Make your own free website on Tripod.com

BRIDGING THE GAP
One man ‘s pioneering effort to put  safety first on the Golden Gate Bridge
MARC VICTOR SASON
Special
to Marin Scope  

    Ask San Anselmo resident Robert Guernsey, and he’ll be the first to admit that the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District (GGBHTD) has taken more than its toll on him. Guernsey, 51, who is chairman and founder of the Citizens for a Safe Golden Gate Bridge (CFASGGB), has dedicated the past four years of his life in his pursuit to convince the transportation district to install a Movable barrier that would eliminate the risk of head-on collisions on the busy. Six-lane bridge.  The organization was formed by Guernsey in 1995 along with half a dozen local residents, two of which had been injured tired in automobile accidents on the bridge and nearby Doyle Drive. According to the organization’s website, “the group felt it necessary to petition the Mann County Board of Supervisors, to engage an independent engineering firm to study the possibility and feasibility for a new method to separate lanes of traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, other than that currently employed today-the yellow plastic pylons.”

     The past four years have been a labor of love for the organization, as they have lobbied local residents, posted public notices and sign up support forms in local newspapers and on the Web donated funds to worthy causes, and, since the beginning of October, have mailed proposal letters to over 125 major corporations (including Microsoft, Lucas film, Saab, Pepsi, AutoDesk, United Airlines, Coca-Cola, and Sprint), seeking financial support in the building of the barrier.  So far the organization has received one positive response, to which specific details have yet to be discussed and agreed upon; Guernsey believes it will only take one contributor to spark the interest and support of many other organizations.  According to Guernsey, there have been about 78 accidents on the bridge during the past ten years, which have resulted in eight fatalities and almost 50 injuries (according to the official Golden Gate Bridge web site, an average of 41,381,000 vehicles cross the bridge every year). He began considering ideas for permanent barriers back in 1989, and eventually pursued and was granted a patent for his computerized design in 1996, which he refers to as a “Retractable Delineator System for Suspension and Truss Bridges.”

     After spending about a year working on a miniature scale model of the bridge (which included working lights, an authentic Golden Gate Bridge, color paint job, and a computerized mini barrier in place) Guernsey unveiled his idea to the public at the Mann County Exhibit Hall in June of 1996. The media turnout and support was overwhelming, Guernsey remembered.  The barrier consists of three separate galvanized rectangular steel tubes (measuring 2” x 6”) imbedded into the roadway for the entire length of the Bridge; each could be independently lifted above the roadway surface with computer controlled air-pneumatics. This allows traffic engineers to control the separation of each specific lane, depending upon traffic conditions and the volume of cars on the bridge thus preventing head-on collisions between opposing lanes of traffic.  According to Guernsey, the entire process would take about twelve minutes, unlike the current method of manually placing orange cones as lane dividers, which can take hours. Resistance has come from the transportation district, which Guernsey believes is hiding behind unnecessary extended environmental impact studies. He also believes the district is holding up the development of other features on the bridge including electronic toll collectors, public safety railing, and a multi $300 million dollar seismic retrofitting. Although the district has given their conceptual approval for preliminary engineering, environmental analysis, and possible con­struction of the barrier, Guernsey said they have told him they would not have enough funds in their budg­et to begin the construction until at least the 2002-2003 fiscal year.

 

“The GGBHTD is willing to spend $300 millions of dollars on earthquake retrofitting for an earthquake that may or may not happen,” Guernsey pointed out. “But they are ignoring actual death and injury statistics for accidents that do happen on a frequent basis on the bridge.” According to CFASGGB, the cost Lo create the barrier is estimated to be a little over $7 million, however, the organization argues that it would result in a 20 to 40 percent reduction in accidents on the bridge, and eliminate head-on collisions completely.  “It’s a wonderful joy to have Robert as our leader,” said John Ehlen, a San Francisco mining specialist, who, along with his wife Alexandra, is an active member of the CFASGGB. The Ehlen’s have donated $150,000 to the cause, in hopes of igniting the flame that will see the barrier to completion. According to Ehlen, who is a paraplegic, his passion for the barrier stems back to his own father, who taught him to drive on Doyle Drive and the bridge many years ago?  Ironically, I am using some stocks I received from my father to help finance my donation,” he admitted. “I believe that the transportation district has not shown a serious interest in moving ahead with this project they’re worried about any criticism, and the financial aspect of it that’s where come in.”   

   
CFSGGB director Frank Schweiger, who was involved in a head-on collision on the bridge in early 1984, admits he has a “personal vendetta against the bridge.” Although he was not seriously injured, he now requires the assistance of a cane to walk. “It’s a case of David battling Goliath,” he said. “No one has ever taken on the transportation district like us we are definitely rattling some cages.” In fact, according to Guernsey, it was the suggestion and persistence of the CFSGGB that was the catalyst for the transportation district’s decision to lower the speed limit on the bridge to 45 mph in 1997.  “If any of the district members’ family had been injured or killed in a head-on collision on the bridge, you can be damn sure that they would take actions immediately,” Schweiger said. “It is unfortunate that so many people must die before anyone opens their eyes to how dangerous and yet how preventative these accidents can be.” He pointed out that similar barrier systems have been successfully installed and maintained on the Auckland Harbor Bridge in New Zealand, and the Coronado Bridge in San Diego. The CFSGGB has overcome many obstacles to reach its goal the solution is in sight, even though there is still a long road of obstacles left to overcome.

 

    “It has been a long and arduous process.” admits Guernsey’s wife and fellow CFSGGB member Sarah Guernsey. “But Robert is beyond persistent, and I 'am very proud of his dedication he has gone above and beyond the call of duty. With all this persistence and insistence, I have no doubt the barrier will eventually come to fruition.”  In the end, Guernsey and the CFSGGB are simply advocates for a renewed interest in taking preventative measures for increased impregnability on the bridge. “I believe the district is only interested in taking your three dollars every time you cross the bridge, with no precautions for your safety,” said Guernsey.  “What we are proposing would be a guarantee of safety that you’ll get on the bridge, and get off it alive every time.”  Those interested in lending financial or voluntary assistance to the Citizens for a Safe Golden Gate Bridge can visit their website at http://members.tripod.com/cfasggb/index.htm, or can contact Robert M. Guernsey at: rgbabbitt@earthlink.net.

"Return Home Safe"