The first reported suicide from the Bay Bridge's new east span, on the heels of a $76 million approved funding plan for a net under the Golden Gate Bridge, is giving rise to conversations on why a deterrent was not designed for the aesthetic new span.
California Highway Patrol officers were called about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to reports of a man who appeared to contemplate taking his life near the main tower of the self-anchored suspension span. An officer trained in crisis intervention arrived within seven minutes, said CHP San Francisco office spokesman Mike Ferguson, and then the man "takes one look at the officer and turns around and jumps."
Though officers on a boat 100 feet from where the man landed performed CPR, he was pronounced dead at Treasure Island. In January, authorities said a woman jumped from the county line portion and suffered severe injuries. Both occurred on the westbound end of the bridge, which does not have a bike and pedestrian path that has a railing slightly over 4 feet tall. The bridge has a 3-foot barrier railing for cars throughout.
With railing that is short enough for people to climb over and benches on the bike and pedestrian path, the new span is easily a destination for people looking to take their lives, Golden Gate Bridge suicide survivor Kevin Hines said.
"It's the whole adage of, 'If you build it, they will come,'" he said. "It's a nightmare."
But bridge officials said a suicide deterrent structure was not determined as a requirement at the time the new span design was approved.
Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy Rentschler, who attended meetings on the new span since 1997, said the suicide barrier topic was brought up but not deemed a priority.
"A remedy to it was not a design feature that was a major element of the discussion, publicly or otherwise," he said. "At a certain point, other features prevailed like how wide the bridge would be, this shoulder, is there going to be a bike path."
The suicide Wednesday "has opened some conversation" in the public about a suicide deterrent on the new span and people are invited to comment at any toll bridge oversight committee meeting, Caltrans spokeswoman Leah Robinson-Leach said.
Last year, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's Assembly Bill 755, which requires officials to think about suicide prevention measures when building new bridges and similar structures, was signed into law. The irony, Ammiano said, is that his legislation was prompted by the construction of the new span, which had already been designed.
"We had unofficial conversations with Bay Bridge people and our sense was they did not consider [a deterrent] in the design," said Ammiano, who pushed for the net on the Golden Gate Bridge, where nearly 1,600 suicides have occurred since its opening in 1937. "Unfortunately, they were proven wrong and I'm hoping that we can come up with a solution for the Bay Bridge as well."