Are traffic helicopters pointless, wasteful & noisy?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Yes, there are cars today on the Pattullo

If you live in a big city long enough, you kind of get used to the noise. There are the sirens, the barking dogs, the loud motorcycles. But there is one noise that just seems to bug me more than others. It's the sound of a whirling traffic helicopter flying just above my New Westminster home every morning as it surveys the condition of the Pattulo Bridge commute.

Not long ago there were no helicopters and single-engine Cessnas buzzing around Metro Vancouver to "survey" the traffic conditions for us. It's hard to imagine how we all survived pre-airborne traffic monitoring. In the "old days," people used to simply listen to local radio stations who were often alerted to traffic jams by their listeners. It wasn't as precise as having a helicopter buzzing overhead, but most commuters understood when there were backups reported in a particular area, they should avoid it.

Large urban centres like Los Angeles and New York have had traffic helicopters long before they were ever introduced into the Vancouver market. In fact, I recall a trip I made down to LA a number of years ago where I was summarily woken up every morning precisely at 5:45 am as the helicopter hovered above my hotel to scope out the traffic. Needless to say, I never booked a stay at that hotel again and forever more I've found the sound of these low flying helicopters quite annoying.

The reality is that these helicopters/planes must burn up hundreds of gallons of fuel each week as they buzz through our local airspace. In the case of New Westminster (already described as the central nervous system of Metro Vancouver's traffic), we are already negatively impacted by everyone using our local streets as a thoroughfare on their daily commute to and from Vancouver. I guess the sound of noisy helicopters is just the cherry on top for local residents faced with clogged arterials during rush hours.

I don't regularly commute to work by vehicle, so perhaps my perspective is somewhat tainted by the fact that I use public transit. I bet there are many of you would argue that traffic helicopters are a godsend in helping you get to and from work in a timely way. If so, how? Are traffic helicopters really that much more advantageous than the older method of simply listening to the local traffic report on radio, or even checking your Tweets. Surely, there is a more efficient and accurate, not to mention affordable and sustainable way to relay live traffic reports.

While I do appreciate the banter we sometimes get on radio stations like CKNW and others from the reporters, do they have to be in the air to be entertaining or even credible?

Yes, cities are a noisy place to be. Some noises are more tolerable than others. Have a look at the video I shot and let us know if you'd like that hovering above your neighbourhood each morning. Leave a comment below and join in the debate.

- post by Daniel


uhhh, you don't make sense. When you ask "Are traffic helicopters really that much more advantageous than the older method of simply listening to the local traffic report on radio?" don't you know that it is the radio stations who put up and pay for the helicopters? Where do you think they get their information? Helicopters and traffic have been around together since the beginning.

I hate Chopper 9. Basically it is mostly used to get those nice bumper shots for CTV. What that means is that every year, when we hit the back deck after work for dinner, Chopper 9 ruins the quiet by hovering over East Vancouver to get the shot of downtown. Easily 3 days a week, there is the constant helicopter drone. It's annoying and it isn't even about news, it's about pretty pictures.

AM730 is the best because the drivers of on road vehicles call in any obstructions they encounter and are then more up to date than any chopper reports.

They are such a waste, and I'm amazed how many there are now. The traffic is always just as bad in the same places at the same times every day - why do we need a chopper telling us that? Even if there is an accident or closure, it's usually too late for anyone to take a detour even if the chopper does see it happen.

Judging from the video shot from your side porch, the chopper was probably hovering over my house in QP two blocks south of you.

The Pattullo is definitely a popular shot for the choppers. And early this morning, it was a chopper hovering over my house that tipped me off that there was probably a tie up on the bridge (which there was).

It makes one long for the day when the bridge burned down and showed how close to the edge the Lower Mainland is to total traffic chaos just by losing a couple of ancient bridge lanes.

But it was so nice here in New Westminster for the two weeks or so until they fixed the bridge.

What I would like to see Translink do is put a new 6-lane Pattullo Bridge up-river from the current location and bypass New Westminster altogether.

A new Pattullo bridge could be in straight alignment with the King George Hwy and use the Sapperton Bar as the crossing point where it could link directly to United Boulevard, Hwy #1 and the Lougheed Hwy.

On the Surrey side you would link the new brige to the South Fraser Perimeter Road and you could probably dispense with the NFPR through New Westminster's waterfront area.

My plan would include the construction of the Tree Island bridge down river from the Queensborough bridge. The Tree Island bridge would take Alex Fraser traffic directly onto Marine Way and along the Byrne Road connector as was the original plan.

Doing all of this would relieve one of New Westminster's biggest and longest standing issues: Traffic.

It would also move the hovering helicopters and maybe even eliminate the need for them to hover at all because the traffic would be flowing instead of grinding to a halt every time there's even the slightest incident...

You might even want to keep the Pattullo bridge as a local traffic, urban bridge and convert it to two traffic lanes and a center bike/pedestrian lane separated from traffic.

In my plan, the bridge would not connect directly to McBride and instead it would come to a T-junction intersection, with traffic lights, at Royal Avenue. There would then be another intersection at McBride and Royal Avenue.

McBride could then be restored to a local road rather than a regional route. You could do a lot with the McBride corridor with more intersections and crossing points between QP and the old Woodlands site. And we could forget the Stormont Connector plan altogether. Stormont is a plan from the 60s and time has passed it by a long, long time ago...

Thats not a traffic helicopter.. Thats one of the black helicopters that are constantly buzzing around my house like flies. I am in New Westmister too, the bugger was probably monitoring my house to see if I was leaving.

If you get ahold of a JSAM rocket you can shoot them down pretty easily. After I took the first few out, now they try to keep their distance.

Sorry man, I guess the best observation spot is like right above your place.

I'd tell you where to get the missiles, but I dont want my dealer to go out of business. I need those frickin things the noise of these helicopters drives me nuts.

Check out!

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