Happy New Year

Happy New Year. If you bought an extended service plan on 2017, it has now expired, and the full cost of all repairs or replacements will have to be paid out of pocket. Regrettably, the Office of Chronological Mismanagement is no longer offering service plans of any sort. So enjoy 2018 while it still has that new car smell. Soon enough we’ll have to break out the duct tape and patch it up.

In any case, we had a very pleasant end to 2017 and beginning of 2018. You may have gotten the impression from my posts that this family likes fireworks–and that would be a correct impression. We go to New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July fireworks shows whenever we can.

Last year, we caught the show in Berkeley, but this year there wasn’t one. Nor, as far as I could tell, was there one anywhere in the East Bay. All the municipalities were very quiet about it; we don’t know if the lack of shows was due to financial problems, fire worries, security concerns, a lack of desire to compete with San Francisco’s show, or something even less sensical.

But regardless of the reasons, we had a firework gap that needed to be filled. We’ve always steered clear of San Francisco’s show, figuring it would be an enormous hassle, with an impossible parking situation, horrible crowds, and hours-long delays getting out of the city. Turned out we were wrong.

I won’t tell you exactly where we were. For one thing, the parking garage we found will be closing before the end of 2018, and for another, if all of the readers of this blog showed up in our spot this coming December 31, it would…well, okay, nobody would know the difference. But why take the chance of the post going viral? I’ll just say we were south of the Ferry Building and north of the Bay Bridge and let it go at that.

We arrived around noon–far earlier than we needed to–and had our choice of parking spots in the garage. With apologies to those of you north of Eureka or east of Carson City or Phoenix for sounding like I’m gloating, the temperature, even as midnight approached, was in the fifties with scattered high clouds and exactly three drops of rain. The city of San Francisco had kindly provided large planter boxes with cement walls that made excellent seats. And once we got through the line to pay for parking, our time from the garage onto the Bay Bridge was no more than twenty minutes. In rush hour, that same part of the drive frequently stretches to an hour or more.

If there was one downside to the day, it was that few businesses were open near the Embarcadero, and those that were closed early. I believe that, with the exception of a few restaurants, nothing was open past seven. Was it because NYE was a Sunday? Or is it standard for New Year’s Eve? Memo to San Francisco: encourage more vendors to show up and stay open later. It’ll bring more people into the city earlier in the day, they’ll spend more money, improving both vendor profits and city tax and parking revenue. Just a thought. And next time we do it, we’ll bring books, a deck of cards, or something else entertaining.

Because, yes, there will be a next time. The show was wonderful. If not the best ever, right up there at the top of the list. Yes, the hearts were all lazy, lying on their sides and all but a few of the smiley faces were significantly distorted, but those mishaps just added humor to the show. There was a good mix of high and low bursts, some effects we hadn’t seen before, and a clear–and spectacular–finale.

Consider this an open invitation to blog readers: if you’re freezing your tails off again in December 2018, come to San Francisco. We can hang out together and watch the show. I won’t promise you it’ll be as warm as it was Sunday, but I think it’s safe to promise it’ll be warmer than Times Square.

America’s What?

It’s finally over.

The America’s Cup, Brought To You By Larry Ellison has reached the end of its first season.

Much of the world is fascinated by Oracle Team USA winning eight straight races to defeat Emirates Team New Zealand 9-8. As a pure sport feat, it’s hugely impressive, up there with Boston’s 2004 comeback to beat the Yankees and go to the World Series. But.

I just can’t get past the non-racing aspects of the whole thing.

The America’s Cup was supposed to have a field of zillions of boats, bring untold tourist wealth to San Francisco, put a chicken in every pot, and generally induce good vibes. Instead, what we got was a field of three competitors, two-thirds of the estimated revenue, legal challenges, cheating, a fatal accident, and no chickens. OK, I exaggerate slightly: potted chicken was never part of the official hype. But you get my drift.

Then there’s the convenience of the finish. The prolonged schedule and need for a winner-take-all race for the first time in 30 years resulted in a lot of hype, restoring some of the international interest that had been lost. How nice for Ellison that it not only drew attention to yachting, but also to his Oracle OpenWorld convention onshore. It brought back memories of the New York Yankees World Series appearance in 2001, just when New York needed a boost after 9/11 and the New Orleans Saints historic best season in their post-Katrina return to the Superdome.

And then there’s the whole question of the boats. The America’s Cup started with boats that could be used for other things than racing. Even though designs quickly evolved to optimize the boats for racing, they could still be used for other purposes — remember, this is “yacht” racing. The terms of “the Deed” that established the basic rules under which the America’s Cup is held require that the race be held in a “sea or arm of the sea”. The new “AC72” class of boats introduced this year is so sensitive to wind speed that it seems unlikely that they could even be sailed outside of semi-protected waters. Who would be interested in a “yacht” that can’t be sailed from one city to another?

So now Larry Ellison gets to be the biggest influence on the next America’s Cup. The same Larry Ellison who said yesterday that “This regatta has changed sailing forever. More people watched the first race of this America’s Cup than all of the America’s Cups in history, so I think it’s a success.” “Success” is drawing spectators, not the “friendly competition among nations” envisioned by the founders.

Stay tuned for season two. Expect more spectacle, more speed, and more “extreme” racing. Gotta top this year, right?

It’s Alive!

We made it!

The new eastern span of the Bay Bridge opened to the public at 10:15 last night, seven hours ahead of the announced opening. Traffic is absolutely horrible, with backups extending for miles (for those of you who know the Bay Area, as I write this, I-80 is a parking lot all the way to Pinole). Reports suggest it’s mostly due to confusion over the new layout of the lanes around the toll plaza; I suspect there’s also a contribution from gawkers. Note: some form of the following statement appears to be required in all articles about the new span: “The new span has wide shoulders which could be used to pull over to take pictures, but should not. The CHP will issue tickets for any non-emergency use of the shoulders.”

If you’re a fan of time-lapse videos (and really, who isn’t?), you should check out Earthcam’s “official time-lapse movie”:

Five years of construction pictures condensed into a four minute movie. For some strange reason, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of the infamous broken bolts, the notorious saddle, or even the scandalous temporary shims.

bbmAssuming everything continues smoothly between now and dinner time, Maggie and I plan to toast the bridge with a glass of semi-appropriate wine.  I say “semi-appropriate”, because this stuff runs $3 a bottle, so–unlike the $6.4 billion dollar bridge–it’s not going to be a strain on anybody’s budget. As one reviewer noted, a bottle of Bay Bridge wine will cost you less than driving across the actual bridge. (My favorite review, by the way, likens the scent of the wine to “a combination of bubble gum and twinkies”. If we survive the experience, I’ll report back on our own impressions.

Despite the expected giddiness about getting the bridge into service, sharp words continue to be exchanged over a proposal out of LA to name the refurbished western span for former mayor Willie Brown. We talked about the proposal back in June when it first surfaced. The renaming resolution snuck through the state Assembly a couple of weeks ago, buried in the flood of bills passed as the legislative session came to an end. Now it just needs to get through the Senate. Given that the bill is being pushed by the NAACP in the wake of the observances of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, efforts to defeat it face a tough battle. As one might expect, Brown remains non-committal on the proposal.

Unfortunately, the renaming proposal seems to be the only contentious point these days. We’ve been seeing a flood of quotes expressing the notion that now that the bridge is open, people will forget about the cost overruns, the botched bolts, and all of the other problems that have plagued the bridge. In other words, Caltrans and the politicians want to sweep the problems off the bridge and into SF Bay. Business as usual, ignore the man behind the curtain. Kudos to state Senate Transportation Commission Chairman Mark DeSaulnier for bucking the trend: “What I’m worried about is that once it opens, the feeling will be, ‘Sure there were a lot of mistakes, but let’s forget about it – look at what a great bridge it is,’ when what we really need is some honest discussions about what happened here.”

We still don’t know who signed off on the technical design that makes it impossible to replace the bolts, who signed off on the selection and installation of the bolts despite the fact that they were never tested and they violate Caltrans’ own standards, or even how the bolts managed to avoid testing in the first place. Chances are good that unless DeSaulnier stands firm (as firm as the new bridge itself?), we’ll never know. But that’s OK, because we have a shiny new bridge. Ooh, shiny…


The long wait is over.

Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop” has probably been the most-hyped, most-eagerly awaited technological breakthrough since the Segue scooter, and it’s finally here. Surprise: it’s pretty much the most over-hyped technological breakthrough since the Segue too.

The details were announced in a Businessweek exclusive article, scooping Musk’s own website. Frankly I’m more entranced by the “Videos You May Like” promo for a spot about Taco Bell’s Waffle Taco on the same page–and I don’t even like Taco Bell.


What’s it all about? Apparently, it’s a waffle fried into the shape of a taco shell and then filled with sausage and scrambled eggs. Oh, you mean Hyperloop? Sorry.

Hyperloop is intended as an alternative to high-speed rail. Its biggest advantage over rail, as best I can tell, is that because it’s an elevated system, it could be built alongside (or over) existing freeway rights-of-way, solving the problem of acquiring new railroad rights-of-way. That undoubtedly plays into his estimate that it could be built for roughly a tenth of the cost of the planned San Diego to Sacramento high-speed rail link.

As far as the actual mechanism goes, think in terms of an inverted air hockey game: The cars would suck in air and blow it out through holes in the bottom, pushing them up from the ground. Or rather, from the floor of the tube. By enclosing the entire system in a tube, Musk figures that air turbulence can be largely eliminated; additionally, air pressure can be reduced, lowering wind resistance. Propulsion would be via electromagnetic pulse, essentially a scaled-up version of the systems currently used to accelerate roller coasters. (There is an emergency brake, apparently. I don’t see the details anywhere–I’m sure they’re buried in the 57 page proposal somewhere–but I’m guessing that it’s a way for the cars to blast air against the direction of travel, rather than a mechanical, friction-based system–trying to engineer a friction brake that can safely stop something moving at 800 miles an hour seems dubious at best.) Get this: the whole thing can be powered by solar energy supplied by panels integrated into the tubes!

So there you go: Hyperloop is essentially a giant straw running a straight line between two cities no more than 1,000 miles apart, and the passengers are the equivalent of the spit-balls being fired out of the straw.

I know I sound dismissive, but honestly, I’d love to see it get built. I really don’t have any need to travel from SF to LA in half an hour, but Hyperloop is just too cool an idea to pass up. Musk’s Space-X and Tesla credits suggest that if it can be built, he’s the guy to do it, but there are just too many problems with the idea as presented for me to really get behind it:

  • I’m skeptical about Musk’s estimates for the cost to build the system and for the cost to ride it. This is brand-new technology, and until there’s some practical experience with it, any sort of cost estimates are optimistic at best, wishful thinking at worst.
  • The nod toward seismic safety sounds only slightly ahead of the Bay Bridge’s approach. Enough said about that for any construction near the Hayward and San Andreas Faults.
  • The proposal doesn’t spend nearly enough attention on the passengers. As one commentator has pointed out, the lack of bathrooms in the cars will be a turn-off for a lot of people. The proposal calls for cars to be departing every two minutes. Has Musk flown on a commercial flight recently? Unless you’ve got a lot of cars loading at once, with some really complicated switching to get them into the main tube, you’re pretty much screwed on the departures. Forget loading the proposed 28 passengers in less than fifteen minutes; 30 minutes seems more realistic when you consider the realities of children, oversize luggage, and federally-mandated safety briefings (“The seat belt works just like the one in your car. If the tube breaks, expect to go skimming across the landscape like a flat rock on a pond before you disintegrate into flaming rubble.”). It’s not like a subway where they can just walk in and stand for half an hour; they’ve got to stow their bags and sit down.
  • Even if all of the problems are worked out, there’s still one overriding problem with Hyperloop as an alternative to fast rail: California’s rail project is already in motion. There’s no way any government-funded project would put itself on hold for a couple of years while Musk works out the bugs in Hyperloop. The best he could hope for would be for both systems to be built, and then have whichever one proves less popular be supported by government subsidies indefinitely.

Got Reservations?

I got an email this morning from Lior. Not that that’s a huge surprise, but this one was unusual in that he passed along a pointer for an interesting story on Ars Technica. Thanks for the tip!

For those of you who haven’t read the article, the gist of it is that a Bay Area geek got frustrated over not being able to get reservations for hot restaurants. So he did what any good geek would do: he wrote some code. First he wrote a program to monitor the reservation website to watch for new reservations and email him when one opened up. What he found was that slots for popular times would be taken in less than a minute. He attributed it to people using scripts to watch for openings and book them automatically, so he wrote his own to do exactly the same thing. And then he released his script to the world.

Lior’s tip said “Something a bit unethical, but technological brilliant if not a little sad.” More than a little sad, IMNSHO, but I don’t think I agree on either the ethicality or the brilliance.

Let’s take them in reverse order, just for fun.

  • Sad – Yep, no argument from me. In a city like San Francisco with thousands of restaurants (and probably hundreds of good restaurants), why do people get so obsessive about any particular one? Maybe it has the greatest food in the world (at least until the next great place opens), but I’d be willing to bet that the restaurant with the second greatest food has an empty table, or at worst, available reservations. Let’s be honest here: much of the time, a hot restaurant is hot largely because it’s hot: people want to be able to casually mention they ate there or want to be seen eating there. If it’s tough to get a seat, that must be because everyone else is trying to get a seat. For crying out loud, people: go to a restaurant because you want to eat the food, not to be seen eating it. If they’re booked solid, give it some time: once the novelty wears off, it’ll get easier to get in. You may miss an occasional goodie when quality implodes, but on the other hand, you probably would have missed it anyway, because you couldn’t get a reservation.
  • Brilliant – Nope. The article points out that his troubles started because others were using bots to make reservations and shutting him out. He used standard, freely available libraries to build his own bot. No brilliance, just yet another implementation of a technology that’s been around for ages. (Remember when you could buy something on eBay without using a sniping bot? Remember how quickly sniping bots appeared?)
  • Unethical – Again, I disagree. Is it unethical to ask a hotel concierge to get you reservations? I doubt anyone would think so: you’re merely tapping the expertise of someone who has contacts you don’t. Is it unethical to camp overnight outside a theater to get tickets to a new show? Again, no. Stupid, maybe, depending on the weather conditions and how long you wait, but not unethical. As long as you’re only getting tickets for yourself. I think most people would consider it unethical if you were waiting to buy tickets with the intent to resell them at a huge markup, but that’s not what’s happening here: this is a guy trying to get a reservation for himself; he’s not scalping it outside the restaurant. Note that this guy actually made his bot available for anyone to download and use: he’s giving up his advantage and making the same technology available to everyone; if anything, he’s being the ethical one here by comparison with the writers of the earlier bots who have kept them to themselves.

This is hardly a new problem. Remember Yogi Berra‘s immortal words: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” It’s not a new solution. But it is a sad state of affairs.

Bay Bridge Bolt Botch XI

OK, now I know Caltrans has really lost it. Or never had it in the first place.

They’re now saying (as reported Monday by our buddy Jaxon) that they can’t find any proof that required testing was done on the questionable bolts. Nor can they find any proof that required inspections of the contractors making the bolts were made.

Caltrans Chief Deputy Director Richard Land is quoted as saying “The documentation problem is a concern.” I’ve got news for Mr. Land: It’s not a “concern”. It’s the core of the problem.

I’m not sure what world he’s in. In the real world, the way QA works is that testing is done and the result of the testing is documented. That documentation is used as the basis of a decision: proceed or don’t proceed. If the documentation doesn’t exist, then the testing wasn’t done. It doesn’t matter if the physical work of doing the test was performed or not, if the results weren’t documented, the work wasn’t completed.

The article references exactly one QA inspector who did her job: Mary Madere, who inspected bolts produced by a sub-contractor and reported that they passed her inspection (a review of the sub-contractor’s documentation and a visual inspection of the rods). And yet, the article implies that she was delinquent because she did a “random review” of the documentation. “Random” has a very specific meaning in the world of testing. It’s rarely possible to test every item in a set of physical objects or every input to a piece of software. So you work with a sub-set that is typical of the entire set. With physical objects, frequently that’s best done by random selection. Unless there was a requirement that all documentation had to be reviewed, Ms Madere is not delinquent here; she did her job.

On the other hand, the unnamed inspectors who were responsible for reviewing bolts produced by other sub-contractors, seem to be culpable. (I grant the possibility that all of their reports were misfiled; I’m speaking on the basis of the available information. Frankly, I find it extremely unlikely that it’s a filing problem. Based on the story, it seems like there is no record of the work having been done: no reports, no travel expenses, no complaints about late flights, no nothing.) Ditto for the resident engineer who was responsible for a final review of Ms Madere’s report. From a practical perspective, if there is no report, then the work wasn’t done. Somebody needs to start documenting who was responsible for testing what, who was responsible for reviewing what, and of those people, who didn’t do their jobs. Those are the people whose necks should be on the chopping block.

Unfortunately for Ms Madere, she has now been identified and associated with the Bolt Botch; if someone is scrambling to divert attention from their own failure (and you had better believe there’s a lot of that going on at Caltrans right now), that makes her an easy choice to be a scapegoat. Far easier than identifying and those who were truly responsible. Safer, too, as the chain of responsibility goes much higher in the organization chart than one lonely QA inspector.

BART Strike

Since y’all are asking about it in email, here are a few words on the current transportation woes in the Bay Area: “GET BACK TO WORK!”

And that’s not just aimed at the striking workers. It’s also aimed at BART officials.

Strikers, you’ve made your point. Transit is a mess without you. We get it. (We knew it already–we remember the last time you went on strike, when BART wasn’t as critical as it is now–but thanks for making it crystal clear.) So now that you’ve reminded us that we can’t get by without you, please get back to work while negotiations continue. Thanks in advance.

BART officials: How about making a serious offer? 2% a year after four years of frozen wages is barely an offer; combined with the increases to pension and health care costs, it’s bordering on an insult.

Speaking of those negotiations, union negotiators: what the hell were you thinking, leaving the negotiations at 8:30 Sunday? Dumping an offer that you knew was going to be unacceptable to BART on the table and then walking out doesn’t just border on an insult, it is outright insulting. Not to BART management, but to the general public who relies on BART to get to work. That says “We don’t give a shit about you, but we expect you to back us.”

All of you: Whether we like it or not, BART is an essential resource. Today there is literally no way to get from home to work for anyone who does not work in San Francisco. If you need to commute between Richmond/El Cerrito/Berkeley and Walnut Creek/Concord/Pittsburg or Dublin/Pleasanton/Hayward/Fremont, you’re on your own. No bus connections, no casual carpool, no Caltrain or Amtrak. I’m not suggesting that BART employees (or transit employees in general) should be legally prevented from striking, just that they should seriously consider limiting their strikes to short, specified strikes as other essential workers do (one or two day strikes get the point across without burning all of your goodwill).

Remember folks: there’s plenty of blame to go around to all sides on this one. Settle quickly, or don’t be surprised if the public at large spits on you all.

One final thought for the commuters: Congratulations on making today not nearly as bad as most of the predictions. Here’s hoping you can keep it up. If AC Transit goes on strike tomorrow and everyone who burned their weekly telecommute day today is trying to get to the office, it’s going to make those predictions look optimistic.

Bay Bridge Bolt Botch X

A significant Bay Bridge Bolt Botch update in less than 400 words?

You bet!

We had two articles from our friend Jaxon over the weekend that show that the Bay Bridge’s problems date back to the design phase. Documents released by Caltrans show an ongoing pattern of issues being raised then minimized or ignored.

Saturday’s article shows that bolts were improperly prepared on at least two occasions. One set of bolts was cleaned with brake cleaner prior to galvanization instead of being sand-blasted as per the contract. The sub-contractor stated that the use of brake cleaner had been authorized by the primary contractor, Dyson Corp., but could not produce documentation of the authorization because of a “computer issue”. A different sub-contractor “touched up” flaws in the galvanization with an aerosol product despite a general Caltrans ban on the use of aerosol galvanization. In both cases the rods were accepted despite the incorrect preparation.

Sunday, Jaxon informed us that the potential problems of hardened, galvanized steel were raised during the design phase in January 2003. In-house steel experts pointed out that such bolts were “prone to cracking in a moist marine environment…and shouldn’t be used.” The design team and Caltrans officials overrode Caltrans’ own rules to follow a suggestion from a sales manager at Dyson Corp. She pointed out that similar galvanized bolts had been used two years earlier in a seismic refit of the Richmond/San Rafael bridge. Caltrans’ corrosion expert agreed that, based on the earlier bridge’s results, the bolts in question could work, but specific tests for strength and flexibility should be performed on delivery. No evidence that those tests were conducted has been found. The steel experts who originally raised the concern about the bolts were not consulted in making the decision. During the bidding process, two manufacturers flat out refused to bid due to their concerns about the use of galvanized steel in a marine environment, but even that didn’t cause Caltrans to reconsider.

That stupidity is contagious is well-known. The founder of the firm that came up with the unique “self-anchored” design hated it. When it was chosen in 1998, he was quoted as saying “This will be building a monument to stupidity.” It’s been down hill all the way since then.

One final thought from the principal architect: “I assume it is safe. I honestly don’t know much about the bolts. That’s engineering.”

(398 words)

Bay Bridge Bolt Botch IX

It’s been three weeks since I last wrote about the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch, and I’ll bet some you thought – or even hoped – I had forgotten about it. No such luck and my apologies to those of you who find these posts boring. The truth is just that things have been pretty quiet for the bridge, at least from a QA standpoint. But let’s go ahead and get caught up.

On 1 June, our good buddy Jaxon shared the information that more than 600 bolts are harder than the level set by John Fisher, who Jaxon calls a “renowned civil engineer” and who is, not coincidentally, a member of the independent panel reviewing the state of the bridge. The number of potentially-problematic rods comes from pre-installation testing and purchase records, not from current field tests; many of the bolts in question are inaccessible and cannot be field tested. This article also notes that simulated corrosion and aging tests are being done now, and are expected to be complete “by late July.”

A few days later, Matier & Ross broke the news that Caltrans’ Chief Deputy Director Richand Land will be assigned full-time to the Bay Bridge to provide ongoing liason to Caltrans headquarters for all of the reviews going on. The move is touted as offering the public a high level of confidence, since Land is a licensed engineer. Speaking as a member of the public, I find that less than reassuring, given that we still don’t know which engineers signed off on the unfixable bridge design and the use of the overly hard rods in the first place.

Meanwhile, on the 4th, the Chron ran an independent editorial opinion from Bill Wattenburg, who was responsible for blocking deployment of BART’s train control system in the face of safety concerns. Wattenburg reiterates many of the questions we’ve been asking all along regarding approvals and signoffs, and also calls for a totally independent review instead of the current review by a team selected by Caltrans. He also raises one interesting point I haven’t seen before: Caltrans has not revealed what magnitude of earthquake has been used in simulated testing of the current design. Was it the same as the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, or something higher?

Word of the Bolt Botch continues to spread. Sunday’s New York Times ran a fairly piece on the situation. The article itself doesn’t have a whole lot of information we haven’t seen before – although it does note that a decision whether to open the new bridge on time must be made by 10 July, the first time I’ve seen a specific date for the decision cited* – but it does have an accompanying graphic that gives the best explanation I’ve seen for the “saddle” fix for attaching the seismic shear keys. The NYT also quotes oversight panel member John Fisher as being optimistic about meeting the Labor Day weekend opening.

* Actually, that appears to be an error by the NYT. As I said in an earlier post, July 10 is the date by which Caltrans must make a decision on making a fix, not making the decision about when the bridge will open.

A lot of jokes, few of them actually funny, have been made about a proposal to name half of the bridge for former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. The resolution introduced to the state assembly would rename the western half of the bridge (which has already been seismically refitted, and does not apparently have any bolt issues), leaving the eastern half sole possession of the name “San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge”. As noted in one of the earliest posts on the bridge, Brown was one of the leading figures in delaying the construction of the new bridge through insisting on an iconic design, and was also one of the first voices heard calling the bolt problem a “PR disaster”. As far as I can tell, he’s been silent on whether he wants his name associated with said PR disaster.

One final note for today: The similarly trouble-plagued floating Rt 520 bridge in Seattle is now sending its cracked pontoons to Portland for repairs. Maybe somebody in Portland would be willing to take on the task of fixing the Bay Bridge too? At least Portland has a major port that bridge segments could be shipped into. Think about it, folks: based on the work done so far, it could be a boon to Portland’s economy for decades to come.

Bay Bridge Bolt Botch VIII

Yesterday, Caltrans presented the Metropolitan Transportation Commission with an update on the state of the now-infamous rods. The news is, not to put too fine a point on it, lousy. Testing is in progress, and they have set July 10 as the “drop-dead” date for scheduling the fix. That’s correct: not the date for the fix, but the date to set the date for the fix. As our friend Jaxon reports, Caltrans admits that if the date slips past Labor Day weekend, the combination of traffic needs, weather, and holidays could add months to the schedule. Jaxon also notes that Governor Brown has ordered an independent review of Caltrans to make it “a better department”. This is not a review of the bridge – that’s a separate, federal review. This is a review of Caltrans’ policies and processes intended to make the agency “more transparent”.

Then there is yesterday morning’s news break (thanks Jaxon), that expansion joints on the bridge’s integrated bike path were welded in place. The bolts in the joints need to be free to move as the path expands and contracts in response to changes in temperature. Welding the bolts prevents them from moving, and the result is that hundreds of them are known to be broken, and hundreds more need to be inspected and probably will need to be replaced.

What is it about bolts on the Bay Bridge? Forget the children, will nobody think of the bolts?


Seriously, though, the bike path was installed in 2008, yet the improper welds weren’t discovered until an inspection was done in 2012. Where the heck was the QA? Didn’t anyone check the installation at the time it was done? Granted that these bolts, unlike the seismic support rods we’ve been focused on, are not structural, but as key elements of the bike path railing, they are a significant safety component. If the installation was reviewed, there should be documentation of who reviewed it and approved the incorrect installation – which would be useful information in determining other potential problem spots. If the installation wasn’t reviewed, then one has to ask what other components of the bridge haven’t been reviewed.

Other notes on the current state of the bridge.

Actually, Caltrans’ comments on the date are just confirmation of information presented by the Chron’s investigative reporters Matier & Ross, who noted yesterday that we won’t know for weeks if the bridge will open Labor Day weekend or at some time after that. They pointed out that testing of the remaining galvanized steel rods is still going on and is unlikely to be completed before the end of June, and that even when that work is complete, there will still be the independent review by the Federal Highway Administration to be wrapped up before a decision can be made. And nobody is making any predictions about how long the federal review will take: this is, everyone says, uncharted territory.

Tuesday’s Chron featured a editorial and a pair of opinion pieces. Steve Lee, the president of a professional organization of state-employed engineers touts Caltrans’ inspectors for having “consistently done their job” and references 80,000 pages of documentation of their effort. Does that include inspection of the bike path railings prior to 2012? An unsigned editorial responds to statements by Caltrans and points out that given what we know now, the most compelling argument for opening the new bridge is not that it’s safe, but that it’s safer than the old bridge; the editorial then goes on to ask the same question I’ve been asking: “Who is responsible?” What exactly went wrong, and who signed off it? (Note: links in this paragraph are to the Chron’s pay site and may not be accessible without a subscription.)

And then there’s the best (by which I mean “most entertainingly stupid”) opinion, one I call “The Brooklyn Bridge Solution”. Leal Charonnat, an architect and engineer, suggests that Caltrans should sell the bridge tower to some community that needs a tower for a bridge that is not in an earthquake zone and not in a marine environment. Excuse me? We should try to sell a bridge that uses components that have been banned on a federal level and that are already known to be faulty? Who in their right mind would buy the tower, even at the 40% discount he proposes? Even if someone was stupid enough to do so, what does he think is a suitably “earthquake-free” area? A quick look at the USGS earthquake risk maps for the US suggests that northern North Dakota may be at low risk and not a marine environment – but it has some rather dramatic temperature extremes that can’t be good for known-fragile steel. Finally, even if somebody wants to buy the tower and determines that it’s safe, how would it be shipped? The segments were literally shipped from China to Oakland, but ships are not very useful means of transportation in non-marine environments. Shipping by truck or rail seems impractical at best. And to cap it off, he suggests a complete redesign to replace the tower – if we hadn’t been through two major redesigns already, we might actually have a functional bridge by now…

On a related note, check out Chron author Peter Hartlaub’s piece on the future of San Francisco’s architecture as revealed in “Star Trek: Into Darkness”. Most of his comments are spot-on, but he does neglect to point out that Caltrans would have to be pretty heavily involved in the construction. Bets on whether inspections are conducted and documented any better in 2259 than 2009?