While I found the articles covered eerily similar ground, I also found they didn’t answer the questions I really had… For instance, why is the progress so slow? Who’s going to fund the suicide barrier, if not the Bridge District?
Why does it appear that both articles paint the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District as some sort of bad guy?
Ever since its inception, the Golden Gate Bridge has acted as a magnet to those who would commit suicide. Nowadays, approximately 30 people a year die leaping from its majestic span. I have been a big proponent of a suicide barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge since day one. Research shows that, by and large, suicide barriers on bridges work, and they work well to save lives.
A suicide barrier has been proposed for the bridge since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 2005 that the department responsible for the bridge — the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District — relaxed its design requirements. After a public board meeting, the District approved moving forward in doing the design studies to find an appropriate suicide barrier system that would work for this bridge icon. Unfortunately, a part of the approved resolution from that meeting was that the Board would not fund the project from tolls. (So, just to be clear, we’ve known since 2005 that the District wouldn’t be funding this from tolls — this is not new news.)
According to spokesperson Amorette Ko, this is largely because the District is already stretched thin on toll collections: “The District collects about $100 million in tolls each year. About half of this amount is used to maintain the Bridge, and the other half is used to subsidize our ongoing bus, ferry and paratransit services.” The Board simply doesn’t feel there’s any additional toll money left over for a project of this nature.
In 2008, the District approved a $45 million steel-cable net system that would reside under the bridge — out of view, and inhibiting none of the spectacular views from the bridge itself. Such systems have been used successfully on other bridges — they work in preventing suicides.
Both articles lamented the lack of funding for the suicide barrier, and both coincidentally noted that funding for a $26.5 million median barrier in the roadway was funded from tolls.
What both articles failed to note, however, was the timeline for the median barrier’s funding, leaving it to the reader to infer as though it came after the suicide barrier’s approval. However, a simple check with the District confirms just the opposite — the median roadway barrier was approved 20 years earlier, in 1998.
[… T]he actual project was initially authorized by the Board in 1996 when the District participated in the crash test of the new Barrier Systems Incorporated one foot wide moveable median barrier. At that time, the Board also engaged a consultant to evaluate various traffic and safety ramifications of the installation of the new one foot wide MMB on the Bridge. The board affirmed their position to move forward with the project in 1998.
To clarify, the timing of when the Board approved these critical projects is important to track. The moveable median barrier project was approved during a time when funding allocation for new capital projects was made possible with state and federal grant support and is not 100% District funded.
The District, as it turns out, only funded about 19 percent of the total cost of the median barrier — again, information left out of both the LA Times op-ed by John Bateson, and Slate’s article by Liza Gross.
Also not mentioned in either article that, historically at least, bridge personnel have actually prevented more suicides than have successfully taken place:
Currently our staff successfully stops 70 percent of these individuals. [Specifically,] in 2011 our staff stopped 100 individuals from taking their lives at the Bridge and last year we successfully intercepted 87 people.
According to District spokesperson Amorette Ko, they believe 2013 numbers to be similar, despite the one month this year, August, when suicides from the bridge spiked to 10.
While that’s no reason to not move forward on the suicide barrier, I think it’s important for people to know that people are still doing something in the meantime. The good people who oversee the Golden Gate Bridge are helping to prevent suicides every single week.
Ideally, the District’s Board should move to amend their previous resolution, and approve partial funding for the suicide barrier from bridge tolls. The suicide barrier will be “shovel-ready” by year’s end — lacking only the funding to get it going. But I also understand if that’s not fiscally possible in these challenging times, where toll-payers fight tooth and nail against every toll increase.
I have no doubt that funding will be found to get the last major world monument lacking a suicide barrier a long overdue safety net. Yes, it will be slower and a more difficult process, but it will get done. We’ll continue to help promote this effort and fund-raising efforts related to it.
Want to learn more and keep up-to-date about this issue? Check out the Golden Gate Bridge Physical Suicide Deterrent System Project website
Read the LA Times op-ed: The suicide magnet that is the Golden Gate Bridge
Read the Slate article: Don’t Jump! A simple fix to the Golden Gate Bridge would save hundreds of lives.