The Golden Gate Bridge Has Been Singing. Here's What Engineers Are Doing to Fix It

In a retrofit-gone-wrong, the iconic landmark was turned into a giant music instrument. Now, engineers are trying to fix it back.
Derya Ozdemir

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has been "singing" the song of bad engineering for over a year — This song, which consists of a loud, humming sound reminiscent of whale calls, has been annoying nearby San Franciscans and those attempting to cross the bridge without having their eardrums blown out.

Now, engineers are back to work on the bridge to fix the ghostly sounding noise that happens during high winds, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

What went wrong?

The problem arose as a result of a retrofit of the sidewalk safety railing on the bridge’s western side, which was done to trim down the bridge's profile and make it safer during high winds. The previous, wider slats were replaced with a total of 12,000 narrower slats. However, with the added safety came the tune, with the winds in San Francisco now producing a harmonica-like sound from the landmark. The sound is audible for miles in all directions.

"The new musical tones coming from the bridge are a known and inevitable phenomenon that stem from our wind retrofit during very high winds,” had explained Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District, in a written statement back in 2020. "As part of the design process, the district did extensive studies on the impacts of the project, including wind-tunnel testing of a scale model of the Golden Gate Bridge under high winds.”

So, engineers knew about the sound in advance but perhaps didn't take into account how loud and disturbing it could be. During the tests, it was seen that the bridge "would begin to hum" as air flowed through it more freely, as shown in the video above. Experts reportedly believed there could be a "minor harmonic effect," but that was it.

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While there are some San Francisco locals that find the noise "meditative and angelic," according to bridge spokesman Cosulich-Schwartz, most people find it distressing. "It makes you wonder if the bridge is breaking off," one resident said, describing the sound as "very loud."

What's being done about it? 

Engineers are now trying to figure out how to silence the bridge, and according to Cosulich-Schwartz, a solution is on the way, but he can’t tell when it will arrive. He couldn't disclose the details on what the solution will be or who is working on it since the noise-canceling design hasn’t been completed yet.

Cosulich-Schwartz said that they want the engineers to be able to work without any interruptions. "We’ll have more to say this summer," he said. “It’s a tricky business. We want to be absolutely sure we get it right. We will never sacrifice the structural integrity of the bridge but we want to be responsive to our neighbors.’’

When the engineers were working on the retrofit of the western sidewalk rail last year, they were working with scale models. They are now working with full-size sections of the bridge railing in a wind tunnel.

The city spent $12 million on the retrofit, and the retrofit of the retrofit is already costing $260,000 in consultant costs, not including the expense of the fix engineers will come up with, per San Francisco Chronicle.