After decades of work, the effort to erect a suicide barrier at the Golden Gate Bridge succeeded on Friday, when the bridge's Board of Directors voted to approve a $76 million plan to install steel-cable nets along the span. When the measure passed by a unanimous vote San Francisco resident Kevin Hines was in the room.
That fact is more improbable than it seems, since Hines is one of the only people known to have attempted suicide by jumping off the bridge who survived the fall into the water below. "I always believed that this would happen," said Hines. "It's been two steps back and five steps forward."
A suicide barrier has been the object of a group of activists, elected officials, including State Senator Mark Leno and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, and advocates like the Bridge Rail Foundation. According to that group, more than 1,600 people have committed suicide by jumping off the bridge since it opened, including 46 in the past year. The push for a barrier began in the 1970s, after a series of articles in the Chronicle highlighted the issue.
Although objects had been raised in the past that a barrier would mar the bridge's beauty and that people would find other ways to comitt suicide, in the end the final hurdle to clear was to raise the money. $20 million in funding will come from bridge tolls, a step that the board had resisted making in the past. $49 million will come in the form of federal funding, and $7 million from the state.
Many of the supports of a barrier at the meeting were family members of those who had committed suicide. "It was a beautiful moment. There was elation in their eyes," said Hines, "but also the pain that they would never see their loved ones again. I was crying. It hit home."
A barrier is expected to be installed in three years. For his part, Hines says that the lessons learned on the Golden Gate campaign can be applied to other locations with high rates of suicide around the country. "Once the vote happened,one of the members of the Bridge Rail Foundation got a text message from activists at the George Washington Bridge in New York that said if you can do it, we can do it here," says Hines. "As a matter of fact, the group just got a railing put up at a bridge in Santa Barbara. The day after, a woman came there to die. She couldn't, and she was taken to safety."