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What is the Golden Gate Bridge?

The Golden Gate Bridge is a steel suspension bridge located on the west coast of the United States, in the city of San Francisco, California. The bridge connects the northern part of San Francisco with Marin County and forms part of both Interstate Route 101 and California State Route 1.

The Golden Gate Bridge consists of six lanes for vehicular traffic (three in each direction) and a protected sidewalk on each side: pedestrians may only circulate on the east sidewalk, while bicycles may use both, but must yield to pedestrians on the west sidewalk. Skateboards are not permitted. In addition to allowing human and vehicular traffic, the Golden Gate Bridge is also used for power line crossings.

The bridge gets its name from the strait which it spans, and this strait, in turn, was named by Captain John C. Fremont in his Geographical Memoir Upon Upper California. In it, he says that upon seeing the strait he considered it a “golden gate for trade with the East”. The Golden Horn of Constantinople was given its name for the same reason.

What is the significance of the Golden Gate Bridge?

Although it is not the largest bridge in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is the most important and represents the only northbound exit from the city. The Bay Bridge, also located in San Francisco, is the largest and bears some aesthetic similarities to the Golden Gate Bridge in that it is a partial suspension bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed man-made structure in the United States and the most visited bridge in the world.

What is the history of the Golden Gate Bridge?

The Golden Gate Bridge project was approved in 1928, but work was delayed due to the crash of 1929. In 1932 the banker Amadeo Giannini acquired the necessary bonds to cover the manufacturing costs, and work finally began on January 5, 1933, under the supervision of Joseph Strauss. The work was completed in 1936. The bridge was built during the Great Depression, contributing to its symbolic value.

One of the major innovations introduced by the construction of this bridge was the installation of a safety net that saved the lives of 19 people during construction. Notwithstanding, 11 people died during the execution of the work. Ten of them when the safety net gave way under the weight of a scaffolding fallen on it.

The Golden Gate Bridge was inaugurated on May 27, 1937, and that was the beginning of a week of celebrations (Opening Fiesta Week). The first day of traffic on the bridge was exclusively pedestrian, and aroused a sort of informal competition of firsts, including the first people to cross the bridge on skates and skis, the first postal mail crossing, the first little girl lost on the bridge, etc. The second day was dedicated to vehicles, and included an announcement by the president declaring the bridge open to the entire world. When it was inaugurated, the Golden Gate was the longest and tallest bridge in the world.

The Golden Gate Bridge was painted with a color called International Orange, which is widely used in the aerospace industry. It has a dual function of preventing rust and making the bridge visible to boats in the thick, frequent fog of San Francisco Bay. The one other bridge in the world painted the same color is the 25th of April bridge in Portugal.

A safety barrier was installed in January 2015, dividing lanes traveling in opposite directions. This barrier significantly increases the driving safety of the bridge, as it virtually eliminates the possibility of a head-on collision. Previously, the two directions of traffic were demarcated by yellow plastic tubes that were inserted into specially designated holes every few meters, and which also moved to facilitate the flow of vehicles according to traffic needs.

How long is the Golden Gate Bridge?

The bridge has a total length of 2737 meters, of which the suspension part corresponds to 1970 meters. Its longest span – that is, the greatest distance between structural supports – is 1280 meters, and it hangs from two 227-meter-high towers.

The Golden Gate Bridge is 27 meters wide and has a clear span of 67 meters – the distance between the bottom of the bridge structure and the mean water level.

Each of the cables used for the bridge suspension was manufactured by a process called cable spinning from individual wires that were stretched in situ and stranded together. Each cable is made up of more than 25,000 wires, equivalent to 128,748 km of wire, is almost one meter thick, has a length of more than 2,300 meters and weighs around 12 tons, a weight that almost doubles if the hangers and accessories are counted. The amount of wire used could circle the planet up to three times. The manufacturer of the cables is the same as the manufacturer of the Brooklyn Bridge..

Although primarily a suspension bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge includes a small arch bridge area on the San Francisco side of the peninsula.

What should be taken into account when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge?

Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge takes about 30 minutes. Pedestrians can only walk along it during daylight hours, with the schedule varying according to the time of the year. By bicycle, it is possible to cross the bridge 24 hours a day, but outside certain hours it is necessary to ring a bell to open access. Bicycles circulate free of charge and must respect the speed limits – 24 km/h and 8 km/h in the area of the towers.

Crossing the bridge in a vehicle takes approximately 2 minutes if there is no traffic. To cross southbound, it is necessary to pay a toll, which is collected electronically to avoid traffic jams. It is possible to pay it in advance or up to 48 hours after crossing. The toll payment also provides for subscriptions to the express lane and discounts for high occupancy vehicles.

During weekends, the barrier dividing both traffic directions is moved to avoid traffic jams. The lane change operation takes about 30 minutes.

What is the Golden Gate’s relationship with suicide?

Since its opening, in 1937, more than 1700 people have taken their lives by jumping from the bridge. This does not include those people who have jumped and survived. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the places with one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

According to 2018 statistics, 214 people attempted to jump off the bridge – that is, an average of one person every two days. However, thanks to the various prevention mechanisms that have been put in place, only 27 people were able to actually jump.

Suicide prevention strategies at the Golden Gate Bridge include:

  • A group of volunteers who patrol the bridge on dates of high suicide risk – such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve. The Bridgewatch Angels organization, founded in 2011, is made up of individuals who have been trained to deploy various negotiation strategies to deter suicide and are empowered to approach anyone they deem at risk.
  • Signs along the bridge with deterrence messages accompanied by crisis prevention hotline contacts that can be called or written to at all hours every day of the year.
  • Special telephones to contact a crisis line, also active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.

In 2014, a 6-meter-high steel net was approved to physically prevent suicides. Work began in 2017, but has been delayed. The project is estimated to be completed in 2023.

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