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"Bridge barrier effective in tests "   Planned Golden Gate span divider survives crashes, keeps cars out of harm's way

 By Donna Horowitz

Special To The Examiner 
January 9, 1997

    RIO VISTA - Two cars crashed into a concrete wall at high speeds, bringing smiles to the faces of Golden Gate Bridge District directors. The crash was a test of a movable median barrier to stop head-on bridge accidents, and the smiles were prompted by what didn't happen: The barrier didn't give way, and the cars didn't rebound like errant jump shots. "It seemed pretty effective, said Al Boro, a bridge board member who represents Marin County and one of six bridge directors who attended Wednesday's demonstration. "It looks like it's done its job: to prevent a car from going into oncoming traffic."

Bridge District directors agreed to test the barrier following public outcry by advocates and in June when a 38-year-old San Francisco woman was killed by a car crossing through the plastic cones into her lane on the bridge. During Wednesday's tests at the old Rio Vista airport, the first driverless car rammed the 150-foot prototype at 45 mph and pushed the barrier 3 1/2 inches out of place. The second car hit the steel-clad, concrete barrier at 60 mph and displaced it by 61/2 inches. Both cars hit the wall at a 7 1/2-degree angle.


    We should keep going "I'm very impressed," said Ginny Simms, a bridge board member from Napa. "The automobile, when it went into the barrier, doesn't tend to bounce to the right. It tells me we should keep going, keep looking, keep examining it." The barrier would cost about $6 million. If the district buys it, the wall would be the first 1-footwide barrier ever put on a bridge; all others are 2 feet wide. The narrower width is necessary because of the slim lanes on the Golden Gate Bridge.

 The 32-inch tall prototype is made up of 3-foot-long sections that weigh 1,500 pounds each. They are connected by a special hinge system to limit lateral movement on impact. John Duckett, president of Barrier Systems Inc., the Carson City, Nev., company that designed the prototype, said the firm had crash tested a car at 45 mph because "that's what we considered a typical hit on the bridge at the speed limit! He said the company had also chosen the higher speed -60-mph - because some drivers don't obey the speed laws.
More tests planned  "It's encouraging-, I want to see some more tests," said Bob Ross, a bridge board member from San Francisco. "I'm concerned about it moving the other way."  He said he was worried the barrier could be shoved 4 feet into oncoming traffic if a bus or large truck crashed into it. But Ed Wood, business development director for Barrier Systems, said buses or trucks generally travel in the right lane, not next to the median. He said his company had not tested how the barrier would withstand the impact of a bus or large truck but could do so.

    Merv Giacomini, the engineer for the bridge district, said, "It was a good demonstration of how the barrier performed....It performed well." However, he said, further testing by an independent company, probably in mid-February, is necessary. Among the tests will be a 60-mph crash by a car hitting the barrier at a 22-degree angle.

    The earliest the barrier could be installed on the bridge would be a year after testing was completed, officials said. A group of Cal-trans officials also observed the test. The agency is considering putting a barrier on the Doyle Drive approach to the bridge as well. "As a demonstration, it was interesting and informative, but it's not definitive," said Richard Peter, senior materials and research engineer with Cal-trans' office in Sacramento. Golden Gate Bridge barrier is shown after being struck in the same spot by two cars going 45 and 60 mph.  


Crash victims watch. 
   The test also attracted two victims of head-on collisions, both who walked away canes. Frank Schweiger, 58 of San Anselmo, CA. A member of the group, "Citizens for a Safe Golden Gate Bridge" who was injured in a 1984 bridge crash, said he wanted to see the
test for him self.  Danna Kirkbride, 48 of San Rafael, another crash victim and also a member of the group, CfSGGB, was pleased with the results, and feel that this is the one for the Golden Gate Bridge, in stopping any future head-on collisions on the span.  We have spent a lot of time on this effort, and hope me can make a difference to all who use it.

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