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(Portland, OR) – This morning’s incident, in which a man jumped to his death from the Vista Bridge, is a sad confirmation of the need to take action to prevent further unnecessary deaths, and a sad affirmation that a barrier is necessary to save lives.
Vista Bridge has been known as Suicide Bridge almost from the time it opened in 1926. Today’s death is the fourth this year, more than any year in at least the last decade. As I have said before, it is time – past time – to do what we can to stop the dying.
On July 9, 2013, I announced that I had signed an emergency order to install a 9-foot-tall mesh fence with a curved overhang at a cost of $236,000. This mesh barrier is intended as an interim life-saving measure until a long-term structure can be designed and installed that is compatible with the historic character of the bridge and until the estimated $2.5 million to $3 million funding for a permanent solution can be secured.
That interim barrier is being fabricated right now. Installation is still on track to begin this month with a targeted completion within another two to three weeks following that.
If we can accelerate an already tight timeframe for installation we will do so. But we also are taking into account the complexities involved in the design, fabrication and installation, such as the need to install and anchor new steel supports between the historic bridge rail pillars so that pedestrians and people in wheelchairs have adequate room on the existing narrow sidewalk. This is just one of the complexities involved as we are moving rapidly to design, fabricate and deploy the interim barrier.
We also recognize that people in crisis need additional help. If people know someone in crisis, please reach out and offer help to the people you know. The Multnomah County Crisis Line is an excellent resource and is available 24 hours a day at (503) 988-4888.
At the bridge itself, the City will continue to display public service signs that were installed in 2012 with the message “We can help you cross this bridge,” that gives two phone numbers: 1-(800)-Suicide, a national suicide prevention hotline, and (503)972-3456, the local Lines for Life hotline. As part of this construction project, those signs will be installed on the interim barrier.
In addition, I have spoken with Lines for Life and Friends of the Vista Bridge about the possibility of having volunteers station themselves at the bridge over the next few weeks. It is possible that simply the fact of having someone else on the bridge might have some deterrent effect; in some cases a volunteer might be able to engage someone who is showing signs of distress.
Friends of the Vista Bridge is willing to coordinate, and Lines for Life is willing to train, potential volunteers. Under no circumstances should anyone attempt to physically restrain someone from jumping, and take the risk of being pulled over the bridge themselves. But Friends of the Vista Bridge welcomes volunteers who wish to be a presence on the bridge. They recommend contacting them through their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FriendsOfTheVistaBridge.
While I am deeply saddened by today’s death, I am also determined to move forward on a measure that is proven to be effective. I know that we are on the right track to save lives. Research and the experience of other cities consistently shows that barriers are the most effective measure, and perhaps the only consistently effective measure, to stop the often impulsive act of suicide by jumping.