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Crash renews debate on G G Bridge barrier 

Victims of head-on collisions want a movable divider, 
but it's a difficult engineering job 

By Eric Brazil and George Raine 

    Once again, in the wake of a fatal collision and traffic pileup, the Golden Gate Bridge district and its critics are arguing about a barrier that would prevent head-on collisions on the span.  San Francisco psychologist Tamar Kraut's death in Monday's head-on crash, which injured four other people and snarled traffic for 31/2 hours, was the 34th fatality on the bridge since 1970. The accident, according to witnesses, was caused when Joseph Cowan, 56, of Novato, veered into southbound traffic while trying to pass cars headed north. 

    "How many more people will be killed before we get some action?" said, Frank Schweiger of San Anselmo-Director of Citizens For a Safe Golden Gate Bridge , who narrowly escaped death in a 1984 head-on crash that left him permanently disabled. "We can put men on the moon and go to the bottom of the sea, but we can't put a movable barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge," said Mr. Robert M. Guernsey, also of San Anselmo, who has patented a movable barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge, but can't get the bridge district to agree to use one. The bridge's engineers and directors have been mulling over the barrier problem for 20 years and have considered several models. 

    San Diego bridge has one chief engineer Merv Giacomini said designing a movable traffic barrier for the Golden Gate was a formidable engineering problem. The bridge's narrowness-six lanes confined in a space of 62 feet -imposes rigid constraints for the design of a barrier, which must be movable to accommodate the commuter traffic. A movable barrier designed by Barrier Systems Inc. of Carson City, Nev., is in place on the San Diego Coronado bridge, which is also 62 feet wide. But that bridge, Giacomini said, has just five lanes, and "there's not enough room for that system on the Golden Gate." Barrier Systems is working on a narrower design, but no one seems to know when a prototype will be ready, what it will cost or whether it will pass crash tests and traffic analysis. 

    San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto said she had run out of patience with the district.  "Engineering-off-peak wise, with these deaths, that excuse won't work," she said. "We've got to do something." Alioto's suggestion: Create an unused buffer lane 24 hours a day, instead of the present practice of keeping a lane open only during off-peak hours. If the change slows commuter traffic, "too bad," she said. 

    Impractical, Hsieh says San Francisco Supervisor Tom Hsieh, an architect who served on the bridge district's board from 1989 to 1992, said installing a barrier or adding a new deck wasn't practical.  A barrier would produce gridlock and long waits to approach the bridge, Hsieh said. A second deck would be prohibitively expensive and add weight to the structure, which already needs a seismic retrofit that the bridge district is struggling to finance. 

    "The bridge's primary duty-priority one--is to withstand a major seismic activity," Hsieh said., 
Robert M. Guernsey, 48, Frank Schweiger, 58, and MS. Danna Kirkbride, 48, of San Rafael-who lost a knee and suffered brain damage in a 1977 head-on bridge collision-led an effort this spring to place an initiative on the Marin County ballot calling on the Board of Supervisors to look into the feasibility of a movable barrier. It narrowly failed to receive enough signatures. 

    Now, they are trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get the board to hand-out a commuters survey bridge users at toll booths about their attitudes toward a traffic barrier committee and whether they would exchange speed for safety. (View questionnaire survive)

    Popup movable traffic barrier; Robert M. Guernsey intends to make a new pitch to the bridge district's board Friday for his patented idea for a popup Retractable Delineator Barrier, which he said would only take up just 6 inches of the bridge's roadway width. Giacomini said Guernsey's design compromised the bridge's structural integrity and didn't comply with the federal and industry performance criteria from the Cal-Trans bridge design specifications section on a bicycle railing & a pedestrian hand railing. 

    Eric Schmidt, a Tiburon lawyer and former boat builder, tried for eight years to persuade the bridge district to consider his "Simplex Movable Barrier" design. He believes the board's mind has been closed since a 1985 study by Northwestern University's Traffic Institute concluded that the movable barrier problem was insoluble given the state of technology and the physical constraints of the bridge. "Maybe I haven't done it, but by God there can be one made," he said. 

    Investigation could take days; California Highway Patrol spokesman Terry Sims said the investigation of the accident would take several days to complete. "We want to find out the driving actions of Mr. Cowan before and after the accident," Sims said.; Department of Motor Vehicles records show that Cowan, a retired UC San Francisco Medical Center executive, was involved in a Dec. 7, 1994, accident in Novato and a: Dec. 30,1995, mishap in San Rafael. 

    Kraut, Monday's victim, had a private practice in psychology in San Francisco but also worked full time as an executive of a managed health care company in San Rafael, Foundation Health Psych-care Services. Monday, she left work early to keep a dental appointment in San Francisco. The CHP's Sims asks that any witnesses to the bridge crash contact him at (415) 9241100. Two victims of accidents on the Golden Gate Bridge are joined by the designer of a bridge barrier. From left to right are designer Robert M. Guernsey, Danna Kirkbride and Frank Schweiger.

 Wednesday, June 26, 1996

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