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 "Golden Gate Bridge 
Barrier Test Encouraging"

by Suzanne Espinosa Solis 
Chronicle Staff Writer, 

     A newly engineered movable barrier that can prevent head-on collisions on the Golden Gate Bridge won enthusiastic reviews from bridge officials during test crashes yesterday. Two cars-one traveling at 45 mph, the other at 57 mph-careened into the side of the thinnest and strongest movable median traffic barrier ever developed during crash tests at a closed municipal airport in Rio Vista. 
    The barrier, called the Quickchange Movable Barrier, didn't fall over, or send the cars up and over into oncoming traffic- which was the good news. The barrier did, however, budge 3 to 7 inches with each impact. The motion, while anticipated, made some officials wonder about the hazard it poses to cars on the other side. 

    "We're enthusiastic but we need to be careful that we're not going to put something on the bridge that's going to create another hazard," said Mervin C. Giacomini, engineer for the bridge district. "It's encouraging," added Bob Ross, the first vice president for the bridge district's Remember board of directors. "But people should understand that it's not a cure all." 

    Ross said officials are concerned that a barrier might give drivers a false sense of security, resulting in drivers going faster and creating accidents. Since 1970, there have been 32 head-on collisions on the bridge and 34 deaths, said Robert M. Guernsey, Founder and  Chairman of the Board of Citizens for a Safe Golden Gate Bridge. Until now, officials have not used movable median barriers because they say the thinnest available width of two feet took up too much space and may have required eliminating one of the bridge's six lanes.  But six months ago, Barrier Systems Inc. of Carson City, Nev., began developing a new one-foot wide barrier with the Golden Gate ridge in mind. The new barrier is steel encased and concrete-filled, and has special hinging that restrict lateral movement upon impact, said Barrier Systems president John Duckett.                                   

    Yesterday's tests were only demonstrations. A certification test with tougher standards is scheduled for February. Those standards, set by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, include crashing bigger and heavier vehicles at a Degree angle into the barrier at speeds of up to 62 mph, which Duckett said could move the barriers as much as three feet into oncoming lanes.  But at least one observer yesterday said he would prefer to see that kind of crash to another head-on collision.  David Sutton, a driver whose pickup truck was struck and pushed into an oncoming ice cream truck on the Golden Gate Bridge in November 1994, watched the crash tests with mixed emotions. 

  "I wish it was there when I got in my accident," said Sutton, who suffered serious burns and lost part of a leg and hand in the accident that killed the driver of the ice cream truck. "It does make me jittery and nervous to see this, but I'm glad they're considering using this."

THURSDAY JANUARY 9, 1997 - San Francisco Chronicle

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