NOTES ON THE SUICIDE BARRIER AT THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
The guard rail that separates pedestrians on the Golden Gate Bridge from the outer ledge and the water 225 feet below is only 4 feet high. There is no suicide barrier.
For more than 50 years, the Golden Gate Bridge District resisted the idea of building a suicide barrier on their bridge. They have cited various reasons – engineering, cost, effectiveness, and esthetic.
Twenty years ago, they instituted a “non-physical barrier” method of suicide prevention that included security cameras, bike patrols, and hotline phones – but the suicide rate at the Golden Gate Bridge remained constant — or crept higher
The Bridge District authorities invested millions of dollars in a barrier between the pedestrian walkway and the roadway – though there had never been a pedestrian/vehicular fatality. They have also invested in the development of a moveable median divider, though head on collisions on the bridge are practically non-existent.
When the nature of this film was revealed, the Bridge District was once again forced to confront the issue of a suicide barrier. The press frenzy was intense. Vocal, and more organized outcry by family members and mental health care professionals prompted the authorities to authorize a study of a suicide barrier. Citing financial burden and hardship, the Bridge District made no provisions for this study in their budgets; grants by state and federal transportation bureaus provided nearly three quarters of the $2 million dollar estimated costs, but for almost a year the Bridge District refused to move forward until all the funds had been gathered. Finally, in March 2006, when news that THE BRIDGE would be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival, the authorities voted to begin the study with the funds at hand. Additional state transportation funds were provided in April 2006 so that the study was fully funded — and in 2010 the Board of Directors certified environmental impact reports for the Golden Gate Bridge Physical Deterrent System Project: a system of elegant nets 20 feet under under the bridge itself.
And on June 27, 2014, the Golden Gate Bridge district approved the construction of net system — and approved its $76,000,000 budget. Perhaps what made this decision most momentous was the Board of Director’s willingness to commit $20,000,000 of the District’s own capital reserves — reversing their long-held position that all funding would have to come from outside sources:
“Finally, after considerable thought, reflection and soul searching, and attentive consideration to the range of views expressed by members of the public, many of whom have testified as to the impact and consequences of suicide on their lives, and in consideration of the fact that 46 people died in 2013 by jumping off of the Bridge, it is staff’s opinion that construction of the suicide deterrent simply is the right thing to do at this time.”
Will the net actually work? In Bern, Switzerland, where a similar system was installed — the deterrent effect was so successful that not a single person has even made an attempt. But of course, the problem of suicide in our society is vastly wider than the Golden Gate Bridge — and the net we need requires extensive ongoing dialogue and research.
As a filmmaker and documentarian, I take great pride in the contribution THE BRIDGE has made to the dialogue about suicide and mental illness across the board — and to this significant social change in particular. But the credit is due more to the people who took on the Golden Gate Bridge District and forced them to face the problem head on–a civic victory that deserves to be studied — and to those who have been willing to speak out and speak up for what is right.