Suicide barrier on bridge feasible 

A higher railing on the Golden Gate Bridge to deter potential suicide jumpers could be workable despite wind-related concerns, according to preliminary findings released Friday.

Discussions about a suicide barrier on the iconic span have been ongoing for decades and have resurfaced in recent years with increased attention focused on the number of people who end their lives by going over the structure’s 4-foot-high rail.

At least 34 people died after jumping from the bridge last year, according to a report released last week by the Marin County coroner, which also noted that more than 1,250 suicides have taken place since the bridge was constructed nearly 70 years ago.

In 1999, a design for an 11-foot-high fence was rejected due to concerns that it was unsightly and likely not able to prevent all suicides. Last September, however, Golden Gate Bridge officials approved a $1.8 million contract for a new suicide barrier study.

On Friday, preliminary findings from a wind study report, presented to a committee of the Golden Gate Bridge board of directors, revealed that workable options are possible for both building a new railing and adding to the bridge’s railing.

To date, about 60 design variations have been studied to determine each model’s wind response on bridge movement and stability, among other factors, according to Golden Gate Bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie. Railing heights ranging from 8 to 14 feet have been tested, as well as a concept that involves horizontal nets under the bridge.

So far, a workable netting option has not held up to the wind test, said Currie, who added that tests are still ongoing.

"We’re confident there will be something in the net genre," she said.

What has been determined is that some form of wind-channeling appendage, such as a fairing, would also have to be installed on the bridge to accommodate the suicide barrier — either on top of the railing or underneath the bridge — to ensure that the added structure wouldn’t cause wind problems for the suspension span.

Although the wind study is not expected to be finished until May, Supervisor Tom Ammiano — who has championed the suicide barrier — said the preliminary data was good news.

"There are options that can now be considered for a suicide deterrent and I think that’s a very, very significant finding," said Ammiano, who is also a member of the Golden Gate Bridge board of directors. "Thank God for engineers."

No final decision has been made on whether to build a bridge barrier, and the entire feasibility study is expected to take two years.

"This is the first logical step to see if we can put up a deterrent without having the bridge fall," said Lynne Segal, another member of the bridge’s board of directors. "Then we can deal with the morality of it, the legality of it, the esthetics and the funding."

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Bonnie Eslinger

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