Low Clearances and New York City


Brian W. Porter
All Drivers must know the height of the truck, even those who drive the rental six-wheel box trucks to move from apartment to apartment on the weekend. Many minivans are less than seven feet high, most school buses are under ten feet high, and most trailers used by long haul and regional Drivers are thirteen feet-six inches tall, with slight variations. The variations come from how tractors and trailers couple. The engineers design trailers to rest on a certain height fifth wheel, usually either forty-seven or fortyeight inches. The true height of the trailer depends on how large the truck's tires are, and how high the fifth wheel sits above the tractor's frame. When a driver finds a bridge we cannot fit under, it affects us in adverse ways. We will drive on roads where we do not belong because the city or state places the warning signs after the detour, or we cannot see the sign through the construction sign, or the tree, or the six-wheeler parked just in front of it. Then we will find the bridge the hard way. When that happens, we fold the top of the truck open as if it is a rag-top. Drivers who do not pay attention to warning signs for whatever reason do cause some of these unplanned convertibles. In addition, the clearance Illustration 1: Warning sign for bridge under tree branches is not marked, so we that 13'-6" trucks regularly go under. trim trees quite often. However, sometimes it is not the Driver.

Unscrupulous shippers will show a lower height on an oversize permit to pay a lesser fee. When that happens, the Driver usually pays the price. Then there is New York City. To fight your way through the five boroughs of New York City is enough to drive you insane. They have a population that expands every day, needs that expand along with the population, and no way to expand the road system so trucks can deliver necessary goods. There's a good reason I thank my dispatcher for telling me to go to Hell when he sends me there. Several years ago, New York considered buying the Meadowlands marshes near the sports stadium and racetrack in northern New Jersey. The plan was to erect drop-off warehouses, off load all the big-trucks bound for New York City, and only have small trucks inside the city limits. The theory said this would help relieve congestion, even though it takes a good number of small trucks to carry the load of one big-truck. For whatever reason, their plans did not bear fruit. Now they restrict the size of trucks; almost any road truck is illegal if they try to make a delivery, and the fines are huge. Most of the legal bridges charge humongous tolls for trucks, even if you are just passing through. New York City divided their limited access through routes into parkways and expressways. Trucks can use expressways, but not parkways, which large signs announce at most of the major entry points. One major reason for this is the low clearance on parkways, but the way surveyors measure bridge clearance is as crazy as the city. The BQE, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, is what it says, an expressway, so trucks may use it. There is one area, however, where many drivers panic their first trip. As you go north on the BQE you see signs that say All Trucks Over 12' – 2" Must Use Atlantic Avenue. Atlantic Avenue is one of the streets where merchandise just happens to fall off the back of a closed and locked truck. Not only did I not want to use that street for fear of getting lost, my dispatcher had told me not to use it. Still, there is this sign that says Illustration 2: Sign before Atlantic Ave. Colors are there is an obstruction more than not correct. a foot lower than my truck. Ahead of me, another truck flew up the center lane and disappeared

around a bend. I decided to emulate him, move one lane left and continue to roll in the center lane at speed. The road divided. The southbound lanes dove under the northbound lanes. A half arch added strength to hold a park or city street above the northbound side. The right lane looked about thirteen feet high at the far right edge, so I stayed in the center lane and breathed easier. A mile farther up the road another sign read All Trucks Over 12' – 2" Must Exit Now. This was not Atlantic Avenue; these streets were much smaller, and all residential. Any trip down that ramp would become another New York Story, another huge truck stuck because he could not Illustration 3: Note the sign on the right. make the turns, so I stayed on the expressway, a road supposedly legal for trucks. It would just be another arch, I hoped. Around a bend was a small rise where the expressway humped over a surface street, then dived under an obstruction. Black steel I-beams crossed justIllustration 4: Approaching the Brooklyn Bridge. beyond the rise, an unknowable height above the road. Fifteen feet thick, non-giving, invulnerable, indestructible, supports for the Brooklyn Bridge steel I-beams, beams that grew larger every second, beams that wanted to lower the height of all trucks, beams that begged to make any truck a convertible and all drivers an inside the windshield bug. Over the right lane was a sign that said 12' – 2". My truck is thirteen feet six inches tall and I rolled fast in the center lane with nowhere to go. Panic reached out and grew as quickly as those beams. A picture of my body in the seat belt flashed through my mind. The extreme G-force would break my shoulder or my ribs as the truck hit the bridge. I would

have to work up an explanation for dispatch why I killed the truck. If I did not kill myself first. There looked to be enough room in the center, maybe, and the right side was visibly lower. Maybe. The center lane looked high enough. Looked. I ducked as I went under the thirteen feet nine inch clearance at speed. I waited for the sudden stop, but I cleared, as does every other truck that travels that road. Later I learned that unless the clearance sign says actual, New York City measures the height from the curb to a small steel arch that makes the clearance even lower, and then they add a bit. Still, they Illustration 5: Going under the Brooklyn Bridge. almost gave me a heart attack. Those who are local around New York City have learned that anything marked over twelve feet nine inches, or sometimes lower, is usually high enough to go under. They will pick up a load in New York and deliver it in PA or New Jersey and, if it is their first time out of the city, they will try to go under a bridge marked thirteen feet. When they hit the low clearance, and the top of the truck folds back, and traffic is all tied up, they cannot understand what happened. New York measures from the sidewalk to the edge of the support arch, where traffic does not travel. That subtracts a foot or more to the height of the bridge. However, these drivers are no longer in New York, and now, because of their mistake, the press and traffic safety organizations can have a field day as they claim all truck drivers are unintelligent scum, when the problem was just ignorance about someplace away from their home area.

The Regional

*** Life by Brian W. Porter

What is it like to drive a truck, to shepherd an eighty feet long monster around the northeast United States of America, living in the truck for a week at a time? Why do truckers drive like they do? How can you avoid them? I drive a truck for a living, and write for a hobby. I tried to answer these questions, and through

anecdotes lend a feel for what a regional driver does. *** Other short stories and essays from this author available at http://www.scribd.com/Brian%20W%20Porter. *** Copyright 2010 Attribution Non-commercial No-derivs You may share this work with anyone in any way with the following provisions. You must share the complete work, including the title and this notice. You may not make any changes. You may not use this work commercially or accept payment without the written permission of the Author. Any and all rights and credit are held by Brian W. Porter.

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