A new set of crosswalks have recently been installed on both ends of the bridge on Neaves Road crossing Alouette River. On the south side, push-button activated flash lights have been added. For pedestrians and cyclists going along the dikes, crossing Neaves Road – a heavily used route for commercial trucks and light trucks hauling their boats to Pitt Lake – will hopefully be safer.
These safety features came as a direct result of a tragic accident which took the life of a cyclist a year ago. On that fateful evening, Gareth Reardon, father of a young family whose wife moved to Maple Ridge from Australia not too long ago, was travelling eastbound along the dikes and attempted to cross Neaves Road on the south side of the bridge (where the push-buttons are now installed). A southbound vehicle going over the bridge hit and killed him while he was crossing.
The exact circumstances in which this fatal accident happened might never be known. There were no witnesses to gauge if excessive vehicle speed was involved. There were construction activities around the time of the accident, and a portable toilet had been placed right at the junction where the bottom of the bridge, the dike trail and the road converged. Whether the presence of the portable reduced the sightline of both the cyclist and the driver remains unknown.
Regardless of what, if any, specific circumstances contributed to the tragic accident, however, the setup of that intersection, where vulnerable road users cross the path of fast moving vehicles, has long been a safety concern.
Along that open, ‘highway-feel’ stretch of Neaves Road where the ‘recommended’ speed is 30 kmh and the maximum speed is 60 kmh, drivers routinely do 80 kmh. As a driver approaches the bridge from either direction, the crossing on the other side of the bridge is completely invisible. To make matter worse, local area residents had long complained about witnessing occasional drivers picking up or at least maintaining speed while approaching the bridge – in order to get momentarily airborne as the vehicle goes over the crest of the bridge.
The crosswalk is located right at the end of the short bridge.
So poor sightlines, arguably inappropriate speed limit and the location of the crosswalk all combine to result in a setup where accidents are just waiting to happen.
New crosswalk with push-button activated flash lights, south side of bridge on Neaves Road. (Photos by: Janet Dwillies)
The newly installed flash lights, with the push buttons on the south side of the bridge, should help warn drivers that someone is crossing the road on the other end of the bridge. The feature is definitely a step in the right direction. However, whether drivers – not being able to see over the bridge – would ignore it, remains to be seen.
Early indications are not very encouraging, though. As the photographer went out to snap a few pictures of the infrastructure, a truck drove right over the crosswalk after the button had been pushed, the lights were clearly flashing, and a person was visibly standing at the crosswalk waiting to cross.
An added potential danger is that the crosswalk and flash lights might give someone a false sense of safety.
Truck blasting through crosswalk with lights flashing and cyclist at crosswalk. (Photos by: Janet Dwillies)
Sadly, none of this new facility could reverse the tragic loss of life for Gareth and the pain that it inflicted on his loved ones. The only consolation is that this new safety feature, as a result of the tragedy, may hopefully prevent further accidents from happening at that location.
When we reached out to Natalia Reardon, the widow and mother of the victim’s family, she made the following comments on the change to the crossing and reflections on how the tragedy devastated her family.
“My heart is utterly broken after a whole year has passed from the tragic accident that left me as a widow and my children without their loving father. It’s hard to process how something so avoidable happened due to a very dangerous crossing in an area shared by many cyclists and pedestrians. It’s a significant victory that a crossing has finally been placed there but this in no way holds space for justice due to a person’s death. I am however glad that the new signs and crossing can possibly prevent any furthers accidents. It also proves that this should have been implemented years ago and the community petitions never ignored. It took the unfathomable loss of a man that loved using these dyke trails daily to make a change. My life will never be the same and I will continue to fight for the shared safety of cyclists and vehicles!!”
A ghost bike has been erected by volunteers on the bridge in memory of the victim.
(Photo by Antoinetta DeWit)
It is important to reiterate that extreme caution should still be exercised when crossing that intersection. Whether the new safety feature is effective or not remains to be seen.
Pedestrians and cyclists using this crosswalk are welcome to share your experience with us via email: mapleridge-pittmeadows @ bikehub.ca.