It was five years ago this March that construction was completed on the Cold Spring suicide barrier. In that time, three people have leapt from the bridge; during the previous five, before the barrier was in place, 14 people committed suicide there.
The project generated considerable controversy. Shortly after the barrier was proposed in 2007, a small but vocal group of critics headed by retired UCSB professor Marc McGinnes complained it would deface the historic bridge and block views of the Santa Ynez Valley below. They staged public demonstrations and launched legal challenges that succeeded in delaying construction. During the delay, a 58-year-old man jumped to his death. Ultimately, Caltrans prevailed and erected nine-foot, seven-inch-tall fencing along both sides of the span.
Dr. Lisa Firestone, director of research and education at the Glendon Association, called the barrier “a big success” that nearly eliminated an accessible and lethal means of escape for those in temporary crisis. “It’s a moment-in-time phenomenon,” she said of the impulsive decision to take one’s life. The barrier, she went on, “has made everybody safer,” describing an incident where a female Sheriff’s deputy was nearly dragged over the edge by a jumper.
Last month, construction began on a stainless-steel suicide-prevention net under the Golden Gate Bridge, Firestone said, also describing an ongoing push to install a barrier along the George Washington Bridge. The efforts come at time when suicide rates are increasing throughout the country, including in Santa Barbara, where suicides are on an upward tick from a 15-year low in 2007. “That’s the reality we’re dealing with,” Firestone said.
Sheriff Bill Brown, whose department argued strongly in favor of the Cold Spring barrier, said it “provides a form of intervention in a would-be suicide that can prevent tragedy and buy time for desperate people to obtain help.” He said he was proud of the major role his agency played in bringing the proposal to fruition, singling out Commander Dominick Palera for his efforts.