San Francisco's famous suspension bridge is set to get a suicide barrier, after a year with the highest number of suicides since the late '60s.
The debate over whether or not to put a barrier under the Golden Gate Bridge has been going on for at least 40 years. Other "suicide magnets," like the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower, already have them. Many think a barrier will ruin the beauty of the bridge while not actually reducing the number of suicides -- people will just commit suicide another way if this is not available to them. Others think those who made an impulsive decision to kill themselves might change their minds in the time it takes to find another way to die. Parents of teenagers have been especially vocal in this regard. Some studies show a barrier reduces the number of suicides in the area overall; others say the opposite.
But in 2013 there were 46 suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge, the highest since the late 1960s, when there were 49. This has added more urgency. And a new source of funding has come in for the project, estimated to cost $66 million: toll money. According to the New York Times, in late May, the directors of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District will vote to reverse the policy dictating that toll money cannot be used to fund a suicide barrier. Federal funds from a 2012 transportation bill can also be used for the project. Finally, it looks like both the money and the desire to install the barrier are in place.
Worries that a barrier would detract from the bridge's beauty have also been eased: the barrier is said to be "invisible" from many angles.
Anything that can stop someone from killing him or herself is obviously good. But you have to wonder how far that $66 million could go if it were spent on improving mental health services instead.
Almost 1,600 people have committed suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge since it opened in 1937, making it the second most "popular" suicide site in the world, after China's Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge.