The Golden Gate Bridge is 75 years old, and The City has reason to celebrate this world-class landmark. But there is another figure San Francisco should be considerably less proud of — 1,558. That is the approximate number of people who have walked onto the iconic span and thrown themselves to their deaths since the bridge opened in 1937.
Unfortunately, the very brilliance of the bridge and the picturesque surroundings, including the spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline, make it an attractive choice for people who decide to end their lives. According to John Bateson, the local author of a recent book called “The Final Leap,” 37 people killed themselves at the bridge in 2011, and another 100 people tried to, only to be prevented by passers-by or staff. “If there were three deaths a month on the cable car system, you can bet that someone would do something,” Bateson told The San Francisco Examiner.
The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, which oversees the operation of the bridge, has grappled with the issue of a suicide barrier for many years. In 2008, the district approved a plan to place a steel net 20 feet below the bridge in order to catch people who try to kill themselves.
But the district could not find a way to pay for the net, which will cost an estimated $50 million. In order to approve the suicide barrier, the concession was that there would be no money taken from transportation the district operates and no toll money would be used.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has proposed a bill to allow local transportation agencies to redirect federal transportation money to build such suicide deterrents. The suicide net is long overdue, and allowing redirection of federal funds would allow the net to be built and keep transit commuters and drivers from having to subsidize the cost.
There is no argument left against the suicide barrier. The bridge district worked tirelessly to come up with a design that will not mar the bridge’s aesthetics. And $50 million is a small price to pay for saving the lives of people who impulsively try to kill themselves and have, as Bateson has reported of the survivors, almost always regretted it.
Boxer needs the support of the rest of the Bay Area’s federal lawmakers to push her bill through Congress, and we hope her colleagues see the wisdom in allowing the Golden Gate Bridge district to use federal money to save what averages out to 37 troubled lives every year.
The Golden Gate Bridge is a wondrous part of our lives. Our leaders have a chance to remove a dark part of its legacy, and we urge them not to let this chance pass by.