The proposed Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier

The Golden Gate Bridge is, in my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful sites in the world.  Not only is the Bridge lovely in and of itself, driving or walking across it is pure sensory pleasure.  Look east, and you see San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay; look west, and you see the Marin Headlands and the vast Pacific Ocean.  It’s no wonder that, in addition to the 120,000 vehicles that cross it per day for business and pleasure, thousands of people also walk or bike across the bridge, the better to admire the glorious views.  At present, whether one is walking or driving, the views are limited only by the original four foot high barrier — something that does not affect most viewers, whether on foot, on a bike, or in the car.

Sadly, the Golden Gate Bridge has also become something of a suicide mecca.  Although the transit district refuses to provide the numbers of known suicides (to discourage people from trying to be a specific number in the total tally), and because there are presumably a number of unknown suicides (who vanished in the night), we have only guesstimates as to the number who have died.  Current guesstimates are that, since its opening in 1937, somewhere in excess of 1,200 have jumped off the Bridge.  Almost all have died.  (Only 26 are known to have survived.)

After waffling for years, the Bridge District is finally putting before the public for the latter’s input the five plans it came up with to deter suicides.  The proposed barricades will cost approximately $40-50 million dollar.  They are are being pushed primarily by people whose loved ones have been amongst those who committed suicide.  You can see the proposed plans here.

One of the things you’ll notice is that, with a single exception — a net below the railings — the proposed plans all obscure the view if one is on the Bridge, especially if one is driving.  Additionally, all of the plans will change the look of the Bridge when seen from afar.  So, for $50 million dollars (give or take), people both on and off the Bridge will see their views impaired.

(Before I go on with this post, I should note that, while I’ve known people who have committed suicide, I’ve never (a) lost anyone close to me that way and (b) never known anyone who committed suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge.)

My question for you is whether you think it’s appropriate for the public to bear two enormous costs (the financial cost and the destruction of part of the Bridge’s aesthetic values) to prevent further suicides.  As for me, while I understand that the Bridge has always been a suicide magnet, and that many suicides are impulsive acts that might not occur if the actor didn’t just happen to be on a suicide magnate, I don’t think that’s enough to make these costly changes.  When one considers the hundreds of thousands of people who, on a daily basis, enjoy the beauty the Bridge provides, I don’t believe it’s reasonable to destroy the view for the general public in order to try to save the 15-20 lives lost on an annual basis on the Bridge.

When one considers the minute fraction of Bridge users that the suicides represent, and the fact that at least some of those 15-20 annual suicides are not impulse suicides, but will live to try another day and another way, it simply seems unfair to change forever — at great expense — the uniquely beautiful character of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.