What do can openers and low bridges have in common?
Whether the lid of an 8oz. container or the roof of an 80,000lb. tractor trailer, both a can opener and a low bridge do a fine job cutting through metal -- the latter being well documented on Jürgen Henn's website, 11foot8.com.
Speculating why -- with the amount of high-quality data the HERE Open Location Platform can provide, along with the breadth of navigation solutions now available to truckers and fleet managers -- there are still enough low-clearance bridge incidents to support Jürgen's near 10-year hobby, we caught up with him to learn more about one particular railroad trestle in Durham, North Carolina.
The bridge is subject to so many crashes, a massive steel beam was installed to bear the impact and protect it from collapsing. Yet, although there are warning lights and a large 11' - 8" sign, the beam has already been replaced once.
With a view of 201 Gregson Street and the intersection of Peabody Street from his office windows, Jürgen set up a camera in 2008, expecting to 'eventually' record an incident. A few weeks later it happened, which led him to set up another camera across the street to capture an additional angle.
"I have documented 114 crashes since April 2008," he says. "So far, the rate of crashes has held pretty steady at a little above 12 per year. Last year  a traffic light was installed, but I think it's a bit too early yet to say whether the rate has decreased significantly since."
The study of this spectacle, came naturally for Jürgen, an IT analyst at a Duke University research lab. "I really love data; plus, I work with researchers, and their curiosity and passion has rubbed off on me," he explains. "So, I set up the cameras to find out more precisely how often these crashes happen and what exactly happens when the bridge 'catches a truck.'"
Jürgen provides a bit more background about the issue, answering frequently asked questions on his site. The bridge is so low because, 100 years ago when it was built, there were no standards. And, despite a monthly crash, the ultimate "fix" of raising the bridge is a political mess.
For one, who owns the 'problem?' The North Carolina Railroad Company's trains run over the trestle and this agency installed the crash beam. The city installed not only the clearance height sign at the bridge, but also signs on three blocks leading to the bridge. A road sensor triggers an LED warning, in plenty of time, when a vehicle that's too large approaches.
The North Carolina DOT is responsible for the road's maintenance but has no purview over the structure itself. Raising the bridge would cost millions and disrupt a busy rail line. Lowering the road would be even more difficult.
Over the years, Jürgen's gotten a bit more understanding of all the factors in play. He says, "I've learned how complicated the administrative jurisdictions are when it comes to maintenance of structures and signage on public roadways. Low-clearance structures are a common and dreaded problem for truckers, but the resolution is not simple — despite the many people who volunteer their 'obvious solution' after watching a couple of YouTube videos."
Speaking of videos, with so many crashes we wondered if Jürgen had a favorite. "Crash No. 106 on April 29, 2016 was pretty special," he says.
Despite the apparent regularity of incidents, Jürgen says that, considering the amount of traffic on the road, the accidents are actually pretty rare.
"Every day I see several trucks trigger the warning and turn onto the side street to avoid the collision, " he points out. "And I know more truck drivers see the earlier signs and turn there. So, most of the time the signage works, the truckers are attentive, and all is well. But, every once in a while, the driver is distracted or unaware and the bridge catches another one."
There is a solution
The one 'obvious' solution we'd propose is avoidance. HERE truck routing data includes not just height limitations but weight, width, hazardous allowances and more. This way, trucker can easily choose roads that enable safe and efficient journeys.
After all, the Jürgen-nicknamed "can opener bridge", is just one of many.
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