The Golden Gate Bridge is an icon and a landmark, but beyond that it is a highway. It was built for one reason: to provide a concrete link between Marin and San Francisco. By the late 1920s, both population centers were exploding — San Francisco alone added 290,000 residents between 1900 and 1930 — and demand for car transport by ferry was outstripping supply.
The bridge solved that problem, but soon enough, it too was packed with cars. Nearly 10,000 vehicles crossed per day in the first year. It took nine years for that figure to grow by another 10,000, then five years, then four, and finally just 2½ between early 1962 and mid-1964. By that time, daily crossings were up to 69,267.
To alleviate the growing congestion, the bridge district began experimenting with traffic-control measures. Reversible lanes arrived in 1962, and in 1968 the Golden Gate became the first major bridge in the world to adopt one-way toll collection.
Today, the district employs about 100 people responsible for keeping traffic flowing: lane changers, truck drivers, toll workers, lieutenants, sergeants and at the very top, the bridge captain. Since opening in 1937, the span has been managed by a total of nine captains, and all but two are still alive.
John Lofrano was No. 7 in line. Now 82 and living with his wife in Novato, he started on the bridge as a toll collector in 1954 at the age of 25 and slowly worked his way up. Lofrano retired from the district after 34 years on the bridge, with six as captain.
“There’s always an accident or something to take care of,” he said. “We had to keep the traffic running smoothly, and I think we did a pretty good job.”
The year after Lofrano left, daily traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge peaked at 120,000, then began to taper off. The bridge now accommodates more than 110,000 vehicles each day, or 40 million crossings per year. On a sunny weekend day, add as many as 10,000 pedestrians and 6,000 bicyclists — mainly tourists,. But to the bridge, it’s all the same.