John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The real number of thunderous accidents is probably much higher.
Another year, another opportunity to check in with Durham, North Carolina’s notorious truck-decapitating underpass.
Eleven feet, eight inches—that’s all the room there is below the Gregson Street bridge. Glaring signs, flashing lights, and a bright-yellow crash bar all attest to the dangerously low clearance. Yet trucks continue to batter it like besiegers trying to take down the castle door. A thundering accident on July 9 marked the 95th crash since 2008, says Jürgen Henn, a local who’s garnered worldwide fame filming the mayhem. “By the way,” wonders one of his German YouTube fans, “do you prepare a small gift or a nice certificate for the 100th crash driver?”
To recap: The century-old bridge was constructed in an era with few minimum-clearance regulations. There’s a railroad on top that makes lifting it difficult. And a sewer line under the road hinders digging down. The rail company and various government agencies have attempted solutions to little effect. The bridge is so problematic it’s stumped Durham, and beheaded trucks, since at least the 1950s.
For those decrying the stupidity of the drivers, note they might not be altogether to blame, as pointed out by commenter “holycalamity” the last time we wrote about 11-foot-8:
I’m guessing a lot of these truck drivers are following their navigation and dropping their common sense off at the truck stop.
Given the lack of common sense and reading comprehension and awareness of clearly marked signs, it seems helpful for navigation systems and mapping applications to have high clearance as an option, just like we can check off “avoid toll roads” or “avoid unpaved roads.”