Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Is The Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier Just Another Boondoggle?

Last year the board of the public entity that controls the Golden Gate Bridge (the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District) voted to construct a $76 million suicide net. A final design was approved last December, and the project is slated to go out to bid in March, 2015. This  seems like money not well spent.

The national suicide rate is approximately 9.4/100,000.  The rate is higher in rural areas, lower in heavily urban areas.

Here is a Rand study map of suicide rates in California's by area.  The San Francisco Area is listed as 7.51-10.0 per hundred thousand. Let's call it consistent with the national average.

According to a SF Chronicle article this morning, there were 38 suicides at the Golden Gate bridge in 2013 (down from an all time high of 46 the year before). According to this Mercury News story, the average is about 24/year.

The Bay Area population is ~7.4 million.  This means the Bay Area must have about 695 suicides/year (9.4/100k). San Francisco, with a population of 800,000 has a bout 75 suicides/year.

The 38 suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge last year represents about 5% of the Bay Area suicides, or about 50% of San Francisco's suicides.

A final design of the barrier was approved on December 19, 2014:

Squiggly supports on right. 
By spending $76 million on this unsightly and undoubtedly high-maintenace suicide barrier, will the suicide rate per 100,000 for the Bay Area, or San Francisco be decreased?  In other words, do we believe that the overall Bay Area suicide rate will decrease 3-5% on account of this barrier? It seems highly unlikely to me. In fact, studies of the effectiveness of erecting barriers at popular suicide jumping spots in reducing overall suicide rates suggest there is no such reduction.

The bridge district said it detained 161 people in 2014 after being seen as suicide risks.  It seems that enhanced patrolling of the bridge could be effective in further reducing the incidence of jumpers.  I have recently seen bicycle patrols on the bridge.  They could set up a nice guard-shack in the middle of the span on both sides, and man it full time.  They could equip them with tranquilizer guns (I'm joking).

Permanently placing a suicide watch in a strategic position on both sides of the bridge would require ~6 full time equivalent employees.  Assuming a cost of $100,000/year, this would cost just $600,000 per year.  That is a relatively minor operational expense, as opposed to a $76 million capital expenditure (not including financing costs and maintenance and upkeep costs).

I say boondoggle.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. The policing option seems like money well spent. While the "construction" business can be very lucrative to "insiders', it is not a logical solution to the problem. At least in Illinois, we have the decency to put our crooks in jail.