GEORGE TOWN: There were a total of 1,370 accidents on the Penang Bridge last year, with 155 of them involving motorcyclists. Eight motorcyclists were killed.
On the second bridge, 126 accidents were recorded last year, 55 of which involved motorcyclists.
Some 20,000 riders use the Penang Bridge every day while 2,000 use the second bridge, and it’s not just the heavy traffic that poses a danger to them.
Powerful crosswinds, sometimes at speeds of 10 knots (18.5kmh), can make motorcyclists easily lose control. Add to that the gusts that come from speeding cars and the motorcyclists, especially “kapcai” users, can become helpless victims on the bridge.
There have also been cases of motorcyclists falling through the gaps in the side railings of the bridge and into the sea below.
Experts are now calling for a study on the effects of crosswinds on the bridge as fears rise about motorcyclists being swept away by the strong sea winds and from passing cars.
The problem is expected to worsen now that the Penang ferry, which used to carry vehicles, has been scrapped and only a lone vessel is used for motorcycles and other two-wheelers.
Tired of the long wait for the lone ferry, more motorcylists are expected to take to the bridge. Even cyclists have been spotted on the bridge recently.
The call for a permanent solution mounted as the number of accidents involving motorcycles – although not directly related to crosswinds – have increased.
Transport expert Goh Bok Yen said all bridges are built to specifications, taking into account traffic load and the type of vehicles it would carry, including consideration of crosswinds by engineers.
He said that from time to time, authorities would usually review the traffic projections and make adjustments to crossings after consulting the bridge’s design engineers.
“If the public claims there are severe crosswinds, then it is time for the authorities to engage engineers to see how this could be resolved.
“A study should be carried out on the present conditions – loading and crosswinds – and later matching it with an engineering solution,” he told FMT.
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Ahmad Hilmy Abdul Hamid said the intensity of crosswinds could have intensified over the years since the first bridge was built 35 years ago, with climate change being the key reason.
He said to address the issue in the short-term, motorcyclists should be banned from using the bridge when wind conditions don’t permit such travel, and an early warning system put in place on crosswinds to alert motorists.
“There must be some sort of monitoring of the wind conditions and riders should be adequately alerted. The simplest rule is for us to not fight the elements.
“When there is a steady wind, bikes should not be on the bridge. I say monitor and warn them, for now,” he said.
Hilmy said that in the long term, wind deflectors can be installed on either side of the bridge, taking into account the aerodynamics and in-depth studies on the present-day effects on lighter vehicles, both motorcycles and cars.
Civil engineer Wong Loo Min said traffic on the Penang Bridge should technically be able to withstand crosswinds, as it was taken into consideration when it was built.
He added that ideally, there should be a separate lane for motorcycles, but with the present three lanes for cars in the first bridge, that would be impossible. He said the hard shoulder could be given up for motorcycles, as many were already using it anyway.
Wong said motorcycles should also ride at lower speeds so as to minimise the effects of crosswinds.
“Ideally though, they should have their own lane, which is shielded from the elements’” he said.