Council Approves End-to-End "Vertical Barriers" Along Colorado Street Bridge to Stop Suicide Attempts

Next step: funding the design of fencing alternatives, and the installation of final approved concept

Published : Tuesday, April 24, 2018 | 5:03 AM

A 1936 artist's visualization of "suicide proof" fencing proposed for the Colorado Street Bridge. "A steel woven fence 5 feet high and topped by barbed wire will make it impossible for despondent persons to leap to their deaths," Chief of Police Charles Kelley of Pasadena said at the time. The fencing was installed 82 years ago, but later removed. Image courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

A 1936 artist's visualization of "suicide proof" fencing proposed for the Colorado Street Bridge. "A steel woven fence 5 feet high and topped by barbed wire will make it impossible for despondent persons to leap to their deaths," Chief of Police Charles Kelley of Pasadena said at the time. The fencing was installed 82 years ago, but later removed. Image courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

Following nearly a year of public meetings and hearings, the Pasadena City Council Monday unanimously approved the recommendations of the Colorado Street Bridge Task Force, to help the City create, design and fund vertical barriers along the length of the bridge, to prevent further suicide attempts from the historic structure.

As Public Works Director Ara Maloyan told the Council, he created the Colorado Street Bridge Task Force last summer, following a spike in the number of suicide jumps in the spring. Soon after the rash of suicide jumps, the City installed metal chain-link fencing as a partial temporary deterrent while the Task Force developed a more permanent solution.

Ten-foot tall fencing was installed along both sides of the bridge at all 20 benched alcoves to prevent entry to locations that provide the easiest access over the existing vertical barrier, along with wrought iron fencing at all four corners of the bridge to deter easy access to the bridge’s outside ledge.

Since that installation, however, there have been two fatal jumps from the bridge, although neither jumper climbed the chain link fence, Maloyan noted.

The Colorado Bridge Task Force, composed of community members and prominent experts in the fields of historic preservation, suicide prevention, architecture, engineering, public health and first responders from Pasadena Police and Pasadena Fire, was assembled in August of 2017.

The Task Force held two community meetings—the first one on November 29, 2017 to provide background information and gather ideas from the public regarding solutions to help deter suicide attempts from the bridge. Over 90 community members were in attendance, including families of suicide victims and mental health professionals. The group of attendees shared heartbreaking stories of their own experiences as friends, relatives and experts in the growing number of suicide cases.

Community solutions ranged to TV monitors and communication systems to growing more trees in the Arroyo below, to perhaps cushion the impact for those who leapt from the bridge to the pavement below.

A second community meeting was held on February 20, 2018 to evaluate the ideas offered by the public and solicit community’s feedback, with more than 80 community members in attendance.

Based on the evaluation of all proposed deterrent measures and the feedback received from the community outreach process, the Task Force reached the conclusions that vertical barriers and end treatments are the only deterrent measure that physically prevent attempts from occurring. .

According to the Task Force’s research, various studies suggest that vertical barriers are the most effective in suicide reduction, showing the highest prevention rates, between 80% and 100% depending on design variables.

Vertical barriers would also significantly reduce strain on first responders, and as a passive measure, vertical barriers do not require human oversight or intervention to mitigate an attempt, Maloyan reported to the committee.

The difficulty in climbing the tall barriers might also discourage jumpers from looking for a different location. Maloyan explained to the Council that, after a thwarted jump, would-be jumpers are less likely to attempt suicide.

Patricia Spellman of the Didi Hirsch Suicide Center, a member of the Task Force, has also noted at previous public meetings, that with would-be jumpers, often only a little attention is needed to prevent a suicide attempt. As Kevin Hines, a Golden Gate Bridge jumper who survived a leap off the bridge in 2000, once told her, “If just one person had engaged me beforehand, I would not have jumped.”

Maloyan also told the Council that the suggestion to plant trees below the bridge to ‘cushion’ the landing or otherwise discourage jumping attempts has a weaker effectiveness.

“No verifying scientific data was found to support such an idea,” said Maloyan. Maloyan also described to the Council that the planting of trees is impossible along approximately 20% of the bridge’s span, which consists of the concrete Arroyo Seco Flood Control Channel.

The report also noted that the “There is Hope” suicide deterrent signs on each end of the bridge need updating, to incorporate a more widely used helpline number and add a new crisis text line introduced by the City’s Public Health Department.

Based on the Task Force’s research, the approved recommendation to the Council includes the design and installation of vertical barriers on both sides of the bridge for its entire length, including the existing weak points along the benched alcoves. The vertical barriers would have a minimum height of 7′-6″ above the bridge’s highest toe-hold in order to deter attempts to climb over the barriers.

The recommendation would also include end treatments on both ends of the bridge to stop would-be jumpers from accessing and walk along the bridge’s outside ledge.

City staff will now create a new Capital Improvement Program (CIP) project and seek funding for the Environmental and Design Phase of the project as part of the Fiscal Year 2019 CIP Budget.

City Public Works staff will then generate and advertise a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit design ideas, and then select a design consulting team to develop and engineer a vertical barrier design, along with the required environmental documents and clearances. It is hoped that the design can be begun by the fall of 2018, said Maloyan.

City staff will also conduct public outreach “at critical milestones to ensure close collaboration with the community and key stakeholders of the bridge,” said the Task Force report.

Maloyan emphasized, that at this point in the planning, there are no specific designs in mind, nor is there a budget recommendation.

‘We didn’t want to put a budget figure on the project, because we didn’t want to be limited by that figure,” said Maloyan, who added that the staff also had no plan or vision for the final design, wanting the design process to remain open for now.

Maloyan did allow to the Council however, that there is a working figure in mind, of approximately $400,00, but that could easily rise into the millions depending on the final design.

Staff will begin the environmental and design phase of the project in July 2018, immediately following approval of the project as part of Council’s adoption of the Fiscal Year 2019 Capital Improvement Projects Budget.

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