The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks in California. However, the American paradise this iconic structure represents isn’t summative of its full history, about the 2,000 lives that have been lost after jumping off of the bridge. Since the completion of its construction in 1937, there have been 2,000 confirmed suicides, the most out of any bridge in the United States. Although that number represents the confirmed lives lost, many more are estimated to have jumped, as not all jumps are witnessed and not all bodies are found.
John Bateson, a longtime director of a Bay Area suicide prevention center, details why so many are drawn to the historic site, explaining, “There’s a certain magnetic appeal around a suicide site that draws other desperate souls to it; the Golden Gate Bridge exerts a larger magnetic pull than anywhere else because of its natural beauty, because of its tragic history.” Studies have shown that people are drawn to the Golden Gate Bridge, and some will drive to it from the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge, but will not drive from the Golden Gate Bridge to Oakland. The Golden Gate Bridge lacks certain preventative measures for suicide jumps, such as the four-foot-high railings, and the almost absolute possibility of death —about 1 in 50 survive.
Between the years of 1937 and 1971, Professor Richard Seiden conducted a study with the University of California Berkeley, where he and his team followed up on people who had come to the bridge with the intention of taking their lives, but were either stopped or convinced otherwise. He tracked the 515 saved lives, and 94 percent of those people were either still living or had died of natural causes, so he concluded that “suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature,” arguing that preventative measures would lower suicide rates, not postpone them.
The Golden Gate Bridge Patrol (GGB) reports stopping a suicide every other day. Originally created as an anti-terrorism patrol after the events of 9/11, GGB patrols the bridge, assisted by ironworkers and painters who keep an extra eye out.
In response to these staggeringly high suicide rates, the Golden Gate Bridge Transportation District commenced construction of stainless steel nets surrounding the bridge in 2018, finishing construction in 2023.
Due to the bridge’s aesthetic significance, the workers have made efforts to preserve its silhouette, so the nets are only visible up-close from the railings. The nets were specifically engineered to minimally impact daily operations, and have a low maintenance cost. They extend for three miles and hang 20 feet below the bridge and 20 feet out. Since this “Suicide Deterrent System” is composed of stainless steel, those who jump may sustain minor injuries, which serves as a purposeful deterrent. While the implementation has been successful for many, others have jumped off of the nets. Despite imperfections, suicide rates have experienced a significant decrease from an average of 34 deaths per year in 2011 to 13 through Oct. of 2023 with the nets installed.
(Sources: Bridgerail, Golden Gate, LA Times, New York Times)
Categories: Local News