SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco's
Golden Gate Bridge may soon be less of a magnet for people trying to
commit suicide, as regional officials consider a plan to install mesh
barriers beneath the historic orange span to catch jumpers before they
hit the water.
The plan to create suicide barriers on the bridge, where 1,600
people have leapt to their deaths since the span opened in 1937, was
a subject of controversy for decades, with opponents arguing that
they would mar the structure's beauty.
"This bridge is an iconic symbol of beauty and grace, and it should
no longer be associated with suicide," said Democratic state Senator
Darrell Steinberg, who urged support for the plan. "It should no
longer be associated with untimely death and tragedy."
On Friday, the board of directors of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway
and Transportation District are set to vote on whether to accept
state funding for the plan negotiated by Steinberg and San Francisco
lawmakers. If the measure passes, work would begin on building the
barriers, which were initially approved eight years ago.
“Beautiful, majestic, but a harbinger of death it will no longer
be," said mental health activist Kevin Hines, who said he survived a
suicide attempt from the bridge.
Last year, 48 people jumped to their deaths from the span, which
hovers high above San Francisco Bay and connects the city of San
Francisco with suburban Marin County. The Golden Gate is the
second-most popular bridge for suicide in the world, after China's
Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, officials said.
The state funding, worth about $7 million, comes from a tax enacted
by voters on those who make more than $1 million per year that is
earmarked for mental health services. The rest of the $76 million
project will be paid for with federal funds that recently became
available, and local money from the bridge district.
"The final pieces of funding for the suicide barrier, something we
know we’ve been needing for so many decades, is now complete,” said
Democratic state Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco, who pushed the
state to help fund the mesh barriers, or nets, after money initially
expected from the federal government was delayed.
(Reporting by Jennifer Chaussee; Writing and additional reporting by
Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Eric Beech)