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Californians never cease to express their amazement and disdain at the high tolls East Coast drivers pay to cross bridges and crawl along congested highways.

But at least nobody pays a toll to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, as San Franciscans may soon have to do if they want to trudge across the Golden Gate.

The bureaucrats who run the bridge are trying to close a $33 million deficit and have come up with the bright idea of charging pedestrians and bicyclists. 

It's estimated that about 6,000 cyclists and 10,000 pedestrians cross the bridge each day when the weather's good. The view is pleasant although the exhaust fumes can get a bit annoying when the wind is just right but, aside from the ferry it's the only way to get from Marin County to San Francisco and back without a helicopter, so the bridge czars pretty much have the market to themselves.

Not so new

It turns out that, like most new ideas, this isn't really so new. Pedestrians paid a 5-cent toll when the span opened in 1937. It was doubled a few years later and remained at 10 cents until it was discontinued in 1970.

Now you might think that it's unfair to charge pedestrians, who don't contribute much wear and tear to a bridge. But the Golden Gate has a long and tragic history of being one of the nation's leading jumping-off points for those bent on suicide.

About one person a week takes the plunge and the bridge is currently spending $76 million to build new suicide barriers. The toll would help recover some of that expense and perhaps provide money for other suicide prevention efforts.

The idea is still "preliminary," a bridge authority spokesman says, but so far nobody has come forward with $33 million, so if you're planning a jog, stroll or sprint across the bridge next time you're in the Bay Area, wear something with pockets so you can bring your wallet along.

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