March 10, 2006

Ideas sought to stem Golden Gate Bridge suicides

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Local officials approved a study
on Friday on possible alterations of the San Francisco's Golden
Gate Bridge to stem jumping from America's most popular site
for suicides.

The study, the most comprehensive in a generation, follows
more than a year of renewed debate on the issue that has
plagued the distinctive nearly 2-mile- (3 km-)long bridge that
connects San Francisco to the Marin Headlands.

More than 1,300 people have jumped from the bridge to their
death since it opened to great acclaim in 1937. A steady stream
of desperate people kill themselves there every year, making it
perhaps the most used suicide site in the world.

Officials have rejected past calls for a suicide barrier,
often citing aesthetic reasons, but also because of concerns
such a structure could impact the bridge's ability to withstand
strong winds that blow from the Pacific.

By a vote of 14-2 on Friday, the board of directors of the
Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District set
forth a two-year, $2 million project.

The first phase, expected to take 10 months, would review
past studies and review suicide barrier designs such as a net
under the bridge, a fence added to existing railing, or total
replacement of existing railing.

The second phase of review would conduct a more thorough
engineering, environmental and cost study of the designs.

The review would be the most comprehensive look at a
possible suicide barrier since the early 1970s, bridge
officials say.

In more recent years, local authorities have stepped up
efforts to keep people from killing themselves at the San
Francisco landmark, adding crisis counseling telephones on the
bridge in 1994 and patrols in 1996.