San Francisco – Golden Bridge- ‘Resplendent in the western sun’

The Golden Gate Bridge, which spans between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, linking the charming city to Marin County, is a remarkable structure that not only provides a key link to motorists, but attracts thousands of citizens and tourists every day

By N.B. Rao

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IT features in the Seven Wonders of the World compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco in the US is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world.(For those interested in knowing the six other wonders, here goes the list: Channel Tunnel between the UK and France; CN Tower in Toronto; Empire State Building in New York; Itaipu Dam between Brazil and Paraguay; Delta Works in the Netherlands; and Panama Canal).

Joseph P. Strauss, who was not only the chief engineer involved in the construction of the bridge, but also wrote three poems relating to his favourite project, put it beautifully in The Mighty Task is Done:

“At last the mighty task is done; Resplendent in the western sun The Bridge looms mountain high; Its titan piers grip ocean floor, Its great steel arms link shore with shore, Its towers pierce the sky.”

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Of course, wonderful though the bridge might be, it has also attracted hundreds of people who took their lives jumping off it. Krista Tippett, the American author, referred to the bridge as “a suicide magnet.”

In fact, according to estimates, it is second most ‘deadly’ bridge used by people to commit suicide. At the top is the Nanjing Yangtze river bridge in China, which has seen more than 2,000 people jumping to their death between 1968 and 2006; in San Francisco, about 1,600 people killed themselves between 1937 (when it was ready) and 2012, hopping off golden Gate.

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But the authorities have now taken measures to prevent people from jumping from the bridge. A suicide deterrent system in the form of a fence is being constructed along sections of the bridge sidewalk.

The suicide deterrent system consists of a hard, stainless steel mesh platform spanning the entire length of the bridge on both sides.

It will be located 20 feet below the bridge and extend another 20 ft outside. Fortunately, the deterrent system will not block the view of motorists, pedestrians or bicyclists.

The bridge was built at a cost of $35 million (plus another nearly $40 million by way of interest).

About a dozen workers lost their lives while constructing it in the 1930s.

The proposal to construct the bridge was first mooted way back in 1872, but as in the case of most such ambitious projects, it was vehemently protested by thousands of people.

In the 1920s and 1930s, plans were once again revived, but there was massive opposition. In fact, in 1930, there were more than 2,300 lawsuits opposing the construction of the bridge.

Lawsuits against the bridge
One of the lawsuits was initiated by a railroad company which also operated ferries transporting cars between San Francisco and Marin County and was vehemently opposed to the bridge, which would destroy its services.

Strauss, who had submitted plans for a much cheaper bridge (bringing down the cost from more than $100 million to between $25 million and $35 million) finally won the award in 1933.

The single suspension span was anchored by two towers soaring 750 ft high; the suspended roadway was backed by cables running 7,000 ft in length and containing 80,000 miles of wire stretch over the top of the two towers.

Considering the fact that San Francisco is located in an earthquake prone zone, questions about strengthening the bridge always crop up. The worst quake happened in San Francisco in 1906, when 3,000 people were killed after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the city.

In 1989, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck the city, damaging nearly 30,000 structures. The next big earthquake could rock the city anytime between now and 2038 and there’s a 99.7 per cent chance that it could be worse than the 1989 quake.

Golden Gate Bridge officials are now seismically strengthening the central portion of the bridge, after work on the northern and southern approach was completed recently.

The final phase of strengthening the bridge and preventing major damages from quakes is also an expensive proposition; it is estimated to cost nearly $500 million.

Priya David Clemens, a spokesperson for the Golden Gate Bridge District – who was born in Chennai and later moved to America with her parents – admits the bridge won’t collapse in a big earthquake, but there could be significant damage.

Interestingly, the Bandra-Worli sealink, a nearly 6 km long bridge linking the two Mumbai areas over the Bandra creek, is often compared to the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.

Of course, the Mumbai bridge also underwent a lot of delays and opposition before it became a reality in 2009.

In San Francisco though, hundreds of pedestrians, including those using bicycles and even wheelchairs, travel on the bridge during daytime.