Vancouver is Terrible at Bridges
I was recently on a walk with my friend, Jonathon Stembridge-Rickenbacker. As you may remember, Jon is probably one of the most talented and famous architects in the world. He is also quite attractive, incidentally.
As we crossed a bridge, he and I started talking about another local bridge in Vancouver, the Port Mann bridge, which, after it opened last year, immediately started dropping ice bombs onto cars and exploding windshields. The toll bridge, to date, has caused nearly half a million dollars in car damage.
“The funny thing isn’t that no one anticipated there would be problems,” said Jon, “it’s that the people who anticipated problems didn’t persist when someone told them everything would be alright, because supposedly the other person was of a greater authority. They didn’t stick to their guns.”
“I always say, ‘If you’re going to be wrong, then don’t do it halfway. Commit to it,’ ” I said.
“Of course you would say that, Dr. Matt,” said Jon. “That works for the people who knew of a problem. If they had persisted even if someone was telling them their concerns were wrong, they could have helped avoid a lot of problems. But… the bridge people also committed to being wrong. They were more interested in keeping their design than allowing for the possibility that their design was wrong.”
“I always say,” I said, ” ‘Be the first to admit you were wrong, so that you can be right about it before anybody else.’ ”
Jon looked at me. “I don’t see how those go together.”
“That’s why people pay me a lot of money,” I said. “Because life is full of such contradictions, and no one knows which side of the contradiction they’re on.”
Jon shook his head. “But it’s not just about being on different sides of a contradiction. Even if both parties said, ‘Let’s agree to disagree,’ one party would have still been objectively incorrect. Sometimes the design is just wrong, no matter how you feel about it.”
I nodded. “It’s like I’m always saying.”
Jon frowned. “So what would you have said to these two sides, to get to the right answer?”
I rubbed my mustache. “It’s not always about the right answer, or saying the right thing. The bridge people and the government people are in bridge and gov culture. If they don’t have the kinds of leaders that can recognize problems, or the kinds of leaders that don’t seek to have their beliefs challenged by underlings, then hindsight may be the only way they recognize their faults.”
“It’s like I’m always saying about relationships,” I said. “It’s not enough to be willing to communicate. Lots of people are willing to talk each other’s ear off. You have to be willing to listen, both to what the other person is saying, but also to yourself. And most people don’t have a hill of beans knowledge about how to do that. So they just look at their wrecked bridges and shrug and say, ‘Well that was an awful situation,’ and then they go and build their next doomed bridge that drops exploding ice bombs onto cars every time it gets frigid.”
“So, some bridges are just doomed?”
“Well, maybe, but you could also just take a different bridge when it gets cold. Instead, some people just want to get angry at the bridge they built, and they stay angry at it year round, even though it only needs to be avoided a few times a year.”
“Well, I think people are mad that such an oversight can happen.”
“Sure, bridges shouldn’t have such flaws, and people shouldn’t make mistakes like that. But you’re choosing to drive on it. No one else is driving your car.” I added: “Unless you’re on a bus. Or a taxi.”
“I think now they’re cleaning the ice off the cables every winter.”
“It’s good to take responsibility.”
“But they raised the toll for the bridge.”
“They’re charging other people more for the flawed bridge they made?”
“As I said, there’s no helping some people.”