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San Francisco Chronicle-Thursday, June 27, 1996

                        "Movable Barrier May Be 
                    Possible for Golden Gate Bridge"


                                                                    By Tyra Lucile Mead Staff Writer 


    The technology to create a movable median barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge may finally have arrived, and a prototype divider could be subjected to crash tests as early as this summer. The barrier is a revamped, more sleek version of ones that Barrier Systems Inc. built for the Coronado Bridge in Southern California and the Auckland Harbor Bridge in New Zealand. Those models were too wide for the Golden Gate's narrow lanes, Ed Wood, the company's director of business development, said crash tests would cost less than $50,000. But without a customer for the one foot-wide steel-clad concrete barrier, he said, the company is unlikely to pay for the testing on its own.

    "We're waiting for the Golden Gate Bridge to decide whether they'd like us to proceed," Wood said. "We're more than willing to share the costs with them, and if it becomes a product line, we'd probably give them back the money put into testing." The building and operating committee of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District will decide on July 9 whether to recommend that the agency help finance the tests, district engineer Mervin Giacomini said yesterday. If given the go-ahead, the proposal would go to the full board on July 12, 96. It would be the first time in 11 years that the bridge district has taken such a serious look at a proposal for a median barrier.

    Wood said the tests, which involve crashing cars into the barrier at different speeds and from different angles, would take 60 to 90 days. A technical analysis would follow, looking at questions such as how sight lines would be affected. "If everything went well, we could have it in place by August or September (1997)," Wood said. The barrier, which would cost about $7 million, is made up 1,500 pound units that are one meter long and connected by steel pins. Its sheer weight keeps it in place. It is moved by a machine that, traveling about 7 miles per hour, grasps a T-shaped segment on the lip of the barrier and snakes it over one lane-width.

    The development comes in the wake of Monday afternoon's fatal 10-car pileup on the bridge, which tied up traffic for hours and provoked new demands that the bridge district, make the bridge safer. The accident, which injured three people and killed 38-year-old Tamar Kraut, a San Francisco psychologist and HMO executive, was apparently caused when a northbound Mercedes-Benz pulled into a southbound lane to pass. The driver of the Mercedes, Joseph Cowan, 56, of Novato, was taken to Marin General in Greenbrae. Officials declined to give an
update on his condition yesterday. The other two injured people were released from San Francisco General on Tuesday, the California Highway Patrol said. The CHP said yesterday that Cowan, an attorney who worked at the University of California at San Francisco from 1979 until his retirement two years ago, had been involved in accidents in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995. 

    Two were in Marin, and in one of them, the CHP determined that Cowan was the driver most at fault." No decision has been made yet whether Cowan will have charges filed against him, and the investigation into Monday's accident will likely continue into next week. Meanwhile, at tomorrow's bridge board meeting, motorists and others are expected to call on directors to survey drivers about the need for a median barrier. Critics of the bridge district have often pointed to the Coronado Bridge divider as a solution.  But the concrete Coronado divider has a two-foot base, and the district said that it would take up too much room on the Golden Gate, which already has lanes that are narrower than standard. The last full-scale analysis of the median barrier issue, in 1985, concluded that if a divider were installed, even narrower lanes and impaired sight lines on the curving approaches would increase accidents. Wood of Barrier Systems Inc. said similar concerns were raised in Southern California and New Zealand, but have not materialized as problems on those bridges. In addition, congestion has eased because drivers no longer avoid using the center lanes.

 

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