.twitter.com/yLR9gYlGc4— Dr. Betsy Moss (@byzbets) November 19, 2021
Traffic is only half of the headaches for locals, the screeching sound of grinding metal all too familiar for neighbourhood residents.
"The sound is loud enough that we all hear it throughout our house," says Moss. "Last week when the garbage truck hit the bridge we heard a long whoosh like gas escaping from a tank. That went on for several minutes."
The city is clearly aware of the issue, with surrounding streets bearing warning signs alerting truck drivers of the low clearance. For example, there are three warning signs on the final approach to the bridge from the south, plus flashing lights and another trio of signs fixed to the bridge itself.
Still, this signage has proven either not plentiful or prominent enough to prevent the constant crashes. City Councillor Josh Matlow championed the addition of new, more apparent warning signs in the form of bold black and yellow zebra stripes.
Matlow tells blogTO that the zebra stripes were added in February 2021 specifically to cut down on these incidents, saying that "the treatment we did to both sides of the bridge is so clear, so evident, so bright, it tells every driver how many metres can safely get through."
The councillor doesn't mince words, placing the responsibility of these continued accidents on driver negligence.
"It's got blinking lights. The only thing more could have been flares and perhaps fireworks," Matlow says. "You have to be an idiot to drive a tall truck through there now."
Options like lowering the grade of the road or heightening the bridge aren't the types of solutions Matlow or his constituents want to see implemented, citing steep costs and not wanting to incentivize truck traffic through the neighbourhood.
Though the bridge is operated by the Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway, the responsibility for signage falls squarely on the city.
And any time a truck slams into this bridge, it has a ripple effect that can be felt around the country. CP has to halt service and send out inspectors to clear the track for use after every one of these incidents.
Councillor Josh Matlow
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