Reporter’s Notebook: Strolling Upon a Solution in Spain

By chance, I discovered how the City of Madrid solved its own “Suicide Bridge” dilemma

Published : Wednesday, September 5, 2018 | 4:59 AM

At left, Pasadena's Colorado Street Bridge. At right, Madrid, Spain's Balién Street Bridge over the Segovia Viaduct.

I spent five weeks in Europe this summer, primarily in Spain, just returning two weeks ago.

Like every European trip every American takes, the journey was filled with revelations and observations, mixed with marvel at how European cities grapple with universal municipal issues.

One very warm August evening, strolling with a group of friends along Bailén Street, away from the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral towards the neighborhood of La Latina, I was struck by the sight of a familiar-looking arched concrete bridge.

Gazing across the wide street to my right, I saw that the entire length of the bridge was lined with clear acrylic glass panes, approximately five-feet wide and about nine feet high, bolted to the structure’s concrete sides.

Looking to my left, I gazed through the clear panels down to Segovia Street, about 75 feet below.

“See these glass panels?” my friend asked.

“Suicides?” I responded.

“Yes,” she said, somewhat surprised.

“I’m familiar with the issue,” I told her.

Like Pasadena’s famed Colorado Street Bridge, the Segovia Viaduct bridge has been an infamous suicide spot ever since its construction in the 19th Century. In the 1990s, however, suicides reportedly occurred at a rate of at least four per month.

The total number of suicides is unknown, but estimates of the number of leaps are at well over 500 in the 20th Century alone. Over time, the bridge also acquired the unfortunate moniker of “The Suicide Bridge.”

The 1930s structure, which replaced the original wood and iron bridge built in 1874, was rebuilt in 1977, which is when suicides began again in earnest.

Finally, in October 1998, following an increase in jumps, Madrid Mayor Jose Maria Alvarez del Manzano authorized the installation of the thick acrylic glass barriers to keep people from leaping off the bridge and into the busy traffic on Segovia Street below.

Since their installation, the panes have managed to stop any further suicide attempts from the bridge except one—an alleged leap by “Susie Pop,” a member of the electro-glam rock band Nancy Rubias, in 2008.

In October of 2001, stuntman Álvaro Burgos Goizueta, 21, fell to his death from the bridge when his harness failed, ironically, as he was filming a suicide scene for the film, Heatwave.

But, standing on the bridge, the faintly greenish-hued glass walls detract little from the aesthetics of the structure, and gazing at the bridge from a distance, the panels seem to blend invisibly with its silhouette.

With the panes just over nine feet high, it’s difficult to imagine anyone scaling them without large suction cups and Olympic-variety upper arm strength. The bolts are discreet, and the design, while noticeable, seems to do its job with a minimum of damage to the overall look of the bridge.

There are a wide range of suicide barriers built on bridges around the world, from nets being constructed underneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, to the spider web-like “Luminous Veil” over Toronto’s Prince Edward Viaduct, and the prison-like bars built in 2012 over the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge in Santa Barbara County.

Standing atop that beautiful Spanish span, it occurred to me that from a design, aesthetics and effectiveness point of view, the thick, clear glass panels of Madrid’s Balién Street Bridge over the Segovia Viaduct might deserve examination by a City besieged by a suicide battle that no one is winning.

blog comments powered by Disqus