“It’s easy to imagine another life where I would be happily celebrating this city I love on the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th anniversary. But on the bridge’s birthday, I won’t be rejoicing. Seven years ago, when we were 17, my dear friend John jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. He is one of more than 1,500 people who have died from suicide there, more people than at any other site in the world.
John and I grew up together. In eighth grade, he was my first kiss in a movie theater. We stayed friends after our middle school relationship ended. In high school, before he or I left on a trip, he’d call me and sing songs I loved from the ’90s to my answering machine.
One Monday night, he was playing guitar with his best friend. The next morning, he drove to the bridge, left messages for a handful of people, and then jumped. He fell 245 feet, sustained fractures to the base of his skull, and drowned in the cold water. When the coroner’s investigator found his body, he would have seen his curly dark hair, his skinny runner’s frame, and his large hands that played guitar, videogames, practical jokes.
There was no warning.
I can’t glimpse the bridge without seeing his tiny figure, in jeans and running shoes, perched to jump off the edge. Its orange towers rise forebodingly to me, loaded guns. The bridge is a deadly structure. I can’t tell you when or who the next one will be. I can tell you, though, that another person will almost certainly die jumping from the bridge within 14 days from the moment you read this sentence.
We can make the bridge less deadly with a suicide net. Physical barriers work: Suicide destinations that erect barriers see a dramatic drop in deaths. Reducing easy access to lethal means translates into saved lives. Those that argue that a net would compromise the bridge’s beauty need look no further than the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building to see examples that balance both safety and aesthetics.
Someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge every one to two weeks. The majority do not survive. Survivors rarely attempt suicide again and are among the strongest advocates for a barrier.
In 2010, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District Board of Directors finally approved installing a net on the bridge, but they are unwilling to fund it. A $7 million regional government investment has cleared the way for study and design of a structurally sound net. The last remaining hurdle is to secure construction funding – an estimated $50 million. This year’s federal highway reauthorization bill includes wording that would allow future funding of a suicide net.
After more than 1,500 preventable deaths, we must act. The bridge should represent not only the Bay Area’s history of innovation and creativity, but also our deep value for human lives. We must not allow the Golden Gate to remain the suicide capital of the world.
On the 75th anniversary, let’s make a clear statement that these needless deaths at our most iconic structure are unacceptable. Join the Bridge Rail Foundation, leading public health experts and those who have lost loved ones to support public funding for a net on the Golden Gate Bridge.
To learn more: Join the Bridge Rail Foundation in advocating for a barrier by going to bridgerail.org.
Janet Seiden Frishberg lives and works in San Francisco. She is writing a book on her friend’s suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge.”