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Century-old cable cars get wet-weather upgrade

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A cable car operator and gripman turn a cable car around at Powell and Market streets on Wednesday. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)
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For more than a century, cable car operators and gripmen (and now women) have heaved the roving wooden wonders on circular platforms at cable car turnarounds.

And for more than a century, those operators and grip-people have occasionally slipped while pushing the cable cars in the rain.

Now a new upgrade will help add traction to the boots of those operators as they push the cars.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is installing patches of crushed glass, called Ruby Lake Glass, as a friction surface to give operators a toe hold.

The current practice is to plaster friction tape to the ground, but operators complained it didn’t offer enough grip, and also would fray within three to six months, said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.

This Ruby Lake Glass will last about 10 years, said Dale Cooper, an owner of D & M Traffic Services.

“It’ll last for years and years,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, staff from D & M and SFMTA poured an adhesive, and the glass, on the concrete by the Powell Street Cable Car turnaround. It will take only an hour and a half to set, Cooper said.

Cooper said it’s the first use of this crushed glass in San Francisco, and “we’re paying for it,” he added. He’s hoping the SFMTA will adopt it for bike and bus-only lanes as well.

“We’re rolling it out in a few locations to see how we like it,” Rose said.

Kevin Cooper, market development manager at D & M, said the glass comes from pulverized televisions, and can come in any color. When it rains, the water seeps under the glass, leaving a dry, rough surface for operators to step on.

The glass is recycled, 100 percent post consumer grade, said both Coopers (who are father and son).

When the installation was complete, SFMTA and D & M staff hopped on a cable car to install more of the surfacing at turnarounds in Fisherman’s Wharf.

Though the elder Cooper grew up in nearby Campbell, he said with some excitement, “I’ve never ridden a cable car!”

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