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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Building Barriers

posted by on March 25 at 12:45 PM


Dexter & Highway 99

It will still be a few years until a suicide barrier is constructed on the Aurora Bridge. But after much grumbling, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the City Council and neighbors from Queen Anne and Fremont have finally gotten a start on the design process.

Neighbors are concerned about a possible view-obstructing eye-sore, and have been pushing for everything from under-bridge walkways to nets, and many of the ideas just aren’t cost effective.

Right now, WSDOT has $1.3 million to study and design a suicide barrier for the bridge, which has the second highest number of bridge-suicides, behind the Golden Gate.

If everything goes according to plan, WSDOT will receive another $6.2 million from the state to complete the barrier project by 2010. Half of the project’s budget will go towards installing a new lighting system on the half-mile bridge, which has slimmed down the number of available options for the barrier.

Last month, WSDOT held a community design meeting, where artists worked with neighbors to come up with an agreeable design. WSDOT is clearly leaning towards a fence or enclosure, which is relatively inexpensive, compared to some of the other wild ideas being tossed around.

Check out the designs after the break:






According to some of the comments in WSDOT’s current report, neighbors reactions seem mixed.

This is great! I love the transparency and how it echoes the mountain aspect. Art makes people want to live.
Will this whistle in the wind and clang? [Consider that] things that fl y off of vehicles (wheels). A bicycle fell onto a houseboat once.
The “Blades of Grass” can be an eclectic design much like quirky Fremont.
I prefer undulating or vertical [design] to box panels.

Despite the focus on building a barrier, some neighbors are pushing to close pedestrian access to the bridge to preserve the scenic view. However, WSDOT Spokesman Gregg Phipps says closing the bridge isn’t an option, and that while neighbors have gotten fairly creative with their proposals, a number of them just aren’t feasible.

One proposal involves putting netting under the bridge, to preserve the view, but Phipps says while the up-front costs of installing a net are relatively low, it’s just not cost effective. A net would have to be replaced every few years, plus there are issues with access to emergency services and clean-up of trash and debris. There’s also no evidence a net would work, Phipps says.

The idea of putting sidewalks under the bridge was also floated around at the meeting, but while it may be more aesthetically pleasing, Phipps says, the idea is rife with problems. The project would undoubtedly be prohibitively expensive, and WSDOT is also concerned about the safety of the walkway, which would not be visible from the street. WSDOT believes the lack of visibility could lead to muggings or other criminal activity, unless the pathway was constantly monitored, which, again, would be financially infeasible.

WSDOT expects design work to be done this spring, and hopes to start construction in early 2009.

RSS icon Comments


C'mon.... you know you wanted to write "Check out the designs after the jump."

Posted by Brendan | March 25, 2008 12:47 PM

I hope I can get a job in Fremont before this thing goes up. I want to rappel to work at least once in my life.

Posted by nbc | March 25, 2008 12:50 PM

Nice design. Who knew that suicide prevention could be so artistic?

At the risk of sounding extremely crass:

I keep thinking about the old argument against large-scale displacement of homeless people: "if you kick them out of here, they'll just show up somewhere else." So my question is, if we stop folks from snuffing it on the Aurora Bridge, where will they migrate to end it all?

Posted by Hernandez | March 25, 2008 12:57 PM

i'm still on the fence on this one.

Posted by infrequent | March 25, 2008 1:06 PM

Not bad, but it won't stop someone determined to jump from jumping.

Not that anything ever would.

People literally travel across states to jump here. Silly barriers won't stop them.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 25, 2008 1:18 PM

Does anyone commit suicide in the Belltown Battery Street tunnel?

This anti-off-yourself design appears to be rather challenging to prospective Hillary losers (because they tend to be old women and less agile); alternatively, the youthfulness and physical athleticism of prospective Obama losers might suggest more complex barriers.

Let's see: no one commits suicide by jumping from the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge because pedestrians are not permitted. Cost: a little signage here and there.

Posted by BELMONT PLACE | March 25, 2008 1:40 PM

Yeah, a barrier would stop them. From an excellent New Yorker article about this:

Dr. Seiden’s study, “Where Are They Now?,” published in 1978, followed up on five hundred and fifteen people who were prevented from attempting suicide at the bridge between 1937 and 1971. After, on average, more than twenty-six years, ninety-four per cent of the would-be suicides were either still alive or had died of natural causes. “The findings confirm previous observations that suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature,” Seiden concluded; if you can get a suicidal person through his crisis—Seiden put the high-risk period at ninety days—chances are extremely good that he won’t kill himself later.
The Empire State Building, the Duomo, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Sydney Harbor Bridge were all suicide magnets before barriers were erected on them. So were Mt. Mihara, a volcano in Japan (more than six hundred people jumped into it in 1936 alone); the Arroyo Seco Bridge, in Pasadena; and the Eiffel Tower. At Prince Edward Viaduct, in Toronto, the site of nearly five hundred fatal jumps, engineers just finished constructing a four-million-dollar “luminous veil” of stainless-steel rods above the railing. At all of these places, after the barriers were in place the number of jumpers declined to a handful, or to zero.
Posted by poppy | March 25, 2008 1:40 PM

Well, then I'll go tell all the suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge that they never died, poppy.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 25, 2008 2:12 PM

#8: There's no suicide barrier at the Golden Gate Bridge. That's the point of the article.

Posted by poppy | March 25, 2008 2:18 PM

saying the Aurora bridge is 'second' after Golden Gate is factually accurate but quite deceptive... Jumpers at the gate are at least ten times more per year than from Aurora... one is a destination suicide spot the other a rare/occasional spot... is this really a good use for what will ultimately come to about 10 million dollars...

Posted by deceptive | March 25, 2008 2:23 PM

This debate has been brewing over the GG bridge for a while down here. Not so much for concern for the jumpers, but for the aesthetics's of a landmark. SF, however, is in the unique position of actually owning the bridge (instead of the state's DOT), so tolls will likely be $18 per trip by the time they get the money to erect a barrier.

It would be interesting to know the long-term potential cost of the jumpers, however. Say, 25 years of unpaid $800 ambulance rides, police and fire emergency response, bridge closures, negotiators/counselors or whomever it is they dispatch to talk someone down, and probably some negligible property damage. A few millions bucks now might prove to be a decent investment after all.

Posted by Dougsf | March 25, 2008 2:36 PM

#3 I-5?

Posted by elswinger | March 25, 2008 2:50 PM

It's pretty, would serve its purpose, and shield walkers from the elements on top of it.

It's a relatively frivolous use of several million, but the city uses money frivolously in lots of ways, so why single this out.

Posted by Gomez | March 25, 2008 2:53 PM

I'm pretty sure $3.1 million (not including the new lighting) for a barrier that would have saved about 40 lives the past ten years, including a 15 year old girl, isn't a waste of money.

Compare that to the $4.3 million spent so far on five space toilets.

Posted by poppy | March 25, 2008 3:01 PM

Most of those designs might indeed prevent a jumper, but what's to stop them from going the other way and flinging themselves in front of traffic if they're that determined?

Posted by Wolf | March 25, 2008 3:25 PM

I'm amazed at the expense involved in installing such a barrier, but I'm glad that they're going for something better than a rusty chain link fence that I've seen on other pedestrian bridges.

Does anyone else get kind of sick at the constant 'but we gotta save the view!" mentality in this town? We have gorgeous scenery all over the place, but threaten a bridge somewhere that gives drivers 2 seconds of a mountain/water view and everyone screams in terror.

Posted by NaFun | March 25, 2008 3:28 PM

space toilets save lives.

Posted by infrequent | March 25, 2008 3:51 PM

Any links to the report and/or larger and readable versions of the designs?

Posted by Krrrk | March 25, 2008 3:59 PM

I didn't "single it out" I merely pointed out the cost (3.1 mil for the work, 1.3 mil for design(!) etc. etc. I'd be willing to bet 10 mil by end of project is not far off the mark.

And the cost calculations using unpaid ambulance rides fail to include the upkeep costs of the "fence" over that same 40 years.

And just because the toilets ARE frivilous doesn't mean the bridge spend isn't.

And do we really think we can afford government project by frivolity 'til the end of time?

FYI, I am not pro suicide, I simply think the government is apt to shit scads of money on issues where the political payoff is what's being sought, rather than looking carefully where 10 million bucks might best be used. And yes, lives saved by projects is an economic calcuation, since money is not unlimited. Money spent saving lives in one project is money not spent saving lives in another. Would the money be better spent on health care, or nutrition... I don't have a definitive answer but in my view 10 million bucks on a fence for the Aurora bridge is not the best use.

Posted by deceptive | March 25, 2008 4:38 PM

If it really will cost $10 mil, that's $250k for each person who will be saved over the next decade. Make of that what you will.

Posted by keshmeshi | March 25, 2008 5:00 PM

Sigh, do I have to explain that it's Seattle that's the destination, and the Troll that gets them to be near Aurora in the first place?

It's just the nearest bridge, that's all.

Look, suicidal people are ... frankly ... not thinking the way you or I would be. To them it makes sense.

Still a waste of money, but whatever ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 25, 2008 5:58 PM

$250 THOUSAND! per jumper saved?

We should start a suicide hotline. For a lot less than 250 grand, you could call an 800 number and I'd dispatch a friendly technician who would come out and snuff you in the discomfort of your own home.

Posted by bob | March 25, 2008 7:41 PM

Um, I hate to be crass, but since no one has really said it this bluntly...

Why not just let them jump?

I've been reading here for years and I've never commented once, but I'm motivated to do so here.

If people want to die, let them. If suicide wasn't illegal then maybe they wouldn't be searching for a place that ensured their demise, rather than trying in the comfort of their own home where a chance of failure by discovery is so high.

Are the costs of body disposal so high that we have to save the taxpayers money? This is a legitimate question, because it's the only motivating factor I understand here.

Really, if they want to die so badly they're willing to travel all the way here to do so, maybe make a marketing campaign out of it? Final destination hot spot type deal.

Before everyone with a nephew or a grandmother who's committed suicide starts going on a tirade, please know that I've also loved people who have committed suicide. I didn't like it, I mourned them pitifully, but I believe it was their right to make that choice. For anyone who feels their life is a failure because it's been uninteresting and mundane, they can get one final thrill by traveling to their final destination and getting one really jumpin' death.

Posted by Fierinferno | March 26, 2008 7:08 AM

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