If you're driving a Hummer, you're not going to make it. Or if you're towing a wide load, you better check or you'll get a rude shock (like the fellow with the large boat & trailer a few years ago...). And there's a 2 ton weight limit - note the sign at the bridge head.
So I wasn't too surprised when I saw a couple of motorists having a discussion on the mainland side of the bridge as I headed out again this morning. Hey, at least they were thinking about it, rather than just ramming their way on. But sadly, when I returned a couple of hours later, I could see that it hadn't turned out well, as you'll see from the photo below. I'm told they managed to get one wheel over the edge of the bridge - I won't speculate as to how that was accomplished.
So, here's my little guide to "Crossing The Island Bridge Like a Pro":
1. Approach the single-lane bridge slowly from the correct lane. By this I mean the left lane on the pavement, just like you'd drive normally anywhere else in South Africa. It sounds crazy to point this out, I know, but I've seen people attempt to swerve onto the bridge from the wrong lane. That's a very early disaster waiting to happen, trust me...
2. Look to see if there is anyone trying to leave The Island - they have right-of-way (think "emergency": which makes most sense in the event of a flood, medical emergency or beer run - getting on or getting off?). Now, admittedly, it's a bit tricky because The Island side is lower than the mainland side, so no harm if you don't see anyone until you're halfway across, but if they're already approaching when you're at the bridge head, give them a flash of your lights and let them come across first, even if it means backing up a bit to give them room to exit. It's easier to back up on the pavement rather than on the bridge, whether it's you or them.
3. Okay, your turn (assuming no one else is leaving - it can be a parade in both directions during the peak holiday season). Make sure you're lined up correctly at the start - scraping your car right at the beginning won't be a pleasant way to start your journey across (and it'll help with marital harmony, trust me). It's really not necessary for your partner to get out, and walk backwards while directing you across, like the ground crew do with planes at airport gates, which leads me to point #4....
4. Other than being a bit narrow, this bridge isn't particularly unique: it doesn't have any windy turns or bends (no loop-the-loops either). That means you can just drive straight. Borinnng, with a capital "B", I know, but it's less expensive repair-wise than some of the more exciting attempts I've seen made. Seriously, my best piece of advice is this: keep your eyes on a fixed point in the distance, like the end of the bridge or beyond and aim for that. Don't watch the inch in front of your car, as you'll find yourself over-correcting every 2 seconds. Think about it, when you drive down the highway, where do you look? Right, same thing here. Except....
5. Mind the posted speed limit (20 km/hr). You know, that other sign at the bridge head. Stick your car in 2nd or 3rd gear and it won't be as jumpy as in 1st. Oh, and it's the same speed limit on The Island where we've got small children blissfully riding their bicycles or skipping or whatever it is that little kids - or our older residents - do these days (fortunately, wandering aimlessly with mobile phones hasn't really taken off here!).
6. If you find your tires rubbing on the curb of the bridge, just take it slow and remind yourself to focus in the distance. Don't over-react and swerve hard in the other direction. Remember, you're going slow, right, so what's a bit of rubbing between friends?
7. Passengers. Okay, you're under control - you've read this blog post, have printed it out and slept with it under your pillow for weeks as you've built up the courage to cross the bridge (a bit of visualization, too, perhaps). But passengers, well, they're a bit of a wildcard at the best of time, aren't they? And even more so as everyone is excited about getting to The Island - hooray! I get it. But unless you want to spend your time on the beach plucking splinters from sore fingers, tell them to resist sticking their hands out the window and rubbing the wooden railing as you drive across (confidently now, right?) at 20 km/hr. Same with tongues or any other appendages.
8. Okay, last thing: pedestrians (including those with baby strollers and dogs) and cyclists. Sure, take it easy if you see pedestrians, but they have little step outs (you can see part of one hanging over the side of the bridge in the photo above) where they can scurry to as you come across. I think there are 4-5 on each side of the bridge. So, see someone walking? Just carry on and let them hop to safety before you get to them. Now, if they have a baby stroller - or if they're on a bike - they won't be able to do this, so let them carry on across the bridge ahead of you (or as they approach you as you are trying to get onto the bridge). Follow behind if you like, even if it means doing less than 20 km/hr, but don't crowd them - parts of the bridge surface are uneven and even the most coordinated walkers amongst us is in danger of taking a tumble after stubbing a toe on a wayward plank.
Phew, you're across! It wasn't so hard, was it? And guess what? You were across in less time that it took to ready this super-lengthy blog post! Now, just find yourself a spot in one of the designated parking spots, find a nice relaxing place on the beach and don't worry about how you're going to do it again on the way out. Remember, you're a pro! So when the kiddies, missus (or mister) and beach gear are all packed up and it's time to leave just repeat the same process on the way out, making sure that you drive straight all the way until your rear tires have left the bridge. If you swerve into the left-hand lane too soon (as in before your vehicle's rear end has landed on the other side), you risk scraping the rear left fender of your vehicle.
Follow the simple tips above and you'll be driving The Island bridge like a veteran!
Of course, if you decide crossing the bridge isn't for you, no problem. Ignore the sniggers and wise-cracks, there's no shame in walking - The Island is all about relaxation anyway, right? Sure, keep telling yourself that - it'll be our little secret. Just don't park your vehicle in the area to the immediate right of the bridge head, as you're blocking people who are trying to leave, and you'll cause extra headaches for those that do decide to swerve too suddenly on exit, as not only will they have a scraped rear fender, but they'll have a dented front fender from where they've hit your vehicle....
And if you're making a delivery to The Island in a large vehicle, well, maybe give your receiving party a call. I've had plenty of couriers give me a shout to say they can't make it across and I've happily met them at the Opispoor (the old McNasty's) parking lot.
Oh, and yes, I may be smug about this, but I will admit that even after years of driving across The Island bridge without incident, my nervous spouse (no names) clings onto what I like to call the "chicken rail" (the passenger grab rail) until we are fully across and parked in our garage. Actually, she rides like that most of the time I'm driving...
P.S. Interested in a bit more of the history of our Island bridge? Check this out (where you'll also see the last time a car managed to get one wheel over the side, some thirty years ago...)