The Golden Gate Bridge is arguably California's most famous landmark.
It's also the No. 1 suicide site in the world. About 30 people jump every year, with more than 1,600 confirmed deaths since the bridge opened in 1937. Last year brought a grim record: 46 people plunged 220 feet to their deaths, 10 in August alone. Bridge workers stopped 118 would-be jumpers.
That's a suicide, or an attempt, almost every other day.
Suicide barriers virtually eliminated the problem at the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower and several other suicide magnets around the world. But concerns about costs and aesthetics trumped pleas for a suicide barrier at the bridge for decades.
Today, however, Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District directors are expected to sign off on a $76 million funding plan to erect a stainless-steel net 20 feet below the bridge deck, where it will be invisible to motorists and most pedestrians. If it's approved, the barrier could be in place by 2018.
"We have to bring the suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge to a halt," bridge director Brian Sobel of Petaluma said. "We need to remove the Golden Gate Bridge from the list of those places where people would choose to commit suicide. It's a blot on the Bay Area, and we need to remove that."
It's long overdue.
No doubt, some will argue that desperate people will find other ways to kill themselves. A few might, but it's largely a myth that bridge jumpers are bent on suicide. Jumping is instead a foolish impulse, enabled by pedestrian access and low railings. Studies have shown that more than 90 percent of would-be jumpers who are stopped don't make another suicide attempt. A barrier will work. It will save lives.
To complete the funding plan, the bridge directors must dedicate $20 million of toll revenue. That would be contrary to a six-year-old promise that no toll revenue would be spent on the suicide barrier, but the 19 board members should approve funding in the interest of saving lives. The board recently approved a series of annual toll hikes, and we spending some of the money on a suicide barrier will lessen the sting for most motorists.
Moreover, a contribution from the district is needed to secure the rest of the funding, which will come from Caltrans, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and various other state and federal agencies.
In addition to the net, the project includes retrofitting the bridge for wind and replacing maintenance scaffolds under the bridge because the present equipment wouldn't be able to get around the barrier.
There was no debate about the use of toll revenue when bridge directors approved another major safety improvement – a moveable center median that should be in place by the end of the year as protection against head-on collisions.
That project cost $25 million, and the last fatal, head-on crash was more than a decade ago. But the bridge directors must make their decisions based on safety, not by calculating the odds of a tragedy if don't fix known problems.
A suicide barrier will fix a known problem, and it will save lives. It's time to build it.