Sunday, June 14, 2009

golden ears bridge opens

Our adventure today was walking the new Golden Ears Bridge. It's opening for vehicle traffic Tuesday but today Translink invited the public for a mass look-see.

We drove to the Langley Events Centre and parked there to catch a shuttle. (Just as we were parking the car, we heard something on the car radio about three-hour waits for people catching the shuttle at Colossus - the theatre complex just down the road in Walnut Grove -- oh my!)

We were on the bridge deck by around 12:00 noon and already it was teeming with people. (The bridge opened at 9:00 a.m. for some kind of a race, I think, then opened to the public at 11:00)

It's a beautiful bridge...

The bridge seen from a distance.

On the deck. Note the two eagles suspended from the pilings (or whatever they're called). a beautiful setting. There are wide bike/pedestrian lanes on both sides with metal slat barriers so you can look out at the river and scenery around you.

The bridge spans the Fraser River over log booms.

Cranberry fields.

Along the deck there were stations with passport checkpoints (we were handed an event passports at the first one and then encouraged to get them stamped at other checkpoints), numerous food and ice-cream vendors, a display of antique cars, tons of porta-potties and three stages for entertainment and the opening ceremony.

Our plan was to walk the entire bridge.

Our plan to walk the entire bridge was foiled by the bottleneck at the north stage (Maple Ridge side). The stage was pretty much the width of the bridge deck and for a while even the pedestrian lanes on both sides seemed to be blocked. When it became apparent that the crowd had stopped moving, Ken Hardie (Translink CEO) stopped the Brazillian band that was playing and tried to direct traffic.

What a mess! People were shoving. Families and scout troops were trying to stay together. It seemed that the pedestrian walkway was the only way to get moving north. So people of all ages were squeezing through or hopping over the 4+ ft. guard rail that separates the deck from the pedestrian lane. At that point we turned around and headed back.

We got to the shuttle bus lineup around 1:00 p.m. As we were waiting, two fire trucks roared by onto the people-crowded deck with sirens blaring. We found out a few minutes later, when our buses weren't coming, it was because a woman had gone into labor and the buses weren't allowed on the deck until the emergency was settled.

The shuttle bus did come soon after that, though, and we were home before 2:00. I heard via twitter/the news that there was a time when police physically blocked any more people from getting onto the bridge deck because it was just too crowded. A woman got separated from her kids (with the accompanying and very understandable histrionics). And apparently striking paramedics hassled the premier during the opening ceremonies.

Altogether, it was a beautiful, crowded and at times dramatic first day on the Golden Ears Bridge.

(With reporters estimating the number visiting the bridge today at 40,000 to 60,000, it's no wonder the best laid plans weren't quite sufficient. Global evening news called it "chaos." Sounds like we got off the bridge just in time to miss the serious crowd gridlock and frayed nerves.

CBC's report of the party.)


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