Tag Archives: Golden Gate bridge

San Rafael Man Allegedly Tries To Block Golden Gate Bridge With U-Haul, Takes Off On Bike

A San Rafael man driving a U-Haul truck and trailer allegedly stopped his vehicle on the Golden Gate Bridge this afternoon, blocking several lanes, and then attempted to escape on his bicycle, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The 38-year-old man stopped the 25-foot U-Haul truck towing a 15-foot trailer on northbound U.S. Highway 101 just north of the toll plaza around 3:20 p.m., CHP spokesman Andrew Barclay said.

As the driver moved out on to the bridge he steered sharply to the left and blocked all three northbound lanes, Barclay said.

He then jumped out of the truck, took a bicycle out of the cargo area, and then jumped on to the east sidewalk and began riding north, Barclay said.

He was seen throwing the keys for the truck off the bridge into the water as he rode, Barclay said.

CHP and Golden Gate Bridge Patrol officers checked the truck and determined that the cargo area and cab were both completely empty. Once they found the truck was safe, it was towed away.

All lanes were cleared within around 10 minutes, Barclay said.

Offices located the driver near the south end of the bridge and detained him after a brief struggle. He was placed on a 72-hour hold pending a mental health evaluation, and an investigation into possible criminal charges is in progress, Barclay said.

SF Woman Who Died in Oregon Crash Former GGB Bus Operator

A 64-year-old San Francisco woman who died in a crash on the southwest coast of Oregon Monday was a longtime Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District bus operator.

Virginia Simpson-Woodson was killed along with a man in another car in the head-on crash, which occurred at about 3:30 p.m. Monday on U.S. Highway 101, north of the small city of Bandon in Coos County, according to Oregon State Police.

Simpson-Woodson was driving south in a Honda Element when 80-year-old Bandon resident Donald William Dodge driving north in a Honda Accord crossed into her path and the cars collided, police said.

Both Simpson-Woodson and Dodge were pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.

Simpson-Woodson had worked for the Golden Gate Transportation District as a bus operator for more than 24 years and her retirement was announced at the district’s board of directors meeting on Sep. 21, 2012.

District general manager Denis Mulligan wrote a note honoring Simpson-Woodson, who retired on Sep. 1, 2012 after joining the district in 1987 as a part-time bus operator. She became fulltime in 1991.

According to the retirement announcement, Simpson-Woodson also served as a union official during her tenure and was named “Employee of the Month” in January 1997. She also trained new employees.

Her husband also worked for the district as a bus operator. Other background about Simpson-Woodson in the director’s note included that she was a San Francisco native who went to Washington High School in the Richmond District who went on to study sociology and economics at Sonoma State University. She had one son, who is an attorney.

Mulligan said Simpson-Woodson’s hobbies were fast cars, motorcycles, hiking, skateboarding and boogie boarding and that her retirement plans back in 2012 included joining the South End Rowing Club in the San Francisco Bay, learning golf and archery, and traveling to San Diego
to visit her son and family.

He also mentioned her plans to travel often to Oregon where she owned property and taking her motorcycle on other trips around the country and beyond.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

Audience Erupts Into Cheers As Funding To Build Suicide Net For Golden Gate Bridge Is Approved

The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District board of directors unanimously voted this morning to approve funding to build a suicide net on the Golden Gate Bridge.

All 19 board members approved the $76 million funding plan following an emotional public comment session at the administration building on the San Francisco end of the bridge.

Read the project documents here

Dozens of family members of suicide victims brought photos and shared stories about their loved ones who jumped to their death and urged the board to approve building the barrier after years of discussion.

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, also shared his support for the net, which he said would be a “tribute to those who did jump.”

He said he has been a longtime advocate for the suicide barrier because of the families affected by suicide.
Campos called the board’s vote a “proud moment” in the 77-year history of the bridge.

John Vidaurri from the San Francisco Suicide Prevention organization said the iconic bridge has a “public health crisis” because of the short 4-and-a-half-foot tall railings built along the span’s sidewalks in 1936.

Kevin Hines, who survived a jump off the bridge in 2000 when he was 19, spoke about his experience dealing with bipolar disorder and his injuries after jumping and his continued advocacy to build a safety net.

“A gift of a second chance was not given to all their kids,” Hines said about his fellow barrier advocates, many who told the board about their teenage sons and daughters killing themselves on the bridge.

After the unanimous vote was reached, audience members erupted in cheers and applause, hugging each other and said things such as, “Thank you!” and “We did it!”

Board member Gerald Cochran said his “yes” vote was in honor of his sister who committed suicide in 1976.

Another board member John Moylan, who served as board president in 2007-2008, has been a longtime supporter for the barrier and had led planning efforts under his leadership.

His grandson, 27-year-old Sean Moylan, jumped off the bridge earlier this month.

He said there is nothing worse than losing a family member to suicide.

“Suicide tears families apart,” he said.

The funding for the project comes from $22 million from the federal Local Highway Bridge Program funding from Caltrans, $27 million from federal Surface Transportation Program funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, $7 million from California Mental Health Service Act funds and $20 million from the district’s reserves.

The $20 million is from tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge and other district revenue sources.

The net is expected to be completed by 2018 with construction starting sometime next year, according to district officials.

The net was selected in 2010 as one of several options proposed as a physical barrier on the bridge. There were 46 suicide jumps in 2013.

Anyone who needs help or is considering suicide can call (800) 273-TALK (8255) for help.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

Golden Gate Bridge Officials To Consider Suicide Barrier Funding

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District has lined up funding for a suicide barrier on the bridge, bridge district officials said.

The district’s board of directors will consider approving the $76 million funding plan Friday morning. The goal is to have the barrier, a net beneath the bridge, in place in 2018.

The funding plan includes $22 million of federal Local Highway Bridge Program money programmed by Caltrans, $27 million from federal Surface Transportation Program funds programmed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, $7 million from California Mental Health Service Act funds and $20 million from the district’s reserves.

In 2013, 46 people died jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.

District general manager Denis Mulligan said the bridge district staff’s opinion is that “construction of the suicide deterrent simply is the right thing to do at this time.”

The district selected the net system suicide barrier alternative in February 2010.

James Lanaras, Bay City News

Golden Gate Bridge Tolls Go Up By A Buck Today

Motorists will pay one more dollar to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge as new toll rates go into effect today.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s board of directors approved the toll hike on Feb. 28 as the district faces a $142 million deficit over the next five years.

The FasTrak rate will go up from $5 to $6 and the pay-by-plate rate will increase from $6 to $7.

The carpool rate, which requires FasTrak, will go up from $3 to $4.

Tolls will gradually rise by 25 cents in July 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

By July 2018, the FasTrak rate will be $7 and pay-by-plate rate will be $8.

The toll hikes are estimated to raise $138 million for the district over the next five years.

Jamey Padojino, Bay City News

It’s Official: Golden Gate Bridge Board Will Jack Up Tolls To $7 ($6 For FasTrack) In April, More Increases To Come

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s board of directors voted 15-2 this morning to gradually raise the toll on the bridge over the next four years starting this April.

By July 2018, the current $5 FasTrak toll will be $7 and the $6 pay-by-plate toll will be $8.

Both those tolls will increase $1 on April 7 and increase 25 more cents in July 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Tolls for carpoolers and those with disabilities will rise at the same rate at the FasTrak rate increases.

The bridge district is facing a $142 million deficit over the next five years. The toll hikes approved this morning are projected to raise $138 million over five years.

District staff had drafted four toll hike options that would raise between $93 million and $138 million over five years.

District staff had initially recommended Option 3, which would have raised $123 million, but the board’s Finance Committee on Thursday recommended Option 4 to raise the higher amount.

James Lanaras, Bay City News

We Didn’t Know How Good We Had It: Golden Gate Bridge Board Now Considering An Even Steeper Toll Hike

There’s a different option under consideration to raise tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s board of directors was scheduled to vote today on gradually raising the FasTrak toll to $7 and the pay-by-plate toll to $8 by July 2018.

Previously: Golden Gate Bridge District Board To Vote On Plan To Raise Tolls To As Much As $8

Under Option 3 of four toll hike scenarios under consideration, the toll was to increase $1 in April, then rise 25 cents in July of 2016, 2017 and 2018. No toll hike was planned in 2015.

The Board’s Finance Committee has now recommended a fourth option, which includes the $1 toll hike in April and 25-cent increases in July of 2015 through July 2018.

The Board is scheduled to vote on Option 4 at 10 a.m. today, bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

The District is facing a $142 million budget shortfall over the next five years.

Option 3 would have raised $123 million over five years and Option 4 will raise $138 million over that period, according to the District.

James Lanaras, Bay City News

Survivors Of Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Victims Rally At City Hall To Demand A Safety Net

Family members and friends of suicide victims who died jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge gathered at the steps of San Francisco City Hall today to urge the building of a suicide barrier on the bridge.

“I don’t want any of our loved ones or future loved ones to go through this,” Manuel Gamboa, whose son Kyle jumped to his death from the bridge in September, said as he fought back tears.

“This barrier, whether a net or fence, needs to be there,” Gamboa said.

In 2010, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District board of directors approved a safety net proposal. However, there is no timeline for building the barrier and advocates say the process has been delayed by bureaucratic red tape.

The bridge district, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Caltrans are paying for the $66 million project, though a funding plan has not been determined.

Golden Gate Bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie said a final design for the net will likely be completed in the next few months, despite the question of who will pay for the net.

“Lots of conversations are occurring,” Currie said. “It is something that we’re talking about at the regional and state level in terms of finding funding. The fact that we’re having these discussions makes it a priority.”

MTC spokesman John Goodwin echoed Currie, saying the net is a priority for the commission as well.

Goodwin added that the MTC has already contributed $5 million for the net’s design.

But San Francisco Supervisor David Campos says that’s not enough.

“A safety net should have been put in place years ago,” Campos said. “Let’s not haggle over who pays for what. The goal should be to get the net up as quickly as possible.”

Working out the costs is tricky because the MTC has never dealt with this type of project before, Goodwin said.
“How do you come up with $66 million for a unique project?”

Goodwin said. “It’s a big challenge.”

Nicolas Aparicio’s daughter Gabri became one of 10 confirmed suicide victims who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in August, the most suicides the bridge has seen in a month since its completion in 1937.

Aparicio said today he believes his daughter’s suicide was an impulse and if there had been a suicide barrier on the bridge, his daughter would still be alive.

When his daughter went missing, Aparicio tracked her cellphone to a parking lot next to the Golden Gate Bridge. There, he found her car with a parking ticket on the windshield. But he couldn’t locate his daughter.

Aparicio said his daughter sent a questionnaire to an exchange student just a half-hour before she jumped to her death.

“I’m convinced she acted on impulse,” Aparicio said. “If it wasn’t for the easy access at the bridge, my daughter would still be alive.”

Advocates for the barrier say eliminating the option to jump from the bridge could save the lives of those who contemplate jumping.

“By removing the means for suicide, you remove the temptation,” said Meghan Freebeck, development director for San Francisco Suicide Prevention.

Kevin Hines, who survived the fall after jumping from the bridge in 2000, changed his mind seconds before hitting the water and decided he wanted to live.

Hines said it’s too easy for those who are not mentally fit to take their own lives at the bridge.

“The 4-foot railing on the Golden Gate Bridge is the equivalent of a loaded gun in the middle of a mental ward,” he said.

Retired Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes said that in 2013, there were 46 confirmed suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge, the highest number in a year he can ever remember.

To date, there have been about 1,600 confirmed suicide deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge – more than at any other location in the world, according to the Bridge Rail Foundation, a group organized to prevent suicides on the bridge.

Laura Dudnick, Bay City News

Golden Gate Bridge District Board To Vote On Plan To Raise Tolls To As Much As $8

The staff of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District is recommending a gradual $2 toll increase on the bridge over the next four years.

Under the recommended toll increase option that the bridge district’s board of directors will consider on Friday, the current $5 FasTrak toll will increase to $6 on April 7. The toll will then increase to $6.25 in July 2016, to $6.50 in July 2017 and to $7 in July 2018.

The current $6 Pay-By-Plate toll will increase to $7 on April 7, to $7.25 in July 2016, to $7.50 in July 2017 and to $8 in July 2018.

The current $3 tool for carpoolers and persons with disabilities will increase to $4 on April 7, to $4.25 in July 2016, to $4.50 in July 2017 and to $5 in July 2018.

The tolls for multi-axle vehicles will increase $1 to $2 per axle depending on the fiscal year.

In November, the board approved an analysis of phased-in toll increases under four options. Under each option, the Pay-By-Plate toll would increase to $8 by July 2018.

The FasTrak toll would increase to $7 by July 2018 under three options and to $6.50 under one option.

Bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie said the district is facing a $142 million shortfall over the next five years. The toll increase recommended by bridge staff is estimated to raise $123 million over five years.

The district’s Finance-Auditing Committee will vote on the toll increase proposal Thursday morning. If approved, the full board of directors will vote on it Friday morning at the district’s office at the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza.

James Lanaras, Bay City News

Search Continues For Mercedes-Driving Car Pillagers Who Crashed And Ran On Golden Gate Bridge

Authorities are continuing to search today for two suspects who led police on a chase across the Golden Gate Bridge after allegedly burglarizing a car in the Marin Headlands on Monday night.

A National Park Service ranger saw one of the suspects breaking into a car on Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands at about 8 p.m., park service spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said.

When the ranger tried to stop the suspect, he jumped into a black Mercedes and the Mercedes driver sped off, smashing into two parked rangers’ cars and then heading across the bridge, according to Picavet.

The car chase ended when the Mercedes rear-ended another car at the toll plaza, Picavet said. No one was injured in any of the crashes.

The suspects, described only has young black males, then got out of the car and ran east from the bridge toward Fort Point.

Park service rangers, along with San Francisco police and the California Highway Patrol, set up a perimeter to search for the suspects but did not find them, Picavet said.

The investigation is continuing today, and Picavet said police have seized the suspects’ car.

She said the case is a reminder that Bay Area visitors and residents alike should keep valuables out of sight in cars.

“Car break-ins along scenic view points do happen year round,” Picavet said. “We actively try to warn people, don’t leave anything valuable or visible in your car.”

Picavet added that thieves work very quickly when stealing from cars, and that often, the victims are within 100 yards of their vehicles when a break-in happens.

“Most of the cars that are broken into are rental cars,” she said. “Often times people are carrying everything with them when they’re on vacation. It’s mostly tourists that are being targeted.”

Alleged Car Pillagers Smash Into Rangers, Crash On Golden Gate Bridge

A search is on in San Francisco’s Presidio for two suspects who were caught burglarizing cars in the Marin Headlands, smashed into two National Park Service Rangers’ cars and then crashed on the Golden Gate Bridge, a park service spokeswoman said.

A park service ranger saw a suspect breaking into a car on Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands at about 8 p.m. but when the ranger tried to stop the suspect, he jumped into a black Mercedes and the Mercedes driver sped off, NPS spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said.

During the escape the Mercedes smashed into two park ranger cars and then got onto the Golden Gate Bridge but rear-ended another car at the toll plaza, Picavet said.

The suspects got out of the car and ran away. Park service rangers, with the help of San Francisco police and the California Highway Patrol, set up a perimeter to search for the suspects, Picavet said.

Officers are searching from the Fort Point area into the residential areas of the Presidio, Picavet said. Both suspects remain at large.

Scott Morris, Bay City News

Public Comment Sought On Plan To Raise Golden Gate Bridge Tolls To As Much As $8

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District will hold public meetings Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on proposed incremental toll hikes on the bridge over the next five years.

The district is considering four options that would raise between $93 million and $138 million, depending on the increases, to offset a $142 million budget shortfall over the next five years.

The Fastrak toll would rise from $5 to $6.50 or $7 over five years. The current $6 pay-by-plate toll would rise to $8 by July 2018.

The incremental toll increases have been used on the district’s bus and ferry transit systems since 1998.

“If we increase the tolls in smaller increments over a five-year period, the impact to our customers’ budget won’t be as hard as one large increase every five to 10 years,” district spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

The district relies on tolls, transit fares, grants and advertising and concessions for its revenue, most of which comes from tolls, Currie said.

Tolls also pay half the operating costs of the bus and ferry systems, Currie said.

Tuesday’s public meeting is 5 to 7 p.m. at The Whistlestop’s Caboose Meeting Room, 930 Tamalpais Ave. in San Rafael.

The Wednesday meeting is 6 to 8 p.m. in the Petaluma Community Center’s Activity Room, 320 N. McDowell Blvd. in Petaluma.

On 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday the public comment meeting will be at the Forth Mason Center, The Gatehouse, 2 Marina Blvd. in San Francisco.

A formal public hearing is at San Rafael City Council chambers, 1400 Fifth Ave. in San Rafael at 7 p.m. on Feb. 12.

James Lanaras, Bay City News

Golden Gate Bridge Board Plans Public Meetings Over Proposal To Raise Bridge Tolls To As Much As $8

4:44 PM: The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s board of directors today discussed plans that could possibly raise tolls as high as $8 by 2018 to make up a projected budget shortfall.

The toll increase proposals follow the release last month of a report projecting a $142 million budget deficit by 2018, bridge district officials said.

The board of directors did not make a decision at its meeting in San Francisco today on whether to increase the tolls, but reviewed options that would raise between $93 and $123 million over the next five years.

The board also voted to hold public outreach meetings in January in San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties.

Toll increases are expected to come to a vote in February 2014 and could take effect by April, bridge officials said.

FasTrak users should expect to continue to receive a discount. Proposals reviewed by the board today called for Fastrak tolls to rise to $6.50 or $7.

Those paying by other means should expect tolls to go up by as much as $2 over the next five years to $8, according to bridge district staff.

The projected budget shortfall is driven in part by the need to support Golden Gate Transit buses and ferries, and in part by planned capital projects requiring $363 million in toll funds over the next 10-year period, district spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

While there was little public comment today, Currie said toll increases are never popular.

“People don’t like toll increases,” Currie said. “I don’t blame them.”

Currie noted that the district has taken numerous steps to improve its financial position in recent years, including automated toll collection, increased transit fares, elimination of some bus routes and cutbacks in administrative costs.

The district today also approved a new parking fee for its Larkspur ferry terminal that will bring in an estimated $400,000 per year, Currie said.

Tiburon resident Susan Deluxe criticized the board for what she called “perpetual toll increases” to finance public transit at the expense of commuters.

Deluxe said it was time for the district, which manages both the bridge and public transit services, to be reorganized and taken over by state and local authorities.

Caltrans manages the Bay Area’s other major bridges, which have tolls ranging from $4 to $6.

“There’s no other bridge in the world that supports public transit and expects motorists to provide all the funding,” Deluxe said.

The district last increased tolls in September 2008, when they rose from $5 to $6.

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

12:44 PM: The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s board of directors today considered plans that could possibly raise tolls as high as $8 by 2018 to make up a projected budget shortfall.

The toll increase proposals follow the release last month of a report projecting a $142 million budget deficit by 2018, bridge district officials said.

The board of directors was not making a decision today on whether to increase the tolls. Instead, public outreach meetings are planned in January in San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties.

Toll increases will likely take effect no sooner than April 2014, bridge officials said.

FasTrak users should expect to continue to receive a discount in most of the options under consideration by the board.

Those paying by other means should expect tolls to go up by as much as $2 over the next five years, according to bridge district staff.

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

Golden Gate Bridge Board To Discuss Proposal To Raise Tolls To $7 This Friday

Plans for a possible toll increase on the Golden Gate Bridge that could come soon as next spring will be discussed at a board meeting this Friday.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District board of directors will be discussing and possibly voting on putting five toll-increase options up for public comment.

The earliest that one of those plans could be implemented would be April, district spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

The district is considering a toll increase in order to offset a five-year deficit projected at $142 million.

One option would be to raise an estimated $86 million over five years by bumping up the toll from $6 to $7 starting in April, and incrementally increasing the discounted $5 toll now paid by FasTrak users.

Under that proposal, the FasTrak price would increase by 75 cents in April, and then a year later would go up by another 25 cents, to $6.

Another option would bump up the toll for both FasTrak and non-FasTrak users by $1 starting in April. That proposal would bring in about $89 million over the next half-decade, according to the district.

The other three options call for staggered, incremental toll increases over the next five years. All three would result in an $8 toll by July 2018 for non-FasTrak users. FasTrak users would pay either $6.50 or $7 by 2018, depending on the proposal.

Those three proposals would bring in $93 million to $123 million in revenue over the next five years, district officials said.

At a news conference at the bridge’s toll plaza this morning, district general manager Dennis Mulligan called those options “more regular but modest increases.”

District staff is not recommending any one toll increase option over the others, and Mulligan noted that the board could even decide not to raise tolls at all for the time being.

District auditor-controller Joseph Wire said public opinion will be an important factor for the board in determining which toll increase plan to pursue.

The last toll increase came in September 2008, when the toll was bumped up from $5 to $6.

Currie said of the idea to increase tolls further, “No one likes it,” but explained that the district needs the revenue.

The money collected at the toll plaza goes toward the district’s bus and ferry system, and toward capital projects.

Roughly 9 million passengers ride the district’s ferries and buses each year, and about 40 million motorists cross the span in cars annually, Currie said.

The capital projects, which include seismic upgrades on the bridge, are projected to need about $363 million from toll revenue over the next 10 years, she said.

If the board votes Friday to start the process to increase tolls, public outreach meetings would be held as soon as Jan. 21, 22, and 23 in Marin, Sonoma and San Francisco counties.

Members of the public could also submit comments through email and on social media, Currie said.

“Not everyone has to show up physically” to have their voices heard, Currie said.

A formal public hearing would be held in early February, and the district board could vote to move forward with one of the proposals later that month.

Friday’s board meeting will be held at 10 a.m. at the district office on the south side of the bridge.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

$7 To Cross The Golden Gate Bridge? It Could Happen Next Spring

A toll increase for motorists on the Golden Gate Bridge may be coming next spring.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District board of directors is meeting this morning to overview its financial plans and discuss ways to reduce the agency’s deficit without further dipping into reserves.

The last increase came in September 2008, bumping up the toll to $6. That was followed by a 2009 funding strategy that was implemented, which planned for another look at an increase at least five years later.

At today’s meeting a preliminary funding proposal will be discussed. As part of that proposal, in November the board may be asked to approve starting the process to implement another toll increase.

If approved later this year, the public would be presented in January with toll options that “have the goal for raising sufficient revenue to allow the District the opportunity to balance its five-year deficit,” according to a staff report.

The five-year deficit is projected at $142 million. Officials said it has grown to that size because there have been five-year gaps in $1 toll increases.

According to the report, it would take another $1 toll increase to sufficiently reduce that deficit.

The 2013-14 operating budget for the district estimates there will be about $168.3 million in revenue.

About 60 percent of that revenue will come from tolls.

Since the operating budget is not balanced it will require more than $13 million from reserves funds, district officials said.

The 10 a.m. meeting will be held at the Log Cabin in the Presidio, at 1299 Storey Ave. in San Francisco.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

Golden Gate Bridge Foghorn Malfunction Bums Out People Who Were Trying To Sleep

One of the foghorns on the Golden Gate Bridge malfunctioned and blared continuously early this morning, a bridge spokeswoman said.

The relay switch on one of the horns located near the south tower of the bridge needed to be repaired and sounded its alarm continuously early this morning, bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

Another set of foghorns is located mid-span, Currie said.

The horn was turned off by 3 a.m. and repairs were made and completed around 8 a.m.

Currie said a bridge electrician was able to get permission from the U.S. Coast Guard to temporarily disconnect the alarm to make the fix.

The early-morning alarm prompted many within earshot to write about the loud sound on social media.

Several people on Twitter wrote around 2 a.m. about the nonstop foghorn.

One user wrote, “Is there some sort of 2 a.m. #foghorn concert in SF tonight? Either that or someone passed out on the horn. 20 minutes without a pause now.”

Another person wrote a series of tweets around 2:20 a.m. about the unusual blasts, including, “What’s with the never-ending fog horn in the SF bay right now… #rude” and “Omg. This can’t be happening at 2 a.m. It can’t be THAT FOGGY #foghorn #shutitdown.”

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

Barriers: The Golden Gate Bridge And San Francisco’s Biggest Dirty Little Secret

Last month, the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health held a hearing in San Francisco on suicide education and prevention – shining an always-uncomfortable spotlight on our reputation as the top destination for suicide tourism in the world.

The Golden Gate Bridge has an average of one jump every two weeks. In 2008, 34 people are believed to have jumped; in 2009, 31 reportedly jumped; and in 2010 the number was 32.

The hearing’s committee featured individuals, organizations, Senators, state agencies, San Francisco Suicide Prevention, and researchers who spoke in support of developing a comprehensive statewide plan against suicide.

One of the people who spoke was Kevin Hines – a Golden Gate Bridge suicide attempt survivor and suicide prevention advocate.

He recounted the mental health issues and subsequent events that led to his suicide attempt at 19. Hines is the author of new book Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, and tours the US speaking as a prevention advocate, with an emphasis on prevention through mental health services and support.

But this was not the first time Hines had told his story in a high pressure environment in San Francisco.

I first saw Hines when I went to the screening for documentary The Bridge during the 2006 SF International Film Fest. Hines was in Eric Steel’s harrowing film, by far the most honest, nonjudgemental and purely naked presentation of San Francisco’s biggest dirty little secret.

In 2004, Steel’s film crew sat with cameras recording nonstop on both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge for an entire year. They changed tape every hour. They filmed 23 suicides; missed one and caught on film a man saving a girl from jumping by physically hauling her up by her jacket.

Before the SFIFF screening, a number of people outside the Kabuki staged a demonstration, holding signs and calling The Bridge a snuff film. The film in and of itself is remarkable – and upon release was condemned as tragedy tourism and even called ‘an abomination’ by critics.

Warning: description of Eric Steel’s film The Bridge and its documented suicide attempts to follow.

The Bridge opens with what is some of the most stunning video I’ve ever seen of the bridge and bay (and the film is full of beauty), but not far into the beginning you realize that the cameras are not watching the scenery, but rather people on the bridge.

When I realized this, my heart started to race. It could be anyone, any of the people I’m watching walk along our beautiful bridge that could be readying to jump – and I was going to see it. Every new person I saw onscreen instantly became suspicious, and I found myself trying to second guess the motives of each person looking at the view, or talking on their cell phone.

This is the exact same anguish the film crew went through never knowing when, or who. In the film’s Q & A after the screening, Steel explained that no matter what they did, theorized or tried to look for, there was no way the film crew could predict exactly who would try to jump or not. He also noted that the camera crew had their cell phones on speed dial to the bridge authorities, and in doing so foiled six near suicides. Yet during their continuous year of filming, only two bystanders lifted a finger to try and stop someone from jumping.

The Golden Gate Bridge is 25 stories above the Bay; 98% of the people who jump are killed. We learn in the film that those who jump always leap off the horizon side of the bridge, and never the inland (Bay) side.

When the film’s first suicide lept into the icy San Francisco Bay waters, the entire theater gasped – an average-looking guy simply hopped up on the orange railing, sat for a minute, and loped off to splash into the water.

The film crew interviewed local kite surfers who were in the water below at that very minute, and their mental process around realization, then action, and how they have learned to live with what they saw – and how they reacted. The Bridge was just as much about the people surviving (as in those left behind), as it was about the people who ended their lives.

The film included one failed attempt, when a boy jumped and survived by landing upright, and then was miraculously kept afloat by a female Bay seal until his rescue by the Coast Guard.

That boy was Kevin Hines.

After screening in a packed, volatile theater, Kevin Hines and his father came onstage at the Kabuki – in happy tears.

In the film, Hines had recounted reaching the point of suicide – and how after standing at the bridge weeping openly for a long time getting ready to jump, a tourist interrupted him to ask if he could take a photo of her.

All of the participants in The Bridge agreed to be on camera in hopes that their participation might help someone, or at least raise awareness about what goes on here.

Yet I think the real story being told is in the background of each horrifying frame when someone jumped: joggers. Walkers. People just keep going. Only two people said, “hey, are you okay?”

The point of The Bridge was to raise awareness, and to add weight to the ongoing fight to have a suicide barrier installed on the Golden Gate Bridge. Since the 1940s, there have been nine attempts to install a suicide prevention barrier on the bridge – which was something that was in architect Joseph Strauss’ original plans for the bridge (he designed the railings to be six feet tall specifically to discourage jumpers).

But ultimately, I think that a barrier is only ever going to be a railing that is in someone’s way – someone who the film helped me understand is actually living behind a barrier of loneliness, isolation, and a real need for unattainable help, understanding and connection.

Golden Gate Bridge Barrier Approved By Board

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District’s board of directors voted this morning to accept the final design and approve the purchase and installation of a moveable median barrier on the bridge.

The 14 board members who were at the meeting voted unanimously for the project, district spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

The barrier is intended to approve safety and minimize cross-over, head-on accidents on the bridge.
There were 306 collisions with 83 injuries on the Golden Gate Bridge between 2006 and 2010, an accident rate of 0.85 per million vehicles, Currie said.

The last head-on fatality was in July 2001, Currie said.

The system will consist of 12-inch-wide, 32-inch-high and 39-inch-long steel-clad units filled with high-density concrete pinned together to form a semi-rigid moveable barrier.

The project also includes two barrier transfer “zipper trucks” that will move the barrier into its various lane configurations.

Currently the lane configurations are made using 19-inch plastic pylons that are spaced 25 feet apart.
Installation is expected to take place during a 52-hour full closure of the bridge on a weekend in late October or early November 2014.

The barrier system cost $26.5 million. It is financed with $20 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, $1.3 million in federal funds and $5.1 million from Golden Gate Bridge tolls.

James Lanaras, Bay City News

Board Voting Friday On Plan To Add Movable Median To Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District’s 19-member Board of Directors will vote Friday on whether to accept the final design and approve the purchase and installation of a moveable median barrier on the bridge.

Eleven members of the Board’s Building and Operating Committee/Committee of the Whole unanimously approved the proposal today.

The barrier is intended to improve safety and minimize cross-over, head-on accidents on the bridge.

There were 306 collisions with 83 injuries on the Golden Gate Bridge between 2006 and 2010 an accident rate of 0.85 per million vehicles, district spokeswoman Mary Currie said.

The last head-on fatality was in July 2001, Currie said.

The system consists of 12-inch-wide, 32-inch-high and 39-inch-long steel-clad units filled with high-density concrete pinned together to form a semi-rigid moveable barrier. Each of the barrier’s 3,517 individual pieces weigh 1,500 pounds.

The project also includes two barrier transfer “zipper trucks” that move the barrier into its various lane configurations.

Currently the lane configurations are made using 19-inch plastic pylons that are spaced 25 feet apart.

Installation is expected to take place during a 52-hour full closure of the bridge on a weekend in late October or early November 2014.

The barrier system cost $26.5 million. It is financed with $20 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, $1.3 million in federal funds and $5.1 million in Golden Gate Bridge tolls.

James Lanaras, Bay City News

Whither Whale Privacy? Government Tracking Their Golden Gate Bridge Area Trips

Scientists this week are testing out a new app that tracks whale sightings near the Golden Gate Bridge in an effort to prevent the animals from being hit by passing ships.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Petaluma-based Point Blue Conservation Science are testing the “Whale Spotter” app to record whale sightings during a weeklong research cruise near the bridge, according to Point Blue spokeswoman Zoe Woodcraft.

Blue and humpback whales feed on krill during yearly visits to the area outside of the Golden Gate Bridge, which is directly in the path of busy shipping lanes.

Scientists believe that coincidence has led to numerous collisions in the area that killed whales.
In 2010, at least four endangered whales were struck and killed by ships in the San Francisco Bay, and this year, several dead whales that washed up on local beaches are believed to have met the same fate, according to Point Blue.

“Each year, over 7,300 large ship transits go through the Golden Gate—a number that continues to increase,” said Dr. Jaime Jahncke, director of Point Blue’s “California Current” research group. “We need a way to gather real-time data about where whales are likely to congregate given how many ships travel near their feeding areas.”

The data would enable wildlife management agencies and the shipping industry to boost maritime safety and prevent whale deaths in the area, he said.

The “Whale Spotter” app was created not only for researchers but also for commercial ship operators, charter fishing boat operators, whale watchers and fishermen to monitor whales in real time.

“It’s a commonsense solution to use technology like the “Whale Spotter” app to help prevent whale strikes,” said Pacific Merchants Shipping Association spokesman John Berge. “No ship captain wants to hit a whale, and we’re hoping to be a part of the process to gather data and help prevent whale strikes.”

Laura Dixon, Bay City News

Truck Crash Briefly Closes Golden Gate Bridge Lanes

Two lanes were briefly shut down this morning on the northbound approach to the Golden Gate Bridge after a truck crashed, a California Highway Patrol officer said.

The accident was reported just before 8 a.m. south of the toll plaza on U.S. Highway 101 in San Francisco, according to the CHP.

The driver was trapped in the truck after it struck debris in the roadway. The two far right lanes of the highway were closed at 8:14 a.m., according to CHP Officer Ron Simmons.

As of 8:45 a.m., the lanes were reopened after the driver was pulled from the truck and transported to a hospital with minor injuries, Simmons said.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

Man Who Walks With Mules Headed To Golden Gate Bridge

A man quietly touring parts of the Bay Area with his three mules to make a point about freedom of movement in a car-dominated society is on his way from Gilroy back to the Golden Gate Bridge, he said today.

John Sears, who likes to call himself “Mule,” has been walking with mules for the past 29 years to impress on people to seek a “connection to the natural world.”

“We’re all locking ourselves up into a very small constricted space,” said Sears, 65, originally from the Mill Valley area. “It’s causing a lot of misery.”

Sears said he and his mules are “claming the right of another way to live, other than the suburban model of auto usage.”

During his travels on highways, bridges and city streets with his female mules aged 33, 23 and 18 years, whenever he stops “the mules are always surrounded by people.”

“People will come outside of their homes with their kids to pet the mules, people who never even talk to each other,” he said.

“It’s touching everybody in the heart,” he said. “That’s what keeps us going. This isn’t about me. I’m just a passenger. It has a purpose. It is without a doubt about touching people.”

“The effect these mules have to transmit this magic is incredible,” Sears said. “My job is to keep the integrity of the place. When that energy is weakened, I feel it immediately. My life depends on that connection.”

“That’s the magic of the place I’m in,” he said. “My mind is totally enthralled and my consciousness is totally taken aback.”

Sears, who was in Gilroy today after venturing south from San Jose, said that he plans to turn north up the East Bay to state Highway 37 between Vallejo and Novato with the goal to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

After that, he will try to trot south along U.S. Highway 101 “and claim my right to use it” to reach the bridge, he said.

Once he makes it to the bridge he will “submit a written request” to cross the bridge or ask officials to pay for taking his mules across in a trailer, he said.

Last month, while on his way to San Francisco, officials at the Golden Gate arranged for a horse trailer to transport his mules into San Francisco so he could walk the bridge himself, he said.

Sears said he and his mules, are “not here on a vacation. We’re put here to show we have rights, rights to use the highways. Without the public space, we can’t live.”

Sears said he grew up in the American car culture himself in the 1950s but “I got myself out of it.”

“I’m in a world that is so much better,” he said. “A world where you get up and things are great instead of a world where things are bleak.”

He typically rides one of the mules while the other two hold his tent, stove, sleeping bag, spare horseshoes and other supplies.

“We see ourselves as monks,” he said. “We live as monks. This is not a party. We don’t ask for money. When people come up and give us money, we thank them.”

They camp outside for the night, sometimes at homeless camps or even a street corner, as Sears did this week in San Jose, where police officers kindly told him he was welcome to spend the night, Sears said.

But sometimes people who do not understand him call the police when they see him walking through their towns, Sears said.

He was arrested by the California Highway Patrol while crossing a bridge in Napa in late June and then released, and a citation issued later by police as he walked through San Bruno was dismissed, according to John McDonald, who is filming a documentary on Sears.

McDonald, who lives in Pasadena, has been following Sears for the past 10 months to places like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Ojai in Southern California, Paso Robles in the Central Valley and up north to Napa.

“I’ve been making documentaries for 40 years,” McDonald said. “I think this is the most interesting project I have ever done.”

“We’re so isolated from the natural world in our cars,” McDonald said. “He touches something deep inside of us that we haven’t felt in a long time. I really think it’s a great message.”

Jeff Burbank, Bay City News

“Any attempt to board my vessel is an act of war”: Sailboat Skipper Who Led Coast Guard On Chase To Face Charges

A sailboat skipper who was arrested by the Coast Guard outside the Golden Gate on Sunday was given an Aug. 7 date in federal court in San Francisco today for arraignment on three criminal charges.

David McCormick is accused of sending out a false distress call on Sunday morning, failing to “heave to” or stop his boat Sunday evening in response to Coast Guard orders, and assaulting a Coast Guard officer who boarded his vessel.

The three charges were lodged in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by federal prosecutors on Monday.

U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service special agent Brandon Trinidad alleged in an affidavit filed with the complaint that McCormick told officers that “any attempt to board my vessel is an act of war.”

At a court session today, U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero scheduled the Aug. 7 hearing for arraignment as well as a status conference on McCormick’s immigration situation.

McCormick holds passports from both New Zealand and Ireland, Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Mark Leahey said on Monday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Eaton said although Spero granted McCormick release in the criminal case on $100,000 bond, McCormick was retained in custody today because of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold.

Trinidad said in the affidavit that a man with an Australian accent, who he believes to be McCormick, sent out a mayday call at 9 a.m. Sunday, saying another man had fallen overboard and asking the Coast Guard to send a boat to help.

“Oh he’s over mate and he needs some help. He’s over, um, in the fog somewhere in the Bay,” the caller said, according to the affidavit.

The Coast Guard launched a helicopter to search, Trinidad said. At about noon, the man informed the Coast Guard that his “best mate” had been found, Trinidad said.

Half an hour later, McCormick activated an emergency radio beacon indicating his position, Trinidad said.
At the time, McCormick’s 45-foot sailboat was moored in Richardson Bay off Sausalito, according to Leahey.

When Coast Guard officers asked to come aboard for a safety inspection, McCormick refused and told the officers, “This is a peace ship and any attempt to board my vessel is an act of war,” and said he had weapons on board to defend himself, according to the affidavit.

McCormick cut his anchor line, raised his sails and was pursued by several Coast Guard vessels, Trinidad wrote. Leahey said on Monday that the chase began at about 4 p.m. on Sunday.

At 7 p.m., crew members from a Coast Guard cutter pulled along McCormick’s boat about 2.5 miles southwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. After several officers boarded the sailboat and the lead officer attempted to handcuff him, McCormick allegedly hit that officer in the face three times, Trinidad said.

McCormick bought his boat in Alameda and berthed it in Berkeley, according to the Coast Guard.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

Coroner: Man Found Dead Had Jumped From Golden Gate Bridge

A man whose body was found in Richardson Bay off of Belvedere this morning is believed to have jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday, Marin County coroner’s Lt. Keith Boyd said.

Belvedere Police Chief Tricia Seyler said the body was found by a jogger in the water near San Rafael Avenue just north of West Shore Road, and police responded at 7:01 a.m., Seyler said.

The Belvedere Fire Department removed the body from the water, fire Capt. Colin Jackson said.

The man was fully clothed and there were no outward signs of trauma, Seyler said.

James Lanaras, Bay City News

Motorcyclist Who Died Near Golden Gate Bridge Identified As SF Man

The Marin County coroner’s office has identified a motorcyclist who died after he crashed in the Marin Headlands last week as 33-year-old Peter Joseph Labbe, of San Francisco.

Labbe was riding his motorcycle downhill on Conzelman Road and passing cars when the crash happened at about 8:30 p.m. on July 8, Southern Marin Fire Protection District Capt. Mike Martinez said.

The bike went off the roadway about 300 yards from the southbound approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, then struck a large road sign, flipped over and traveled 10-15 feet down a hillside, Martinez said.

Labbe was in cardiac arrest when fire district medics arrived. He was taken to Marin General Hospital where he was pronounced dead, Martinez said.

Marin County coroner’s Lt. Keith Boyd said Labbe died at 9:37 p.m.

James Lanaras, Bay City News